This article sheds new light on neglected areas of recent ‘work-life’ discussions. Drawing on a study of a largely female workforce made redundant by factory relocation, the majority subsequently finding alternative employment in a variety of work settings, the results illustrate aspects of both positive and negative spillover from work to non-work life.
In addition, the findings add to the growing number of studies that highlight the conditions under which part-time working detracts from, rather than contributes to, successful work-life balance. The conclusion discusses the need for a more multi-dimensional approach to work-life issues. Keywords part-time work, positive/negative spillover, redundancy, re-employment, work-life balance Introduction Recent discussion of the relationship between work and non-work life – much f it focused on the notion of work-life balance – has tended to give preference to two aspects of that relationship over others. First, there has been a marked tendency to consider the impact of work on non-work life to a much greater extent than vice versa. Second, as Corresponding author: Jean Jenkins, Cardiff University, Aberconway Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, Wales, UK. Email: Jenkinsj1@cardiff. ac. uk Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 27 Blyton and Jenkins
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Guest (2002: 260) has pointed out, there has been an equal tendency to explore ‘work-life conflict’ rather than examine possible positive associations within that relationship. For Guest (2002: 263), this reflects a widely held view that over the past generation the pressure of work has become a more dominant feature of many people’s lives, as a result of among other things perceived increases in work demands and a widespread expectation to show commitment by working long hours (see, for example, McGovern et al. , 2007; Perlow, 1999).
Coupled with the growth in female labour market participation, particularly among women with dependent children, this is seen to increase pressure on non-work activity by reducing the time and/or energy available to fulfil outside responsibilities. Where the possibility for positive ‘spillover’ (Staines, 1980) between work and nonwork life has been examined, this has mainly been undertaken by social psychologists, generally approaching the issue both from an individual perspective and with the non-work focus primarily on the family.
Examples include studies that have identified a positive association between an individual’s job satisfaction and their satisfaction with family life (for example, Near et al. , 1987). Less attention has been addressed to more aggregate levels of analysis more typically explored by sociologists, such as the influence of the work group or workplace community on life outside work (for a notable exception, see Grzywacz et al. , 2007, and for earlier sociological accounts, see Horobin, 1957; Tunstall, 1962).
Yet, despite the attention given to the potential for positive spillover of individual-level factors, even among psychologists the clear direction of travel has been to examine possible conflictual rather than beneficial relationships between aspects of work and non-work life. In their meta-analysis of 190 studies of associations between work and family, for example, Eby et al. (2005) found almost three times the number of studies focusing on the unfavourable effects of one sphere on the other, compared to those considering possible favourable effects.
Even more starkly, of all the studies examining the effects of work on family or vice versa, less than one in five of the studies entertained the possibility of the relationship being characterized by both favourable and unfavourable effects. A recent study involving a largely female manufacturing workforce made redundant by factory relocation, most of whom subsequently found alternative employment in a variety of work settings, allows for examination of some of the neglected aspects of the relationship between work and life outside work.
In several respects the nature of this study in terms of the workplace and its location – a large clothing manufacturer, Burberry, in the Rhondda Valleys of South Wales – is somewhat distinctive. In earlier times the plant had been one among a cluster of factories in its locality, but the decline of coal and manufacturing meant that it had become the biggest employer for a relatively isolated community in an economically depressed area. Thus, while in operation, the factory exerted a considerable impact on the non-work lives (both in terms of family and community) of its workforce.
Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between community and workplace in our case that resonates with Cunnison’s (1966) earlier garment factory study. Such windows on the interaction of factory and community are becoming increasingly rare in the context of manufacturing decline in the UK and the changing nature of what a ‘workplace’ has become. The study provides insight into the journey of a redundant manufacturing workforce into new Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 28 Work, Employment and Society 26(1) mployment in the contemporary labour market. In this, there are clear points of reference to be drawn with Bailey et al. ’s (2008) study of redundancy at the MG Rover plant at Longbridge, Birmingham, UK, even though that study dealt with respondents from a quite different demographic and skills base. Manufacturing employment in Britain has typically involved workers employed fulltime and this pattern also prevailed in clothing factories, including our case (see Kersley et al. , 2006: 78; also Phizacklea, 1990: 66).
Factory closure and the paucity of good jobs in the immediate locality gave workers limited choice and the subsequent employment experience of many of our female respondents (the majority of whom were over 45 years of age) involved part-time jobs in the service sector. Their responses usefully contribute to discussions (led by Walsh, 2007; Walters, 2005; Warren, 2004, among others) on the extent to which (and conditions under which) part-time working may contribute to (or detract from) a successful work-life balance.
It is evident from the present sample that both part-time employment – particularly the lower incomes deriving from that work – and the lack of stability in the hours worked, had a significant negative impact on different aspects of non-work life. What emerges is a picture that highlights the obstacles to positive spillover in part-time, low wage service sector occupations which fail to offer workers stability and security in terms of contracts, hours or earnings.
To explore these issues, the remainder of the article is divided into five sections. First, the context of the study is outlined: the nature of the community and the closure of the factory that was the focus for our enquiry. Second we describe our investigation and our maintained connection with a sample of the workforce made redundant and their trade union representatives. The third and fourth sections trace the changing nature of the relationship between workplace and life outside work: the shift from a largely positive o a more problematic association as employment experiences altered. While the third section examines the association between Burberry and broader features of workers’ lives, the fourth explores work and non-work experiences of workers following the Burberry closure. This fourth section explores, among other things, the effects of parttime working and unpredictable work hours on the families and social lives of our respondents.
The final, fifth section reflects on the findings and underlines the value of work-life enquiries adopting a more context-sensitive and multi-dimensional approach to the interconnections between work, family and community. The context: the locality and the factory This study centres on the experiences of women and men employed by Burberry, until the closure of its manufacturing plant in South Wales in 2007. The Burberry factory studied was located in Treorchy, a former coal-mining town in the Rhondda Valleys.
This region saw ‘permanent structural change’ during the last quarter of the 20th century, due to the acute decline of coal mining and steel (Williams, 1998: 87, 121). Regeneration has been a regional government priority but the relative geographical isolation of valley towns like Treorchy presents particular challenges for individuals in travelling for work and also for agencies charged with attracting alternative sources of investment (Bryan et al. , 2003).
Founded in 1939, the factory changed ownership more than once, with Burberry being a customer throughout its history and taking full ownership in the late Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 29 Blyton and Jenkins 1980s. At its height, the factory employed 1500 employees and though employment levels had contracted to around 300 by 2007, it remained a key employer in the area. As was the case in Cunnison’s (1966) study, the community outside the workplace entered the factory gates in the form of amilial ties, friendships and long-established associations and over time the plant had acquired a strong local identity as an example of the surviving manufacturing sector and a bastion of ‘jobs in the Valleys’. The factory’s workforce was overwhelmingly female, reflecting the gender profile of the clothing sector generally (Winterton and Taplin, 1997b: 10). Low levels of recruitment in latter years had resulted in an ageing workforce, with the majority of workers at the factory being 45 years or older.
As part of a ‘buyer-driven’ global value chain (Gereffi, 1994), the British clothing industry has experienced structural change associated with outsourcing and outward processing of production (Jones, 2006: 101). While Burberry had formerly set itself apart from the trend to off-shoring by ‘focussed differentiation and niche marketing’ (Winterton and Taplin, 1997a: 194) of its high value garments as ‘quintessentially British’, in 2006 it joined the ranks of other producers and gave notice of its intention to relocate the Treorchy plant’s production to China in the interests of cheaper labour costs.
The shock of the notice of closure was deeply felt in a community with limited prospects of alternative work and within a workplace with a strong social network. In his earlier study of garment workers, Lupton (1963: 72–3) comments that factory life was made tolerable by the sociable groupings that evolved within their walls, and that workers’ attachment to the company ‘sprang very largely from [their] emotional attachment to the small group of friends rather than any love for work that had little intrinsic value, or for their employer’.
As well as the loss of these sorts of relationships, the Burberry workers also feared the loss to the local community of a factory which had, over its 70-year history, become emblematic of secure employment and was regarded, as one respondent commented, as a ‘guaranteed job … a job for life’. Thus, when Burberry made its announcement, the workforce reacted with outrage and disbelief. A fierce campaign attracted considerable media attention, but the plant closed in March 2007 (for a discussion of the closure campaign, see Blyton and Jenkins, 2009).
For the majority of our respondents, closure meant the end of their workplace community and the rupture of friendships and associations that had been built up over lifetimes. It also meant entry into a new world of job search or enforced ‘retirement’ in the context of low pay and limited choice. The study Using survey, interview and observational methods, we have examined several aspects of the redundancies, and individuals’ subsequent employment experiences, over a longitudinal research period which had key stages in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The research began in January 2007, and initially concentrated on the workers’ campaign against closure of the plant. Regular interviews were held with full-time and lay union representatives, and shop-floor staff, and a short survey was issued to employees in February 2007, while the plant was still open. A further survey of the effects of redundancy was issued in March 2008 (one year after plant closure) and interviews with union representatives have continued up to the present. In addition, the authors attended various public and trade union meetings and workers’ reunions occurring since the plant closure. Downloaded from wes. sagepub. om at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 30 Work, Employment and Society 26(1) As the initial 2007 survey sought information specifically on employees’ response to the union campaign against closure, it has only a limited contribution to make to this article’s focus on the effects of redundancy. The 2008 survey and interviews conducted in 2009 provided the main sources of information about the effects of redundancy. It was in this phase of the research that the focus was on workers’ employment experiences since redundancy as well as aspects of their previous employment and comparisons were drawn between life ‘before and after Burberry’.
The 2008 survey was posted to the homes of 191 former shop-floor staff (all the staff we were able to secure home addresses for) and 80 usable replies were received (a response rate of 42%). Reflecting the lower levels of recruitment at the factory in latter years, 70 per cent of the respondents were 45 years or older (74% were married or living with a partner, and 70% had no children living at home). Of the 80 respondents, 71 (89%) were female. The full-time union representative for the largest union in the plant, the GMB,1 estimated the ratio of female to male employment within the factory at 80:20.
Employment records could not be obtained to verify this estimate but it was a good reflection of the profile of shop-floor union membership, which stood at around 80 per cent density. In January 2009, the 28 respondents to the 2008 survey who had indicated their willingness to participate in ongoing research were contacted and asked to participate in interviews about their experiences since redundancy. Eleven agreed and semistructured interviews took place, focusing on their experiences while employed at the factory and the way their lives had changed in the two years since the closure.
Interviews took place in respondents’ own homes and lasted, on average, one hour and 40 minutes. Two interviewees were male, nine were female. Despite the predominance of female respondents in the survey and interviews, male workers at the plant participated in all phases of the research in rough proportion to their representation at the workplace, and work-life issues for both men and women in the study were negatively impacted by low paid, insecure work in the prevailing labour market environment.
In terms of its representativeness and relevance for wider social enquiry, it is acknowledged that this study has many distinct features in terms of workplace and location, but it contributes to the building of generalizations (see Gerring, 2004: 341, 352) in two areas. First, Burberry’s own cost-focused rationale for closure highlights the workings of the garment value chain and the fact that low paid female workers in a mature economy are now ‘too expensive’ to manufacture garments – even those at the high end of the retail market.
Thus, what is examined in this case is a particular instance of the ‘new forms of inequality’ (Glucksmann, 2009: 878) which result from an international division of labour where labour is casualized and ‘recommodified’ in the service sector of the global north (see Standing, 2009: 70–78) as manufacturing relocates for cheaper people and more favourable regulatory regimes elsewhere. Second, the respondents’ experiences of job search contribute to analysis and understanding of the contemporary British labour market and the increasing phenomenon of nvoluntary part-time working, particularly among women (Yerkes and Visser, 2006: 253). In this respect, Bailey et al. ’s (2008) study of job search and re-employment of Longbridge workers is a useful comparator for the present enquiry even though their respondents differed from the Burberry workforce in that 90 per cent were male and were mainly professional, skilled, semi-skilled or technical workers. The Longbridge results indicate that, post-closure: Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 31 Blyton and Jenkins igher earning occupations were more likely to travel for work and were consequently much better placed to cope with job loss; men were more likely to find alternative full-time jobs; redundant workers needed ongoing support and training; women were more likely to be found in part-time employment in the service sector; and those workers moving from manufacturing into public services in education, health and social care (as did the majority of the Burberry respondents) reported the largest decline in salary, which Bailey and colleagues (2008: 54) refer to as a particular indicator of ‘growing labour market polarization and inequality’.
In detailing key factors in successful efforts at re-employment, Bailey et al. ’s findings help to illuminate what was absent from the demographic and skills profile of the Burberry respondents and highlight the factors which limited their prospects for re-employment. It is evident in the Burberry case that low paid, full-time female manufacturing workers classed as unskilled became low paid, part-time service sector workers out of necessity not choice.
The majority of workers could not travel for work due to a range of factors, among which low earnings, job insecurity and the close intersection between their work and non-work lives were prime considerations. While it was perhaps the very legacy of poor pay and the marginalization of women’s work as ‘unskilled’ at the Burberry plant which presented the greatest challenges for e-employment, the factory had undoubted compensations: it offered a working week that had fixed boundaries of time and effort, perceived job security, norms of employment that followed women’s life patterns and strong sociable groupings, all of which allowed workers to make positive accommodations between their paid and unpaid working lives. In the contemporary ‘low-skilled’ labour market outside the plant, most of these compensations were absent and the combined effects of low hourly rates of pay and unpredictable part-time hours in their changed employment eroded any positive spillover from work.
The following sections examine these factors in greater detail. The changing relationship between work and life outside work: Burberry and community integration As the majority of employees and our respondents were female, a key issue in the findings related to the intersection of paid and unpaid work in the lives of women workers. Working near to home in a close-knit workplace had helped women manage the integration of their work and non-work lives in various ways; these were explored in interviews at the time of the closure, in unstructured discussions at public events, and in the interviews conducted in 2009.
Five factors in particular were most commented on in relation to ways in which the factory was positively interconnected with the lives of the workers in the community. First, frequent reference was made to the advantages of the workplace’s proximity to their homes: No bus fare to pay, on the doorstep. I could leave the house at 25 to eight and be clocking on at a quarter to. We used to finish at 4. 40 and I’d be home by 4. 45. I could get on with my ironing before tea. I absolutely hated it the day I started, but it was so convenient – you’d finish at 4. 0 and be home at five. Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 32 Work, Employment and Society 26(1) This proximity was also helpful in coping with unforeseen domestic emergencies: We didn’t earn a lot but I had a job where I was near to home. I could cope with all the commitments in my private life, if my mother was taken ill [for example]. The second most commonly referred-to factor was the reliability of the company as a source of employment, with relatives able to ‘have a word’ with Personnel to secure employment for other family members.
Interviewees referred to relatives made redundant several times from other manufacturing jobs before getting ‘security’ in a job at Burberry. Many had several members of their family working at the factory. It was like a family – when I started work, my mother worked there, her sister worked there, my father’s sister worked there, my own sister worked there and I had two or three cousins there. Out of the 14 houses in my street, 10 of them had Burberry workers living in them.
Such was the prevalence of familial ties throughout the plant that one interviewee commented that her husband always referred to his mother by her first name when inside the factory, saying that there was no point in calling her ‘Mam’ because ‘there were so many mothers and children on the shop-floor’. A number of people met their future spouses at the plant and patterns of life-time work within the factory traditionally facilitated exit and re-entry into work, following childbearing.
The expectation of a job being available resulted in many women giving up work to have families, in the knowledge – accurate up to the last years – of re-employment at a later date. A third advantage for life outside work was perceived to be the factory’s predictable working hours. Almost all staff (over 95%) at Burberry were employed full-time, with the factory operating Monday to Friday, 7. 45 a. m. to 4. 40 p. m.
As one respondent commented after the closure, she ‘really missed the Monday to Friday routine’ – this routine being something else that was seen to compensate for the low wage rates paid at the factory (and a routine absent from many jobs subsequently obtained, as discussed below). Fourth, many references were made to the social aspects of work, with interviewees and survey respondents using terms such as their ‘Burberry family’ and ‘one big family’, where they saw their neighbours every day.
Though aspects of the work routines were reported as ‘strict’, the work atmosphere was clearly punctuated by ‘all the laughs’ they had, and the everyday chat. Comments on the latter included: Officially we were supposed to start at 7. 45 but some of us used to go in 15 minutes early for a chat before we started work. Once you’d done your number [piecework target] you could take a break and go upstairs to the toilets for a chat.
As in Lupton’s study (1963: 72–3), the workers did not idealize the tensions or the work of factory life at the Burberry plant, which was hard and low paid, particularly for the majority of female workers who earned little more than the national minimum wage. Comments about their ‘Burberry family’ were made alongside derogatory remarks about Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 33 Blyton and Jenkins their former employers. Thus nostalgia for factory life was reserved for memories of events and those friendships and people that had characterized workers’ experience of employment at the plant.
There were also more organized social activities such as charity fund-raising events, works trips and parties which were clearly valued (and missed) and, in combination with the informal relations between workers, had contributed significantly to the ongoing contact with others in the community. In addition to these four aspects of positive connection between work and non-work life, respondents identified two further, related attributes of their work that had relevance for life outside the factory.
First, several commented on the skills they had acquired at Burberry and the positive feelings that this had given them (‘pride at being a Burberry worker’). Examples of reported skills were numerous, including the interviewees who pointed out ‘hand-sewers’ still working at the plant in 2007, and indicated their level of skill in comments such as ‘we used to prove the methods’ (‘proving a method’ involved transferring a design from planning into full production, something necessary from time to time with difficult garments, and requiring considerable expertise).
Several referred to the national awards for excellence won by the factory, to the long hours they had worked beyond their contracts, and being always keen to ‘get the work out’. Closely associated with the pride in their skills, a number of respondents reported an acquired status that reflected responsibilities held within the factory which they felt had been undermined by job loss. The quest to maintain social status and social identity has been recognized in studies of redundancy among men, such as former steel workers (Harris, 1987: 36).
From several ex-Burberry respondents came comments that they were shocked to find themselves treated in the job search process as ‘low skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ (as a result of generally lacking certified or accredited qualifications), with their former status within the plant often being replaced by alternative employment in junior-level service sector jobs. One interviewee, for example, who had held supervisory responsibilities at Burberry, commented that her next employer (the retail chain Argos) entrusted her with virtually no responsibility: ‘they didn’t know me or what I’d done’.
In their study, Bailey et al. (2008: 50) comment on the crucial influence of the local labour market for re-employment, together with accredited skills, the need for ongoing training support and help with travelling for work. Our findings lead us to agree that the propensity to travel and retrain for work are key determinants of success in job search, and this former supervisor at Burberry was an example of what occurs when low paid, insecure, unpredictable work makes travel too costly.
Though she had taken advantage of short-term training courses offered by local employment services, she was unable to gain recognition for the skills she had acquired over 40 years of factory working and had been able to obtain only two temporary jobs since factory closure. She described the consequent effects on her sense of purpose and identity and the negative physical and emotional effects of being a ‘job-seeker’ for the first time in her life in her mid-50s, as ‘devastating’ and the cause of depression.
All told, our respondents (even those who said they had grown to enjoy their new employment and were earning more) expressed regret at the loss of the social factors that have been discussed in this section, which constituted significant compensations for the comparatively low wage rates at the Burberry plant. After closure, the legacy of years of low pay and particularly the marginalization of women’s work as ‘unskilled’ meant that Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 34
Work, Employment and Society 26(1) job search was an activity that prioritized the local labour market. Once workers entered new forms of employment, however, they did so without the supporting structure of the social network and sense of identity that (for them) had defined the experience of being a Burberry worker. The changing relationship between work and life outside work: redundancy, re-employment and social isolation The vast majority of the redundant Burberry workers restricted their job search to their own locality.
This choice was partly facilitated by the building of a new Wal-Mart Asda store, along with the availability of care work with the local authority. Data from the local Job Centre Plus confirmed our finding that the majority of Burberry workers prioritized proximity of alternative employment over other factors such as remaining in similar occupations or moving for alternative manufacturing opportunities elsewhere. The context of low pay made relocation financially unrealistic, even if it had been desired. In 2007 the local jobs market was dominated by part-time hours, relatively low earnings and little perceived security.
These criteria fall far short of an incentive to move established households and lose the support network of family, community and friends. As well as the risk of not finding better or secure employment elsewhere, workers faced the constraints of the housing market and the low property values characteristic of deindustrialized areas, which effectively trap people in regions of high unemployment (McNulty, 1987: 42). Relocation was therefore an unrealistic option for the majority of our respondents, but this did not prevent it being proposed for consideration during the process of job search.
One male interviewee recounted his first visit to a local Job Centre Plus, where he was faced with a question he found outrageous: Do you know the first thing they [Job Centre staff] said to me was, ‘Are you prepared to move? ’ Can you believe that? Why would I want to move away? I said no, I wouldn’t. This reaction was typical of the majority of our respondents. While the plant was still open but under notice of closure, Burberry provided employment consultants to help with job search and vacancies were posted on the factory notice-board.
One interviewee described how she and other workers used to ‘have a laugh’ about the jobs being advertised hundreds of miles outside Rhondda, many of which were also part-time at minimum wage rates. Several interviewees commented (during the run-up to closure and in later interviews) that they regarded the posting of such jobs as not only ridiculous but also a cynical ploy to misrepresent their situation, feeling that Burberry could claim it was doing all it could to meet its responsibilities to a workplace community that could find alternative work if only it took up the opportunities the company had researched on their behalf.
For workers though, not only relocation but the option of daily commuting was constrained by the precise nature of work available. The costs and difficulties of travel for variable shifts and short daily hours spread over 24 hours and five or seven days of the week were not likely to be sustainable on a low income. All these factors made relocation and travelling for work to different degrees economically impracticable. Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 35 Blyton and Jenkins Table 1.
Summary of patterns of work and earnings for former Burberry workers one year after redundancy Respondents Male (n=9) Female (n=71) As % of total respondents 11% 89% Working patterns prior to factory closure, March 2007 No. and proportion employed full-time 9 (100%) 68 (94%) Working patterns following factory closure, March 2008 No. of respondents in paid work 7 46 No. and proportion employed full-time 7 (100%) 19 (41%) No. and proportion in part-time work 0 27 (59%) Proportion of respondents in paid work, 28% 23% eporting an increase in weekly earnings Proportion of respondents in paid work, 71% 56% reporting a fall in weekly earnings All (n=80) 100% 77 (95%) 53 26 (49%) 27 (51%) 24% 59% At the time of our 2008 survey, just over two-thirds of the respondents were in paid work with the remainder divided roughly equally between those who had retired and those still seeking employment. The majority of those in work were in the same job that they found on leaving Burberry, while 15 respondents had had two or more jobs since their redundancy.
The areas of paid work entered by our sample were mainly in the manufacturing, home-care or retail sectors; two-thirds of respondents in paid work entered relatively low-skill service sector employment. Table 1 highlights the study’s findings on the nature of re-employment patterns. Just over half of the respondents in paid work were employed part-time, on hours ranging from six to 30 per week (and with a mean and mode of 20 hours).
Most (88%) of those with part-time jobs reported that their actual hours varied week by week. Those in care work and retail jobs were especially likely to hold part-time contracts with variable hours. The care contracts, for example, typically began as (effectively) zero-hour contracts with no hours guaranteed until a training period was completed. After that, just 16 hours per week were commonly guaranteed, though workers could be asked to work as many as 30 hours in a week depending on demand.
The same was true of retail work, though attaining a 30-hour week was far less common in that sector. For many, their parttime status (rather than their hourly rate of pay) was the principal reason why their weekly earnings were lower than they had been at Burberry. In several subsequent interviews, respondents commented that making ends meet while working part-time was only made viable by supplementary state benefits and that part-time employment dominated available opportunities rather than being a chosen option.
Both from survey responses and interview comments, it was also clear that many were subject to working time patterns that not only varied from week to week but were also highly unpredictable, in terms of both timing and duration. For those on variablehours contracts, their shifts could be scheduled during the daytime, evening or weekends, and for many their forthcoming weekly schedule was known only at the latter end of the previous week. In interviews, the majority of respondents commented on the difficulties Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 6 Work, Employment and Society 26(1) created in their home lives by the variability and unpredictability of their new work commitments. One interviewee, for example, employed full-time as a hotel receptionist in 2008 had had her hours cut to 20 per week when interviewed in 2009, and she received just ? 120. 00 gross weekly pay. Though contractually her employer undertook to issue shift patterns and times one month in advance, in practice working patterns were given to her weekly. Shifts ran from 7 a. m to 3 p. m. , 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. , and 3 p. m. o 11 p. m. , and it was quite normal to have to undertake ‘back-to-back’ shifts finishing at 11 p. m. and starting work again at 7 a. m. She commented that the ‘worst thing’ about the job was the timing and unpredictability of the shift work: You can’t plan anything. I’ve just had to cancel a dentist’s appointment because they’ve called me in for a shift and I can’t make another appointment because I won’t know what I’m working next week. Without her parents’ help, this interviewee commented that she could not have coped with caring for her daughter.
It was family support that allowed her to achieve any sort of balance, however imperfect, between her paid and unpaid working life and the tax-credit state benefit (effectively acting as a subsidy for a low paying employer) was an essential factor allowing her to afford to travel to work and keep her employment. A further example of the negative impact of unpredictable hours concerned another respondent who now worked for the local authority (via their care work agency) and was a married mother of two children.
Her employment was typical of work in this sector in that it began (in 2007) as a zero-hour contract, with actual hours of work determined wholly by demand. She received notice of her hours each weekend, for the following week. Her shifts were normally based on notional patterns of 8 a. m. to 10. 30 a. m. and 4. 30 p. m. to 6 p. m. over a seven-day period, but she never knew exactly how many hours she would be given (or which days she would work) for the week ahead. As a new employee, in common with all new recruits, she was classed as ‘casual’ and therefore had no guaranteed hours of work.
The interviewee explained that this meant that she sometimes had four hours’ work for a week, but that this could just as likely be twenty or thirty, depending on what her supervisor assigned. ‘Permanent’ status was necessary to attain guaranteed minimum income equivalent to 16 hours’ work per week. As a ‘casual’, she said that planning her income or any sort of family event was impossible; even knowing her hours one week in advance did not help as ‘they can call you, phone you, any time and ask you to come in’.
And as a worker hopeful of allocation to a permanent team and reliant on the support of her line manager, this interviewee did not feel she had the scope to refuse any such request. In January 2010, she had still not been upgraded from casual status and could depend on just three hours’ work a week. Unpredictable work patterns were not the sole preserve of women workers. Men were more likely to obtain full-time work but, anecdotally, were more prone to lay-off or seasonally influenced working patterns.
One of our male respondents found a seasonal, 40-hour a week job marginally above the national minimum wage rate after several months of unemployment. With no security of contract or predictability of hours, he worked entirely according to the employer’s demand. In the summer he could work as many as 65 hours a week, reducing to 20 at other periods, and was laid off altogether in Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 37 Blyton and Jenkins the coldest months.
Hours of work were notified one week in advance, but were frequently subject to change on the day. He regarded placing his time completely at the employer’s disposal as essential to keep his employment. This interviewee had a history of 30 years of regular employment at Burberry and commented that his new working life was a source of anxiety for the future. Jobs with such variable and unpredictable hours have become common in sectors such as retailing (Backett-Milburn et al. , 2008; Henly et al. 2006; Lambert, 2008; Zeytinoglu et al. , 2004) and care (Henninger and Papouschek, 2008; Rubery et al. , 2005). It is also clear that further variability occurs in ‘real time’ as employees are requested at short notice to stay on, or leave early, to reflect particular work circumstances. For management, this access to variable hours offers a means of deploying labour to shadow fluctuations both in demand and available staff but for the people we were interviewing, this variability and unpredictability had many drawbacks.
In particular these disadvantages included: a general uncertainty over their work schedule, making it difficult to plan activities outside work; for some, increased problems of organizing childcare and maintaining a consistent care arrangement; a disruption to domestic routines such as meal times; and a lack of stable income as earnings fluctuated with actual hours worked. In the 2008 survey, questions were also asked about changes in other areas of respondents’ non-work lives since the factory closure. Responses to a question about socializing and friendships since the closure showed a marked deterioration.
Almost three in five (58%) indicated that this aspect of their life had got worse, compared to 30 per cent saying it had stayed the same and a minority reporting an improvement. In subsequent interviews, several commented that they saw friends and neighbours much less now that Burberry had closed and female interviewees remained emotional about their changed situation even two years after the closure: I miss the company … I can pick the phone up and speak to people, but it’s not the same. Now, I have no social life. There are no friends passing here nd although people say they will keep in touch, they don’t. A similar picture was evident in relation to community involvement. Over two in five of the survey respondents reported a decline in their community involvement since the factory closure, compared to approximately one in seven who reported an increase (the remainder reporting no change). Both in comments on the survey and in interview comments, several references were made to having ‘less money for going out’, compared to former full-time earnings at Burberry.
This was especially the case for part-time workers. Those working part-time were more likely (compared to their counterparts in full-time jobs) to indicate that both their level of friendships and community involvement had deteriorated in the time since the factory closure. From comments in interviews, it was evident that reduced involvement with friends and the community were issues related to the break up of the workplace community (which had acted as a conduit to wider community involvement), lack of income and the consequence of more fragmented work patterns.
Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 38 Work, Employment and Society 26(1) Conclusion While other responses made by the former Burberry workers indicated that the clothing factory was far from an ideal place to work, the factory nevertheless engendered a strong sense of workplace community which in turn extended to various aspects of workers’ non-work lives. As a consequence, the workplace had a number of positive spillover effects into the non-work lives of its workforce.
The frequency of interpersonal contact, access to employment for family members, the sense of pride, skill and status that the work generated and the proximity of work to home: all were seen to create a beneficial effect on the workers’ lives more generally. The way that, for many, these factors later diminished, further underlines what the workers had gained from working at Burberry. Subsequent work, much of it part-time and/or with irregular and unpredictable hours, undermined the stability of contact, interaction and social life that had prevailed hitherto.
Widespread reductions in earnings exacerbated this situation with less disposable income to spend on a social life. These insights into work to non-work spillover contribute to the work-life debate in two ways. First, they underline the limitations of couching the discussion, as has been common, in terms of the negative impact of work on non-work life. It was clear among this group of workers that their former work experience at Burberry had generated various positive spillover effects, these only diminishing as they moved to other employment after the factory closed.
Second, as was discussed at the head of the article, any attention that has been given to positive spillover from work to home has focused largely on the influence of individual work-related variables such as job satisfaction. Aspects of these individual-level factors were certainly present among the ex-Burberry workers: a sense, for example, that the status acquired through responsibilities in the factory also had meaning in the non-work community.
Importantly, what the present study underlines are more group level, sociological factors positively affecting areas of non-work life: the importance, for example, of interaction among the workforce, reinforced by chat, gossip and ‘having a laugh’. Further, the way the factory represented a source of family, rather than solely individual, employment and the proximate location of the factory in the Treorchy community further reinforced a sense of community both inside and outside the factory.
The study’s findings also contribute to the discussion on the extent to which parttime working can contribute to work-life balance or, put differently, the way part-time work reflects a preference for a particular balance of time between work and non-work (Hakim, 2000). Several authors (for example, Walsh, 2007; Walters, 2005; Warren, 2004) have already pointed to the shortcomings of using part-time work as an indicator of a preference and a strategy for achieving work-life balance – noting in particular that this fails to take into account the heterogeneity of part-time work and that, for ome, working part-time is not a means to achieve work-life balance but rather a source of low pay and poor-quality jobs. The present study further underlines the need for a more differentiated view of part-time working. In our sample, while many working part-time in principle had more time available for non-work activities – even when taking longer travelling times into account – this did not translate into more time for friends or community activity. On the contrary, part-time working was associated with work-life Downloaded from wes. sagepub. com at University of Bath on March 21, 2013 9 Blyton and Jenkins impoverishment for this group more than work-life balance. For most of those on part-time contracts who had been used to working full-time, part-time work was an undesirable consequence of the kind of paid work available within the local labour market. The lower earnings that the part-time jobs generated and the variability and unpredictability of many working patterns detracted from, rather than contributed to, the quality of workers’ non-work lives. Overall, these findings signal the value of a nuanced approach in discussions around ‘work-life balance’.
In focusing on the associations of work to non-work life, this article has identified the ways in which associations may be positive or negative and has indicated that the nature of those associations may vary over time and from one context to another. As a result of tracing the subsequent employment experiences of the former garment workers in this study, it became clear that there is a continuing need for wider recognition not only of the heterogeneous nature of part-time work, but also the reasons why people are working part-time and the degree to which it is a voluntary, employeedriven choice.
It was also clear that variable and unpredictable work patterns may exert a significant deleterious influence on the ability of workers successfully to organize and fully enjoy their lives outside work. Acknowledgements The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the union representatives and former Burberry employees who participated in this research. We would also like to express our gratitude to the editor and three anonymous referees for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Note 1 The GMB describes itself as ‘Britain’s general union’.
It currently represents over 600,000 workers across a range of sectors, and the National Union of Tailor and Garment Workers was merged with it in 1991.
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- Part-time and casual work in retail trade: stress and other factors affecting the workplace. Relations Industrielles 59(3): 516–43. Paul Blyton is Professor of Industrial Relations and Industrial Sociology at Cardiff Business School and Research Associate in the ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) at Cardiff University.
- His research interests include employee responses to organizational change, working time and work-life balance. Recent publications include The Sage Handbook of Industrial Relations, co-edited with Nicolas Bacon, Jack Fiorito and Edmund Heery (Sage, 2008);
- Ways of Living: Work, Community and Lifestyle Choice, co-edited with Betsy Blunsdon, Ken Reed and Ali Dastmalchian (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Reassessing the Employment Relationship, co-edited with Edmund Heery and Peter Turnbull (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and Researching Sustainability, co-edited with Alex Franklin (Earthscan, 2011).
- Jean Jenkins is a lecturer in HRM at Cardiff Business School. Her research interests include labour conditions and unionization in the global garment sector, working time and union-management partnership. Recent publications include Work: Key Concepts, with Paul Blyton (Sage, 2007).
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