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The Work/Life Collision

The Work/Life Collision

By Barbara Pocock


Longer working hours, insecure jobs, child care, declining birth rates, parental leave, the 'mummy track', the success or failure of feminism - the levels of passion, vitriol, despair and guilt these subjects engender attest to the importance Australians place on them, and rightly so. Their effects go beyond how we feel: they affect vital economic and demographic trends.

The Work/Life Collision, grounded in thorough quantitative and qualitative research, analyses how these factors affect each other, in particular the collision of work and care and its implications for how we live.

Pocock demonstrates how the existing 'work/care' regime that shapes how we live and work has high social costs - for mothers, fathers, families and those who want to be both workers and carers. She weighs the hidden costs of how we live and work now - costs that can be measured in bedrooms, kitchens, workplaces and streetscapes - and in our declining birth rate and embedded gender inequality.

The Work/Life Collision goes further than just explaining our growing anxiety about quality of life, despite the evidence of unmatched material wealth. Pocock proposes ways in which a new 'work/care' regime can be built, through:

  • the redistribution of working hours
  • the rehabilitation of degraded and insecure part-time jobs
  • a new system of leave from paid work, and
  • better support for mothers, fathers and all kinds of dependants.

She guides us through the real experiences of Australian households and points to a uniquely Australian solution to a fairer world.


The work/life collision
Mapping labour, households and care
Work is reconfiguring our communities
Mother wars: the market meets sacred motherhood
The hidden costs of work: love, intimacy and work
Long hours: family unfriendliness at work
Short hours: choice and security at work
Caring for those who depend on us
Combining work and life: the role of leave
Countering the collision: what we can do now

Bibliography/ Appendix


Barbara Pocock’s book, The Work/Life Collision, draws on over 20 years of expertise and training in labour economics and social sciences, as well as a prodigious amount of serious, scholarly work. The book also reflects Pocock’s experience as a political advisor, her research for the labour movement and her empathy with real people and their work and domestic issues. In The Work/Life Collision, Pocock analyses a vast range of material and brings together in a cogent and accessible style the private and public tensions besetting many Australians. With the advent of the new industrial relations laws, the book’s message is even more relevant today than it was three years ago.

Labour History, No 91, November 2006

A compehensive, frank and timely explanation of the challenge more Australians are facing: the clash between work and home. This book draws together all the subjects usually discussed separately … Pocock writes in a direct, non-judgemental style, using plenty of anecdotes, quotes and research and suggesting solutions to problems. An excellent resource for human resources practitioners, managers and those wanting a big picture perspective.

The Age, 11 December 2004

Pocock’s stimulating book on the Work/life Collision makes clear that social progress cannot be taken for granted.
The book is a mine of information on labour, households, care patterns, the hidden costs of work and working hours and its dynamic nature. But it is much more than this. One of the key strengths of the book is its accessible style. It is written in a fluent, direct and engaging way. A clear argument is presented and a sense of injustice flows from the page. …
While the book is firmly rooted in the the Australian experience, part of its strength is the drawing-in of international data so that the Australian experience can be set in an intenational context. This wider picture is also often found to be wanting. Notwithstanding more progressive European legislation, the similarities between the experiences outlined in Pocock’s study and those of European workers are striking.
Pocock does not stop at analysis. She offers clear policy alternatives to reduce the work/life collision. … [Her] “guiding principles” are wide-ranging and ambitious. While her voice is likely to go unheeded by the current Australian administration, it is likely to raise the debate and spur on trade unions and social reformers …
This will be a valuable book for those researching and teaching issues of work/life balance, although the language of ‘collision’ may be more pertinent than ‘balance’. It is also important because it is a good example of research dealing rigorously with both quantitative and qualitative data from an informed feminist standpoint. As such, it recognises the importance of the interrelationship between work and home in all its complexities.

Industrial Relations Journal, Vol 37/4, July 2006

Barbara Pocock’s The Work / Life Collision makes an original and valuable contribution to the examination of work/life issues in Australian society today. It offers a new vision of the real experiences of Australian households … This book is highly recommended and should be influential ...

Traffic, Vol 5, 2005

It is the extensive and impartial research that this book is based on that makes it stand out as a significant contribution to informed debate of work/life issues in Australia. It is an important piece of social science research that alternates between quantitative and qualitative research to explore how work, gender relations, community and family interact. …
The book is logically structured and takes the reader first through a discussion of the broad context of work/life issues in Australia, then examines specific issues where work and care collide, and is followed finally by an outline for the way forward to resolving the dilemmas of the work/life collision. …
The stand out chapter in the book is Chapter 3 which considers the impact of the ‘collisions and changes upon our community fabric’. The Australian community has historically been home-centred and neighbourhood-based, and has placed importance on the extended family. However, as Pocock identifies, the increasing trend for many paid workers to spend time away from home has led to this form of community being replaced at the workplace. …
One feature of the book is the inclusion of quotes from the interview data. These provide particularly vivid images of the human side to these changes.
The concluding chapter is simply magnificent. It cuts to the heart of the issue of resolving work/life conflicts, and draws upon the the thorough qualitative and quantitative analysis to conclude what we need to do in Australia to drive positive change to ‘counter the collision’. … At the risk of some oversimplification, the book finds a role for strong public policy in pushing our public institutions, laws and social conventions to create workplaces that are responsive to the needs of contemporary society. The book builds a strong case of the vital role government has in developing social and community structures, and workplace practices and attitudes that are conducive to employees balancing their work and family lives. …
The book is relevant to a wide audience including human resource managers, policy makers, social researchers and students. The Work/Life Collision would be an essential starting point for anyone researching the spheres of work, family and gender in Australia … This is a landmark book because it transcends the ‘old’ debates about work and family issues.

Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 46(2), June 2004

… places the issue of work and family strongly in the public domain: it should be a topic for discussion in staffrooms, at workplace union meetings, and on the agenda as an industrial and political issue.

Newsmonth (NSW/ACT Independent Education Union journal) Vol 24(2), April 2004

The book is so graphic there are parts of it I could hardly bear to read but it is important to read it because it illustrates all the lifeless and painless socio-economic statistics we as policy planners see continuously rolling under our noses; it helps explain why those painless statistics actually represent a policy imperative.

Pru Goward, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, 2003

If there's one issue causing deep disquiet in the Australian workforce, it is how to balance work and family life. Finding how to meet the demands of work and home can be demanding and often close to impossible. The results of not being able to do so are significant: relationships, health and time with children can all suffer.

That is the thrust of Barbara Pocock's The Work/Life Collision. It is a book which should be read be employers and CEOs with a view to understanding the pressures on their employees which, although they may remain hidden, are perhaps undeniably felt. …
This book is no academic treatise. As much as Pocock's conclusions are backed up by thorough and verifiable research, the approach she has taken is to analyse current trends in the workplace and then check her assessments against the experience of people in focus groups. The case studies and anecdotal material which give the book its body, are revealing and sometimes disturbing.
The core of the book is that as working hours get longer, our private lives are shrinking …
The ideal or proper worker in many Australian workplaces remains the full-time employee who is increasingly likely to be working hours well in excess of 40 per week. As internal labour markets are built around this proper worker, the conditions and prospects of those who cannot meet its conditions remain second-rate. The second-rate status applies to many part-time employees, whether men or women and whether highly skilled and experienced or not. … I think we are living in an industrial regime developed in the 1950s. The proper worker is a 1950s archetype. The fit is bad. …
Pocock writes with persuasive clarity …

Christopher Bantock, Hobart Mercury, Saturday 21 June 2003

Barbara Pocock talks about the impact of recent social and labour market changes; about how employees are being pressured to work both harder and longer; about the growth in the number of women doing paid work (often part-time) and in dual-income households, and the fall in birthrates; about the loss of our sense of ‘community’, or at least its transfer from street to workplace; and about the contracting out of services once provided in the home, everything from childcare and cooking to walking the dog. In particular, she highlights the ‘collision’ between those changes and some persistent assumptions in our society, not least that housework is still ‘women’s work’ and that a ‘proper’ mother has plenty of time for her kids.
What all this has produced in a perceptible loss in the quality of life, not just for working people but for those who depend on them. There is less time for care and intimacy, even less energy for sex. There is more anxiety about how to fit everything in. …
I ran into two delegates, a (female) union leader and a (male) lawyer [who] each and quite separately expressed the same reaction, identical to mine – “she’s describing my life!”.
Pocock had caused us not just to consider the broad social and policy issues she was raising, but to reflect (in a deeply personal way) on our own experiences in struggling to balance work and family.
The Work/Life Collision [makes us] think about what the modern labour market is doing to us and the people we care for, and about some of the changes needed to mitigate those effects.

Andrew Stewart, Industrial Relations Society of South Australia Newsletter, November 2003


Published June 2003
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862874756
Australian RRP $39.95
International Price $35.00
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