The Time Bind by Arlie Hochschild – Synopsis and Critique

In the book The Time Bind, the author tries to decipher a paradoxical phenomena of the modern times – while more working parents state that they would want more time for their household duties and responsibilities, ever growing number of them are spending greater lengths of time at the workplace.  In spite of the fact that there is no monetary or peer pressure to opt this lifestyle, many working parents (both men and women) are choosing to spend more hours at their workplace that results in a partial neglect and irreverence for family life.  Arlie Hochschild tries to demystify this situation by studying and interviewing the employees of Amerco.

It was initially believed that fears of competition and layoffs had compelled workers to put in longer hours so as to retain their place in the organization.  But this alone cannot explain this widespread phenomenon.  Some experts were of the opinion that the addition of new family members in the form of children will increase the minimum level of sustenance and thereby forcing parents to work longer than before.  Again, research has shown this argument to be a flimsy one.  So what is really causing this new trend?

Through her research Arlie infers that many employees no longer perceive their homes as a place of relaxation and rejuvenation, especially working parents.  Bringing up children is not an easy task and it can involve a lot of tension and chaos and can sap away lots of energy.  In contrast the workplace offers a sense of structure, organization, social life (in the form of chit-chat with co-workers), self-esteem (as a result of appreciation for work) and even gossip!  Also, since average number of hours a worker in the industrialized world puts-in in a week is more than 45 hours, making the workplace the primary realm and pushing the value attached to family-life further down.  In this way, what was traditionally the workplace has now become the home for working parents and viceversa.  This in short is the synopsis of the book by Arlie Hochschild.

But, I personally, don’t completely agree with the author’s inference.  First of all, the statistic upon which Hochschild builds her arguments are not comprehensive.  Most of it are internal to the particular business corporation Amerco and the majority of the rest of it does not seem to lack credibility due to the small sample size.  Also, it is implied that longer working hours are a “voluntary choice” made by working parents.  But in reality, while it might appear to be a choice of free will, there is actually no choice.  Apart from a small minority who are either self-employed or freelancers, the majority of the workforce have to adopt the organized business corporation as the means of livelihood.  When one does not have alternatives to a structured working style, the only way one can survive the grind is to actually like what one does.  In other words, it is inevitable that one has to like the work environment and the time spent in it.  This is far from a volitional choice of action, as implied by Arlie Hochschild.

As for the flexible time/space options offered by the employers, a majority of them are no more than nominal gestures of employee welfare.  For in reality, people opting for these programs can miss out on promotion opportunities and other perks that is granted to the regular and captive worker.