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University work–life balance policies increasingly offer academic workers a range of possible options for managing the competing demands of work, family, and community obligations. Flexible work arrangements, family-friendly hours and campus facilities, physical well-being and mental health programs typify strategies for formally acknowledging the need for employees to balance work with other needs and commitments. This paper draws on examples from Australian university work–life balance policies to consider how the incalculable humanity of academic workers is constructed as posing institutional risks because of the potential ill-effects of an imbalance between work and life. We consider how work–life balance policies anticipate and attempt to manage perceived risks to the institution as a consequence of workers’ utilization of such policies for their own benefit. Informed by poststructuralist theoretical and cultural analyses of risk, affect, and governmentality, we argue that work–life balance policies stage a double maneuver. They offer heavily qualified workplace conditions, benefits, and supports predicated on notions of risk and reciprocity, while simultaneously extending the reach of institutional power to include the bodies, minds, families, and lives of academic workers.

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