Lotte Bailyn wrote Breaking
the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World
in 1993, many of us were working too many hours and seeing too
little of the families we loved. In subsequent years, she’s continued
researching the relationship between managerial practice and employees'
lives. When we spoke in June, she talked of her work, her projects,
and the wonderful ways that personal life can actually improve,
not hinder, work life.
Would you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on?
My colleagues and I have been working with organizations of various
kinds to look at the way they do their work. We look at things
like their work practices, their work structure, the cultural
assumptions surrounding who’s a good worker, and how they evaluate
performance. With them we work to rethink those aspects in such
a way that employees are able to live up to their highest potential
in their work, and are also able to integrate their work with
their personal lives. That is what we call the dual agenda.
do not use the term “balance” because it connotes that these two
domains in people’s lives have to be equal; that it’s a balance
scale—hence if one goes up, the other goes down. The underlying
premise of our work is that this need not necessarily be so. We
talk about “the integration of work and personal life” to show
that work is also part of life. The term “work-life” implies that
somehow the two are different, and of course they are not. Work
is obviously an important part of life but shouldn’t be the only
We have been fairly
successful in experimentally collaborating with people in work
groups to make changes that serve the dual agenda of both allowing
employees to integrate their work and personal lives better, and
more effectively reach organizational goals. That approach also
serves the purpose of gender equity because the current view of
what’s required of work very much fits men’s lives and characteristics,
and has made it difficult for women to reach the high positions
that most organizations would like them to reach. This way of
working also constrains men because they have to follow a model
of the ideal worker who takes his work as the most important priority
and as his identity.
Is your approach working?
Yes, we have had some successes. And loosening those constraints
helps both men and women. Looking at work through the lens of
work-personal life integration allows one to rethink the way that
work is being done, which is not easy because these ways are so
ingrained. The assumptions upon which they are based are taken
so for granted that one doesn’t usually question them.
No wonder! This is no easy task.
True. It sounds easy when you say it, but it is very difficult
I think “dual agenda” is a far better choice of words than “balance.”
We like it. And, as I said, instead of “work-life balance” or
“work-family balance,” we’ve been using “work-personal life integration.”
It may be an awkward phrase, but we’ve never quite found a way
to say it that encompasses all these ideas, mainly that the two
go together, and that they are not adversarial, and that changes
can meet both goals. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
There are things, though, we must learn to do differently to be
able to succeed... just to be able to relish that time in either
area or both areas. What specific things have you learned that
we all could benefit from?
There are things that have to be learned in both domains. In the
domain of paid employment, we must learn to rethink the way that
work is usually done, and the sort of definitions or assumptions
upon which it’s based. For example, one often assumes the best
worker is the one who’s always there, always available, and who
spends long hours at work. But, as we know personally and from
research, when there’s fatigue, there’s burnout and stress. There
are costs to working too much, but there is a deep belief that
that’s how to define the best workers.
Another assumption deals with the whole notion of time: the more
time you put in, the better the work that comes out. We know that’s
not true. The interesting example of the moment is in the medical
field, where life-threatening mistakes come from people who are
overworked or who work too long.
Learning has to be done in the work domain that deals with understanding
the underlying assumptions, which often tend to be assumptions
based on a different model of the world than we are in now.
Perhaps men could
work all the time when women were at home supporting them and
taking care of the personal side of life, but that’s not the world
we are in now. Those underlying assumptions still define the routine,
the work practices, and the way we evaluate performance. We have
to learn about these types of assumptions and bring them to the
surface so we can look at them, challenge them, and rethink how
they affect the way we work. This would allow us to consider alternatives.
We need to find ways of working that don’t take all this time
and complete commitment, because one sees the negative consequences
of that for the work itself.
In the personal
sphere, learning has to be done around valuing the activities
one does in communities and in families—activities that can provide
self-esteem, satisfaction, and joy. But instead of learning from
them, we’ve gotten to the situation where we feel these activities
prevent career success. Which is too bad, because we have so much
to learn from caring for other people and doing cooperative, collaborative
Ironically, isn’t that what we hear business wants people to do?
Yes, but their work cultures aren’t set up to take advantage of
these kinds of activities or to learn from the personal and private
world. Putting up this barrier of separation, that the two will
never meet, may be one of the reasons why organizations are having
such trouble getting to true collaboration and cooperation.
Likewise, I’ve often wondered how organizations that ask their
employees to have great passion for their work and to be evangelists
for the messages of the organization, can also ask those same
employees not to bring their emotions and feelings to work, which
has been the tacit request for years.
Exactly right. If you think of integration instead of this notion
of separation of spheres, your emotions will be there. Businesses
can’t expect you to bring all your passion to the work if they
don’t, at the same time, legitimize and value your passion for
your personal life and the activities that you do there, including
the care of family, the care of communities, and the care for
I think that leads to the overarching question, which is what
do we, as employees, need to learn?
We have to learn to do things differently. We have to let people
experience a different way of working and a different way of interacting
and giving. Naming those new ways and recognizing them is a huge
learning experience. It’s scary to think of doing things differently,
allowing emotions to surface, and bringing your personal world
into the public world. That's why we begin with trial attempts.
It sounds like they then learn from experience.
And it sounds like it helps them also make changes and modifications.
Yes. If you say, “Let’s just try it for six weeks,” it somehow
allows that experience to occur. If you were to say, “We’re going
to change forever, from tomorrow on,” it probably wouldn’t work.
Here’s to small steps. Thank you.
Bailyn is T Wilson (Class of 1953) Professor of Management and
Behavioral Policy Science (BPS) at MIT Sloan where she studies
the relationship between managerial practice and employees' lives.
She is author of Breaking
the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World
and with her research team the upcoming Beyond Work-Family Balance.
Learn more about her on the MIT
Sloan Website .
Marcia Conner is Editor in Chief of LiNE Zine and
CEO of Learnativity.com. She’s in the process
of finishing a book on how learning influences life. Write her
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