Thursday, 19 November 2009

Work/life balance - It's not about the pets

I'm really happy for the staff at CWA New Media in Wellington. The Dom-Post says they get to take their pets to work on Thursdays. Fine - though I'm not sure I'd be thrilled to have a blue-tongued skink wandering around the office in search of cuddles...

But here comes the catch: "Their bosses say it's a way for modern workplaces to address work/life balance, by bringing people's favourite part of home into the office." Well, no, not exactly.

"Work/life balance" is a stupid phrase, but what it's supposed to mean is being able to fit together your paid work and all the other stuff you need to do without becoming totally stressed out. For most of the women I know, it's more about "paid work/unpaid work balance". What we call "full-time work" means the amount of paid work someone [being very gender-neutral here] can do when they have someone else at home to do all that other stuff. It wasn't ever meant to be done by the people who DO all that other stuff.

But now all these people, usually known as women, have moved en masse into paid work, and even into full-time jobs. What to do? Introduce work/life balance. We mustn't go too far, of course. Pets at work, maybe. Kids at work - definitely not.

But wait, there's more. In a new book of essays just out from Victoria University Press, Rethinking Women and Politics, Tania Domett looks at the reality of this great new idea. The news isn't good: those who make use of such policies are generally seen as not really committed to their work.

These policies, she says, are a "band-aid" remedy for what is fundamentally an issue of gender injustice. While they do "facilitate women's dual roles and allow them at least limited access to the labour market", they also mask and perpetuate existing gender inequalities. She quotes Philippa Hall of the [now dismantled] Pay and Employment Equity Unit: "Women have got to get more money and men have to get more time. Men have to work less [for pay] and women have to get paid more for things to change."

Sorry, but it's not about the pets.

Declaration of interest: I have an essay in Rethinking Women and Politics. It's on the gender gap in voting patterns.


Julie said...

Great incisive writing Anne - its not about the Pets- it begs the question? How did they ever think it was?
Oh dear, yet another commentary on how we value Womens work.....

katy said...

I have seen pets at two worksites in my limited existence; dogs sleeping at the feet of a guy working at his desk in an uber-trendy PR company in Sydney, and yesterday for the first time in NZ I saw two dogs sleeping in a kennel in a courtyard separated from the work tearoom by a glass sliding door. While I agree with your post entirely, I would say though that the presence of pets seemed to have an impact on the worksites in that they seemed more mellow. However, I know that there are people with a pathological fear/distaste of some animals, especially dogs, so maybe there are some in those workplaces for whom the arrangement is torturous.

Boganette said...

I know it's not the point of the post - and I agree with what you've said - but I can't say how much I would love it if I could have my dog at work with me. On lonely evening shifts or quiet weekends when I'm here almost on my own it would be so nice to have him asleep on my lap. Sigh.

Boganette said...

Oh and it's quite odd - but have you heard the argument that if people can take their babies/kids to work then people should be able to take their pets?

I've heard this argument three times and I think it's beyond stupid. It seems to be a kind of bitchy backlash against parents having their kiddies at work. All three times I've heard it it's been said by women.

I consider my dog my baby but I know he's a dog. And doing the right thing by letting parents have their children in at work when they need to is not the same as wanting your dog around. Because...well it's a dog.

Amy said...

Do think a remedy (more than a band-aid), for office workers at least, would be to get rid of open plan offices? It wasn't that long ago the most office workers had little closed off offices. If I had an office space I could take my dog, my baby, my whatever, without causing anyone else any hassle. Or better, why can't office workers with kids just work from home?