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The Dark Side of the Flexible Workplace

The Dark Side of the Flexible WorkplaceWhile a flexible workplace seems attractive on the surface, many people are now learning that virtual worksites often tip the work-life balance — toward working more, not less.

New research suggests it’s not unusual for firms to cash in, profiting from our “free” time and non-professional aptitudes.

In a new article, Peter Fleming, Ph.D., City University, London, weighs the evidence for this shift in work culture.

His paper is published in the current issue of the journal Human Relations.

Fleming discusses how in the last century, it was very clear where work stopped and play started – managers at offices and factories encouraged a formal environment.

Personal lives were left at the door as employees clocked in. Today, jobs increasingly allow us to work flexible hours, yet we are expected to be responsive around the clock.

Dubbed Liberation Management, the latest trend encourages us all to “be ourselves” at work, dropping the formal, professional attitudes of the past.

And workers looking for ideas or opinions free of charge can crowdsource them from the Internet.

Examining the dark side to today’s apparent freedom and autonomy for workers, Fleming uses a concept known as “biopower” developed by French scholar, historian, and social theorist Michel Foucault, an expert in the workings of discipline and control.

The “bio” in biopower stands for bios or “life itself.” Foucault said that there is actually more control in modern, neo-liberal societies than in old-fashioned hierarchies.

Not just ruled by the traditional power structures of bureaucracy, the state and technology, the other parts of our lives — private interests, social skills and personal abilities – are also up for grabs.

As long as a project deadline is met, firms don’t care when, how and where the work is done — be it in your underwear in the middle of the night or in a cafe on Monday morning, Fleming says.

A key element of biopower is that it operates on and harnesses all elements of our lives, regulating, monitoring and monetizing everything we are and do — and we are seldom aware of it.

Today, as “biocracy” takes the place of bureaucracy, managers often rely on aspects of life that were previously inappropriate at work. Differences and individuality are welcomed.

This is a ‘lifestyle approach’ to management, where companies hope to get a better performance from employees by encouraging their everyday selves on the job.

Largely seen in Western economies, this trend is linked to a decline in jobs focused on concrete or industrial tasks. Life skills, communication and organization skills, and emotional intelligence are now key.

If the onset of flu is coupled with relief that you can finally take a day for yourself, and you feel that your work is your life, blame biocracy.

The recent death of a young banking intern, Moritz Erhadt, following three days of nonstop work is perhaps an extreme example of what biocracy can do to us: When work and life become blended to such an extent, even rest and sleep are considered a “waste of time.”

“The Birth of Biopolitics lectures are astoundingly prescient in the way they concentrate on the then nascent neoliberal project as a sign of things to come,” said Fleming.

“Our jobs are no longer defined as something we do among other things, but what we are… Ominously, we are now permanently poised for work.”

Source: Sage
Man working from home photo by shutterstock.

The Dark Side of the Flexible Workplace

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). The Dark Side of the Flexible Workplace. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Dec 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.