Problems of Balancing Self-Exploitation and Self-Exploration in Work Life
Contemporary working life highlights the challenge between exploitation and exploration both on a general and a more individual level. Here, we focus on the latter, and connect the critical debate regarding selfmanagement to March’s exploitation/exploration trade-off, as this forms a useful theoretical frame to understand how employees make sense of their self-management efforts. The employee is subjected to an individual responsibility to understand and manage an exploration of the self while handling the norms of self-exploitation that a self-management culture creates. Through an empirical study of a large group of management consultants, we explore how they perform and make sense of selfexploitation and self-exploration through three specific discourses: the discourse of workload, the discourse of aspiration, and the discourse of fun. Through these, the consultants try to identify optimal amounts of work, play, and ambition, all while handling the trade-off between selfexploitation and self-exploration. We show how this keeps failing, but how it reappears as a necessary condition for avoiding future failures. In all three discourses, the trade-off therefore presents itself as the problem of as well as the solution to self-management.
Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 2012
Self-management; High performance; Management consultants; Workload; Aspirations; Fun