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Work-life Balance: Not only Women’s Prerogative

It is time to retire this myth and acknowledge that balancing personal and work life is as much a man’s job as it is of a woman’s

           
 

Sometime back, a survey by LinkedIn across several countries including India, showed that 63 percent of the women surveyed indicated that finding a right balance between personal life and work meant being successful in their careers. So what exactly does work-life balance mean and is it a women prerogative? Here is a thought I have so come to love, “Who would ever choose work over life?”, from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. She says that talking of the two ideas as diametrically opposed ensures that ‘work’ loses to ‘life’. She is bang on because the majority of those caught in this trap are women.

A lot has changed for good for the women in India in the last decade and that includes the possibility of wearing the identity of a ‘career woman’. According to a study last year on rural vs urban woman employment in India, there has been a 20 percent increase in the percentage of employment in the organised sector. Still, it is way behind the developed countries in terms of equal opportunities and growth. For instance, close to 50 percent of workforce in the US are women with nearly 41 percent of women being the breadwinners in the family!

Work-life balance is a phrase that is automatically associated with women more than men. It does not need a lot of intelligence to see that this idea stems from the constant fear in women to attain that perfect balance of being a good mother, wife or daughter and being successful in a career without disturbing the equilibrium. Aspiring for more in the career would necessarily mean settling for less in personal life and succumbing to what Ms Sandberg calls the holy trinity of fear - fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. There is this constant fear of being judged.

Work-life balance could well mean (and imply) the paranoia women grow up with because of a misplaced notion of compromising on family time. There are enough reminders all around telling women that home, child-care, elder-care, and the business of keeping the home intact, are very much the women’s business. And that it is impossible to be both, a competent professional and a mother. This thought is further fortified by making this a ‘non-rule’ for men for whom a successful career and a happy, fulfilling life outside work, is the norm!

Women end up spending more time assuaging the guilt feelings that are falsely attributed to their neglecting ‘life’ and putting ‘work’ ahead of home as if the two are mutually exclusive. Many working women are conditioned into thinking that anything going wrong on the home-front is mostly their doing. Bad performance of a child in academics, suffering from poor health and such are attributed to improper work-life balance and this is by default applies to women! It is time to retire this myth and acknowledge that balancing personal and work life is as much a man’s job as it is of a woman’s. So juggling work and home is a reality both men and women face in India today. It is too tempting to go all the way and demand that the nation wants to know if work life balance indeed is a women’s prerogative. It obviously is a choice that both men and women exercise today.

More and more women are educated, and more and more women are adding to the workforce. Co-parenting, finding ways to ensure child care or elderly care, taking turns to work out of home or attend to other pressing personal work during work days, are some healthy additions to the scene. However, it would be a huge disservice to women if we were to paint a rosy picture of how things stand today. The onus of a happy home still rests on a woman’s shoulders whether or not she wants it. The idea of a perfect balancing act is so deeply etched in women’s psyche that it is going to take a while more to get rid of the thought. Unlike the West, it is still very tough to find good child/elder care facilities in India. A lot of these support systems need to be in place.

A work environment that is congenial and flexible for both men and women is an important part of the support system. Fortunately, in the organised sector, there are many jobs that employees can carry home and continue. Many companies today, specially the IT and ITeS companies provide a lot of flexibility. The reach and affordability of technology has also enabled people to stay connected to their work from anywhere. Ability to access work over smart phones and tablets, the provision to hold web meetings or calls with the team or clients etc, has greatly cut down the proximity issues. On the personal life front, it is really encouraging to see a lot of men sharing the responsibilities that were erstwhile only women’s forte. The line dividing the work – personal and professional – based on gender has begun to fade, thanks to the men who step forward, and thanks to the women who stand up for themselves.

We need assurances from all and sundry that women are not artists on a trapeze. That both, work life and personal life are essential components of our lives and both will co-exist. That we need to give both what it takes. What will really be defining is what each of us men and women, as individuals, want out of our lives. Surely no one wants a bad life. By choosing not-to-work, life is not going to treat you kindly or bestow happiness either! What men and women need today is the ability to be able to cope with both these important aspects of life. There is no such thing as work-life balance and if indeed there is, it is as much a man’s responsibility as it is a woman’s.

Change, we know, is for good. We need a change in the way we perceive things around us. We must show resistance to the things that make us believe we cannot have one without the other. We need all our epic television soaps, movies and literature to showcase happy examples of men and women being competent at work and home, without choosing one over the other. We will need a conscious effort to flag down stories that portray working woman as those struggling to achieve a compromise. Success in career is possible for women without having to compromise on personal life. We will need to flag down stories that portray co-parenting men as sad unsuccessful souls. There are men with successful careers who are also committed to personal lives and shoulder the responsibilities with equal elan. In all this, the children will accept and grow up to appreciate and emulate parents who respect their work and personal lives equally and give their best. Miles to go really! But get there, we must!

           
 

 

By Vidya Vasu

Vidya Vasu is Head – ManageEngine Community.

 

 


 


 

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