Work/life balance: personal and organisational strategies of school leaders

Crozier-Durham, Marie (2007) Work/life balance: personal and organisational strategies of school leaders. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.


The purpose of this research is to identify strategies that school leaders might use to achieve better balance in their lives. This topic is examined in the context of the influences on, and outcomes of, the lack of balance between work and personal life, as well as the impact on school leaders’ performance and well-being. The study examines problematic work/life balance of school leaders as one reason why people do not want to apply for school principal positions and notes that, while that issue has been identified and restated in a number of studies, little evidence exists of the development of responses. This observation prompted the adoption of an alternative paradigm–Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider, 1987)—to the more usual conflict/deficit models, which are common in work/life research, and problem methods often used in research on principalship. This choice of methodology and stance was also influenced by a view that there were gaps in the literature. What is lacking is some affirmative view of the capacity of organisational leaders to achieve a positive work /life balance. The current work/life literature also often fails to examine what people actually do to ensure some harmony between work and other responsibilities. A major focus of this study was on contributing to the literature relating to work/life balance and principal well-being, supply and performance. The current study offers a contribution to the work/life literature by exploring the, to date under-explored, area of work/life enrichment. It is possibly the first study to examine thriving (Spreitzer, 2005a) as a lens for work/life balance. The study also contributes to filling some gaps in the literature in relation to the action of school leadership and the process of combining the leadership role and personal roles. It provides and analyses positive depictions of work/life balance and effective school leadership. This exploratory case study involved locating and hearing the stories of those who were deemed to be successful in their professional lives and in balancing their work and personal lives. Data were gathered in semi-structured interviews with eight school principals and four assistant principals from eight Victorian state schools. From a series of research questions, the main question and the essence of the inquiry can be summarised as follows: How do some principals achieve work/life balance and how might this inform the content/design of a professional development program aimed at principal well-being and retention? Selected generative, enrichment, expansionist work/life theories (Clark, 2000; Singh, 2002; Barnett, 2001; Greenhaus, 2006) inform the analysis of the work and non-work strategies employed by the school leaders interviewed as part of the project. A typology of school leaders is developed to distinguish levels of satisfaction and relative success in achieving work/life balance. The three groups in the typology are Balancers, Strivers and Acceptors. The strategies of the Balancers—those with high satisfaction with work/life balance and low work/life conflict—are found to accord with concepts such as thriving (Spreitzer, 2005 a) and personal mastery (Senge, 1999). A thriving lens is used as the foundational element of a work/life balance professional development program proposal. The study found that the factors that contribute to principals’ difficulties with balancing work and personal life are a complex interweaving of a range of individual, demographic, social, political, and organisational factors. What makes this group (in particular the Balancers) different from the majority of Victorian state school Principal Class Officers, as described in a workload and well-being study (Saulwick, 2004), is found to lie in their capacity in a range of areas. The study finds individual principals’ agency, energy, mastery and efficacy is important to achieving work/life balance for these professionals, and that managing the workload is the fulcrum of that balance. It identifies a range of actions or strategies that appear to be important in effecting a satisfactory balance between work and personal life. The study points to the importance of ensuring that Victorian Department of Education (DoE) systems are improved so that structures and cultures are more supportive of principals. Also indicated is the need to provide positive examples of work/life balance amongst school principals and promote an affirmative projection to guide members of the Principal Class into the future. Outcomes are presented in terms of a taxonomy of personal and organisational strategies that support the work/life balance of school leaders; a framework for a professional development program that emphasises ways to assist school leaders to thrive in the role; and a set of recommendations for the DoE to implement in order to assist school leaders to attain balance between work and their personal lives. This balance, supported by a culture changed through the implementation of the recommendations made, should contribute to greater role satisfaction, increased well-being, better performance of school leaders and improved principal supply.

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 330000 Education
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Education
Keywords school principals, work and family, work/life balance, school leadership
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