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Paternalism and the paradox of work–life balance: discourse and practice

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Drawing on Lewis, Rapoport, and Gambles’ [(2007). The constraints of a ‘work–life balance’ approach: An international perspective. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(3), 360–373] critical treatment of ‘work–life balance’ (WLB) as a western, neoliberal discourse with problematic assumptions of gender and culture neutrality; this study examines the ways in which WLB discourse(s) are translated and adopted within transnational call centres in India. Discursive understandings suggest that work–life balance negotiations are filtered through two dominant discourses: neoliberalism/individualism and collectivism–paternalism. The contradictions between these discourses are explored using Critical Discourse Analysis by examining qualitative interviews with 50 call centres in South India. Analysis reveals that work–life balance terminology and discourses were used to describe a form of ‘global modernity,' an extension of professionalism and neoliberal working practices. On the shop floor however, organizational cultures were heavily paternalistic and the workplace was viewed as an extended family whose role was to nurture, care for and protect workers. The westernized work–life discourse was described as an idealized norm for tidy, segmented lives, while the ‘messy’ reality of living of family and community life and blurring of boundaries could not be accounted for within this discourse. This study illuminates a central message in Suzan Lewis' body of work: that context matters.
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Keywords: call centres; capitalisme globale; centres d'appel; conciliation entre vie professionnelle et vie privée; global capitalism; paternalism; paternalisme; work–life balance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Social Work Division, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, Middlesex, UK

Publication date: March 14, 2016

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