13 February 2012

Working motherThe ‘time bomb’ facing busy Australian workers squeezed by the demands of work and care is the focus of a new book by University of South Australia researchers being launched this evening by Premier Jay Weatherill.
The book, “Time bomb: work, rest and play in Australia today”, by Professor Barbara PocockDr Natalie Skinner and Dr Pip Williams draws on five years’ research by UniSA’s Centre for Work + Life on how work affects the lives of Australian men, women and children.
Prof Pocock says the title of the book was inspired by the “time bomb” that many Australians are living as they try to put together jobs, home and community life. 
“People are putting together two types of time, the ‘clock time’ of work with the ‘natural time’ of care, and this is putting the squeeze on workers, almost half of whom are now women,” Prof Pocock says.
“Many Australians say they are fatigued, don’t get enough sleep, don’t take their holidays, and struggle to find the time for their relationships and families. Many feel they spend too much time commuting.”
Pocock, Skinner and Williams say managers, professional workers, women, carers and the sizeable proportion who work long hours or who lack control over their working time are most affected.
“Many jobs are now very intensive, and weaker boundaries around the time and space of work, fuelled by new technologies, means work spills out to affect home time, leisure and personal life,” they say.
“A ‘new clock’ governs working life for many workers, especially in expanding services, professional and managerial jobs. Our book explores this different ‘time clock’ and the ways in which it clashes with the other times of care and home, differentially affecting women, men and children.
“In these differing – and clashing – time worlds, flexibility can be both a useful servant and a demanding master and experience varies by the nature of supervision and workplace culture, the extent of flexibility, the ability to change working time and place, the predictability of working time and the hours of work.”
On the home front, the book explores how men and women are attempting to manage their household and personal lives over the life cycle, showing how poor transport options put women on shorter ‘spatial leashes’ given their continuing main responsibility for care and domestic work. 
The book explores teen experiences putting together work, education, home and community, showing how many suburbs plan much better for the adults, infants and school children who live in them, than they do for teenagers, contributing to inequality, social exclusion and poorer wellbeing.
Pocock, Skinner and Williams argue that the time squeeze affects workers’ ability to increase skills and qualifications, and say that many Australians, despite working harder and longer, struggle to take holidays and find time for recreation.
“The book shows that Australia is now a long way from the relaxed land of the long weekend and extended beach holiday,” they say.
They examine how the ‘time bomb’ can be defused and say the notion of work-life balance is now pathetically inadequate to the task.
“Individuals can only do so much in the face of greedy workplaces, poorly planned transport or urban planning, and rigid clock schedules for time that refuse the reality of ‘natural’ or ‘care time’,” Dr Williams says.
“We reject the idea of ‘work-life balance’ – the notion that puts the clever individual at the centre of work-life success. Many people are not ‘masters of their own universe’, controlling how things fit together on terms that allows the easy construction of well-articulated jobs, families and rich community relations. 
“Some people are increasingly excluded by current arrangements and in a rich first-world country like Australia, there are many things that citizens, governments, employers, developers, unions and community service providers can manage better. Taking control of the length of the working day, better managing technologies and workloads, increasing flexibility and providing more leave are a good start.
“The future of gender relations will be shaped in part by how we manage the real and intractable differences between the work, home and community experiences of men and women. And whether we are able to narrow the gaps in opportunity between people and increase social inclusion while reducing inequality, will be affected by how well we design and implement work, household and social relations.
“We hope that people can enjoy their work, do it alongside a larger life, and wrangle its demands and rewards over the life course so that lifetimes are fulfilling, sustaining, sustainable and productive.”

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