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"You are free to set your own hours": Governing worker productivity and health through flexibility and resilience

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  • MacEachen, Ellen
  • Polzer, Jessica
  • Clarke, Judy

Abstract

Flexible work is now endemic in modern economies. A growing literature both praises work flexibility for accommodating employees' needs and criticizes it for fueling contingency and job insecurity. Although studies have identified varied effects of flexible work, questions remain about the workplace dimensions of flexibility and how occupational workplace health is managed in these workplaces. This paper presents findings from a qualitative study of how managers in the computer software industry situate workplace flexibility and approach worker health. In-depth interviews were conducted with managers (and some workers) at 30 firms in Ontario, Canada. Using a critical discourse analysis approach, we examine managers' optimistic descriptions of flexibility which emphasize how flexible work contributes to workers' life balance. We then contrast this with managers' depictions of flexibility work practices as intense and inescapable. We suggest that the discourse of flexibility, and the work practices they foster, make possible and reinforce an increased intensity of work that is driven by the demands of technological pace and change that characterize the global information technology and computer software industries. Finally, we propose that flexible knowledge work has led to a re-framing of occupational health management involving a focus on what we call "strategies of resilience" that aim to buttress workers' capacities to withstand intensive and uncertain working conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • MacEachen, Ellen & Polzer, Jessica & Clarke, Judy, 2008. ""You are free to set your own hours": Governing worker productivity and health through flexibility and resilience," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(5), pages 1019-1033, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:66:y:2008:i:5:p:1019-1033
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Heisz, Andrew & Larochelle-Cote, Sebastien, 2006. "Summary Of: Work Hours Instability in Canada," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2006279e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
    2. Heaney, Catherine A. & Israel, Barbara A. & House, James S., 1994. "Chronic job insecurity among automobile workers: Effects on job satisfaction and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 38(10), pages 1431-1437, May.
    3. John Bone, 2006. "‘The longest day’: ‘flexible’ contracts, performance-related pay and risk shifting in the UK direct selling sector," Work, Employment & Society, British Sociological Association, vol. 20(1), pages 109-127, March.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Beckmann & Thomas Cornelissen, 2014. "Self-Managed Working Time and Employee Effort: Microeconometric Evidence," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 636, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    2. Scott Schieman & Marisa Young, 2015. "Who Engages in Work–Family Multitasking? A Study of Canadian and American Workers," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 120(3), pages 741-767, February.
    3. Beckmann, Michael, 2016. "Self-managed working time and firm performance: Microeconometric evidence," Working papers 2016/01, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.
    4. Beckmann, Michael, 2016. "Self-managed working time and firm performance: Microeconometric evidence," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145623, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    5. Beckmann, Michael & Hegedüs, Istvan, 2011. "Trust-based working time and organizational performance: evidence from German establishment-level panel data," Working papers 2011/13, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.

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