Work-life balance policies have become a ubiquitous feature of university strategies for formally recognising that employees have personal interests, ties and obligations beyond those of the workplace. However, rationales for work-life balance policies and programs in Australian universities predominantly link personal health, well-being and family responsibilities to imperatives for a more productive and competitive tertiary sector. In this paper, we call for an encounter between work-life balance policies, everyday organisational practices and the performativities of academic subjects. Informed by poststructuralist theories of institutionality, governmentality and subjectivity, we draw on personal and policy narratives to argue that ‘well-being’ is a construct through which the risky humanity of academic subjects is not only managed, but also appropriated into normative discourses of obligatory productivity and self-governance. Informed by Sara Ahmed's recent work on the cultural politics of emotion and in particular, what she terms the obligation or ‘duty to happiness’, we consider how academic performativities are implicated in discursive fictions that equate work-life balance with personal and organisational well-being. Copyright © 2014 Edinburgh University Press.