Work-Life: Cross National Conversations in Paris

Post in: German

On May 17, 2011, about 80 scholars from disciplines in the social sciences, business, and management gathered at the Paris Executive Campus of the Rouen Business School. Our purpose was to develop concrete suggestions for what to consider or how to proceed to improve the use of context, especially national context, in research on work-life or work-family issues.
The formula for the conference was innovative and useful: each presenter spoke for about 5 minutes about what he or she was doing in the research around national context, and the group discussed what ideas, questions, or concepts came to mind. Every two hours, we gathered results and started with a new group of scholars to present their work.
In my talk, I sought to highlight two new aspects:
(1) to bring in how geographic movement within and among national contexts influences work-life management and should affect the way we collect data and the questions we can answer. I used findings from the EU-funded Job Mobility and Family Lives project to illustrate my point.
(2) to examine inconsistencies in policy outcomes, for example, the EU goals to foster (a) full-time continuous labor market participation of men and women, (b) high levels of job-related spatial mobility (especially cross-national relocation) for men and women, (c) high levels of gender equality, and (d) high fertility rates.
By the end of the day, we generated specific proposals, including the need to theorize about the role of other actors besides just workers and employers and „the state“ by extending the pool of influence to labor movements, community associations and community activists. We also noticed how scholars with international experience brought very different — and illuminating — perspectives to the work-life national context discussion, and so we aim to facilitate more cross-national experience among the scholars themselves. I noticed early in the day that practices that work in one context would definitely not function in another, partly based on levels of trust and expectation of whom is responsible for what: in Germany, for example, conversations with the boss about private family life are not typical; one program in the USA tries to train supervisors to draw out private family information from the employers so that those supervisors can be more supportive of family demands.
Some excellent questions from the conference:

  • What is public, what is private?
  • What is global work?
  • How can work and family be organized within a framework of 24/7 availability?
  • What do the demands for instant communication and commerce mean for the work-family arrangements of people in other parts of the world?
  • How can research „make it better“?

Some of the results of the conference are likely to appear in a special issue, and the scholarly conversation goes on, most immediately at the conference „Work, Family, and Community“ in Tampere, Finland later this week and later on in New York on June 14-16, 2012.
It was a pleasure to be part of the fantastic, productive, stimulating day. Many thanks especially to Ariane Ollier-Malaterre for chairing the conference!

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