A month ago, I picked up The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work from the town library. I read a few chapters, but it threw me into a tailspin of despair and I had to skip to the last chapter.
Hochschild interviewed all levels of employees at unnamed corporation on one of those meticulously landscaped office parks that are nestled into suburban communities. She wanted to find out how the workers juggled their lives at work and at home and whether they took advantage of the company's work-life programs. In addition to in-depth interviews, she followed them around the office and observed them at home. It was certainly thorough research.
She found that few employees were taking advantage of the company's work flexibility packages. Some really needed that flexibility, but couldn't leave work because of old stodgy bosses. Others didn't leave work early, because they didn't want to. They liked their neat and tidy lives in the office. Their officemates had become their family. Their real family was needy and demanding and complicated. It was much nicer to come into the office with tidy clothes and leave the kids and their spouse behind.
Hochschild is very pessimistic about these developments. You feel her sympathy for the abandoned families and her disgust at people who have sold their souls to the company. There were too many forces working against change in the workplace. By the end of the book, a downturn in the economy meant that the flexibility program was entirely discarded.
She has wonderful little observations about corporate life. For example, she notes the differing ways that people display pictures in their office. The lower level workers, such as the secretaries, had informal pictures of their kids taped discretely to their computer screens, so they could look at their kids while they worked. Upper level management did things differently. The men had formal shots of their kids in expensive frames on credenzas behind them. The pictures were for other people to look at, like trophies. The female managers had no pictures of their children in the office at all.
While these sorts of case studies are wonderful for providing thick descriptions, I was left unsure of how typical this office was. What happens in other companies, in other industries, in other parts of the country? The book was published in 1997, which isn't that long ago, but I worried that the findings in the book were a little dated.