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Living in a Culture of Overwork: An Ethnographic Study of Flexibility


Journal of Management Inquiry

Published online on


This ethnographic study of women business owners questions whether the flexibility their occupation affords is truly an advantage to balancing work and other aspects of life. Drawing on Weber’s ideal types of social action, our analysis suggests that flexibility favors work. Instrumental rationality is evidenced when the participants position their work patterns as a good use of time. We introduce the concept working lightly to show how they use affective and value rationalities as justifications for working during nonwork times (e.g., it’s a way to feel good in the long run). We also develop the concept of working lite, which is when they invoke traditional rationality by melding habits associated with relaxation and work tasks (e.g., working while watching television). Finally, we show how our findings extend the critique of flexibility in the work-life literature.