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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Mar;66(5):1019-33. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.11.013. Epub 2008 Jan 3.

"You are free to set your own hours": governing worker productivity and health through flexibility and resilience.

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Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Flexible work is now endemic in modern economies. A growing literature both praises work flexibility for accommodating employees' needs and criticizes it for fueling contingency and job insecurity. Although studies have identified varied effects of flexible work, questions remain about the workplace dimensions of flexibility and how occupational workplace health is managed in these workplaces. This paper presents findings from a qualitative study of how managers in the computer software industry situate workplace flexibility and approach worker health. In-depth interviews were conducted with managers (and some workers) at 30 firms in Ontario, Canada. Using a critical discourse analysis approach, we examine managers' optimistic descriptions of flexibility which emphasize how flexible work contributes to workers' life balance. We then contrast this with managers' depictions of flexibility work practices as intense and inescapable. We suggest that the discourse of flexibility, and the work practices they foster, make possible and reinforce an increased intensity of work that is driven by the demands of technological pace and change that characterize the global information technology and computer software industries. Finally, we propose that flexible knowledge work has led to a re-framing of occupational health management involving a focus on what we call "strategies of resilience" that aim to buttress workers' capacities to withstand intensive and uncertain working conditions.

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