Lotte Bailyn: Life and Work

Work-Life Balance has been a buzz-phrase that I have been aware of since the mid-1990s. And we no longer (in the West) think of work as somehow ‘walled-off’ from the rest of life. But this wasn’t always so. At the forefront of charting the shifts in the relationship of working life and home life through the twentieth and into the twenty first century, has been Lotte Bailyn.

Lotte Bailyn

Very Short Biography

Lotte Lazersfeld was born in Vienna, in 1930, into a Jewish family. In 1937, as a young child, she travelled to the US with her father, to flee Nazi persecution. Her mother, Marie Jahoda, went to England. Lotte studied Maths at Swarthmore College and then entered Harvard in 1951, where she studied Social Psychology, earning an MA and PhD. She married historian Bernard Bailyn.

She spent many years struggling to gain a full time academic post before being appointed, in 1972, to the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Between 1997 and 1999, she chaired the faculty T Wilson (1953) Professor of Management, Emerita.

Bailyn’s Research

Bailyn’s research interest is the intersection of work and home lives. This necessarily involves her in the issue of gender at work, because of the disproportionate role that women play in care-giving. She is therefore interested in the impact this has on women’s careers.

Her first book, however, focused on the way male engineers who put more time into their families and communities were under-valued by their companies, despite enhanced people and relationship skills. Living with Technology: Issues at Mid-career was published in 1980.

But her more important book, Breaking the Mold: Redesigning Work for Productive and Satisfying Lives (1993), had a wider perspective, looking at the impact on modern workforces of equating time at work measures with commitment and competence. The book was way ahead of its time.

Bailyn’s research consistently shows that long hours actually hinder productivity and creativity. Employers can maximise their success by encouraging maximum flexibility of work scheduling, by creating motivated employees. She argues that senior leaders need to recognise that their path to the top will not be the right path in the future: the ideal worker is no longer one who will put in long hours, attend meetings at the drop of a hat, and put their family and community in a clear second place.

Instead, organisations need to shed what Joan Williams has called ‘flexibility stigma’ and embrace what Bailyn calls the ‘dual agenda’: that we thrive best when we are able to meet our personal and business needs at the same time. This is particularly important for low wage workers whose shift scheduling can be changed at short notice, creating havoc with care arrangements. Unsurprisingly, this results in low morale, reduced productivity, and absenteeism. Bailyn finds that predictability of working hours is highly valued. Unpredictability is a more significant factor than long hours.

Her conclusion is that the presence of flexible working policies is nowhere near enough. It is the extent to which organisations see them as a positive asset to be exploited, rather than a burden to be managed. We all need to recognise that our lives outside work are intimately intermingled with our working lives. They influence our attitudes, capabilities and, ultimately, our productivity.

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