The very mention of a working woman brings to mind the term ‘work-life balance’. The roots of this term can to be traced to the 20th century, a term coined to describe the juggling between professional functions and homely responsibilities. A modern consumerist society and the fast paced speed of life make it essential to find a balance. This of course holds true for both genders-but is more debated in the context of women.
Ironically, technology has quickened the pace of life by enabling people to do more in less time. But what about ‘work-life’ balance?
Opinions that Matter
“The term work-life balance has now gained visibility due to the media. I would not say it is overhyped, however, it is a favorite topic for working women and also something that needs to be looked into. But it definitely has been glamorized too much by all the attention paid to it, though it is something that should be naturally built into anyone’s life, working or non working,” says Abha Maryada Banerjee, founder and chief coach, Success India.
“I heard an interesting perspective recently that resonated with me. Balancing work and life implies constant trade-offs and choices, but that is not what we are truly after. What we really want are better ways to fit everything into our lives that we want and need to do. So, the work-life balance terminology needs to be retired and replaced with new dialog about how to do more of what matters to us,” says Melissa Womack, head, global marketing, KPIT Cummins.
“In my opinion, women in India face a peculiar twin responsibility wherein an ideal woman is expected to be a traditional homemaker as well as a responsible worker at the place of work, that’s why the term applies differently to women than men. I do not think that the term is overhyped; both family members and corporates need to imbibe and understand the same,” says Neha Juneja, co-founder, Greenway Ecodevelopment.
“Now we have Multitasking, Videoconferencing, Web Meetings, Working Lunches, Hand-held Devices, etc. These devices which supposedly make people more productive and efficient, along with the urban, corporate-employment way of life have made people give more attention to work, then realize their neglect of the other, more important areas of their lives. So, now we have these concepts of Work-Life Balance, Time Management, Prioritizing and so on,” says AlpnaDoshi, CIO, Reliance Communications.
On a different note, Jessie Paul, CEO, PaulWriter feels, “The old joke is that when a man gets married no one asks how he will juggle his career and family. The issue is that for various reasons-many self-imposed-women feel responsible both for furthering their career and being the primary caregiver at home. But it is a question of which comes first-home or career. I believe it is impossible to be great at both. There is a limited amount of time in the day and even with multi-tasking and efficiency optimization a person who is trying to do two things will never be as good as a person who is specializing in one, all other things being equal.”
In the Limelight
Work-life balance is in the limelight off late but women since ages have been unknowingly excelling in their jobs without any management help, training, etc. Earlier women themselves never complained of anything, they were the silent supporters and nurturers. In the past, the number of choices available to women were limited and hence they were forced to take ultimate step of resigning themselves to their lot. It was considered their duty and destiny to multi-task without any significant rewards. Now, with many choices, financial freedom is a possibility for a larger percentage of women and they are questioning why they should be the only ones who have to excel at multiple things.
The limelight now has fallen upon them as they have taken the front seat in many places, they are leading organizations, they are running businesses and they have found their place in the male dominated domains and are performing well beyond expectations. Now they are more demanding on themselves, their time and their own performances, willing to talk about it and to find better solutions.
“It is now a well established fact that women are more adept at multi-tasking and managing different roles, perhaps because of the way nature has designed multiple challenging roles for us. But perceiving work-life balance as only a women’s issue is not appropriate. In today’s environment of nuclear families with working couples, household responsibilities are often shared and hence managing professional and personal time is an issue for both sexes. I am also of the firm belief that work-life balance is an area of priority for even those who either do not have familial commitments or have chosen to live alone. It is incorrect and unjust to assume that only those with families have personal commitments,” feels LathaRamanathan, senior director, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India.
“Expectations are built around each of the relationship that a woman dishes out with amazing skill apart from the daily chores that she manages. In India the scenario becomes even more arduous as men, traditinally, do not participate in household chores and find babysitting below their dignity. This leaves the woman with no option but to shoulder this difficult balance of home and work, often compromising with her ‘life’. If life means happiness and work achievement then for a woman, learning to identify success in the success of her near and dear ones and deriving happiness out of it is extremely important. A woman can’t be a man but she obviously is a wow-man, multitasking with excellence!” feels Sujata Dev, co-chairperson (entertainment committee), Assocham and joint managing director, Third Generation Mobile.
“Women do the balancing act instinctively, all the time, without giving it a label of ‘work-life balance’. From a woman CIO perspective, life as mother, mentor and career woman has its own rewards. I have a household to manage, children of my own; I value my flexibility more than ever. Of course, I have deadlines to meet and appearances to make; occasionally trying to mesh these with the needs of my family gets challenging. One has to assess the priorities everyday as challenges change their hue and color,” says Doshi.
The Equality Twist
Though both men and women have to think about work-life balance, it is factually true that due to societal expectations, women have more to balance. For example, The Economist notes that for working married couples in Japan, men do an average of 3 hours of housework in a week, while women do an average of
“However it’s women who in most instances score the brownie points when it comes to excelling in work-life balance. Nature has been biased in endowing women with greater skills and endurance in this respect! Women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income, so it’s ‘She’ who deserves kudos for her efficiency in multi-tasking,” feels Dev.
But there is a silver lining. Initially, responsibilties were divided between men and women, men worked outside and women worked at home. For men, much has not yet changed but new light is being thrown upon their involvement with children, especially with wives taking responsibilities outside home and the thought of how they can maximize themselves to balance pressure filled job environments, time constraints and job expectations. For men work has always been there, for women it is a new and different thing from their traditional roles, so they certainly have more to tell and more to do. Media has definitely played a role, plus there is renewed focus on Wellness and Health which has also contributed to this discussion.
While walking the tight-rope, the struggle is to keep family life at bay while at work and vice versa though the two are inter-dependent to a great extent. To enjoy a good life a good career is important and for a good, successful career, a happy and peaceful life plays an important role. However, having a perfect balance between the two is like a dream and pursuing this ‘perfection’ often leads to frustration.
“The pilferage of work into life to a certain extent can be controlled by not being over ambitious, which drives one into the ‘must-get trap’ at the cost of joys and happiness of life. The habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and pushing oneself to accomplish ‘As soon as’ often causes a total imbalance. Focussing on achievement and enjoyment everyday, with some planning and a flexible mind is often the key to a win-win situation,” says Dev.
Explaining the formula of excellence, Banerjee asserts, “It is a ‘learnable’ skill and the only way one can perform both roles with elan is to give each role 100% at any given time. It needs understanding one’s own self very well. It needs clarity in thought, clarity in action and a very strong decision making skill. Carrying one to the other can be damaging in many ways in terms of results.”
On a different note, Valerie R Wagoner, founder & CEO, ZipDial adds, “Personally, I follow Khalil Gibran’s wisdom in The Prophet that ‘Work is love made visible’. I do what I love, and I love what I do whether that’s in my professional life or my personal life. I don’t disconnect the two, and in fact, I very highly connect the two on purpose!”
“A lot depends on the flexibility and resources you have at your disposal. If you run your own firm, you are in a better position to ensure that there is no serious clash between your primary interests. But if you have resources, you can hire qualified people who take care of some part of your commitments and free up your time to focus,” feels Paul.
If multi-tasking is important to ensure good balance, effective delegation of jobs ensures that one has control over the bigger picture. Delegation is an art of understanding the ‘big picture’ and placing the right people in the right place, with continuous non-threatening supervision and understanding people. This is important as those who attempt to single-handedly run an organization or family can impact not only their personal life but also the quality of their output.
Delegation instills a sense of ownership and accomplishment and also enables individual growth and progression. The impeding factor is often one’s own mind-set, ie, the fear to let go.
“Delegation is important, but so is teamwork, collaboration and the art of ‘shedding’. Shedding is a term for taking stock of the collective workload of the team and making decisions about what has value and should be done, and which activities are least valuable and should be discontinued. Shedding is an art that should be part of the dialog about how to do more of what matters,” feels Womack.
Work-life balance is about mind-body balance in any environment that one is in. Socially conditioned to be ‘nice’ and doing things for others or things that one personally may not want to do but does just for some kind of acceptance from others-may result in making ‘No’ a taboo word, leading to stress. As every commitment needs time, it is important to put boundaries in place and learn to be assertive. The art of saying ‘No’ is the key to maintaining the balance on the tight-rope walk of work-life. The fear of offending others often comes in the way of saying ‘No’ and that leads to compromises and ultimately to unhappiness. ‘No’ is the magic word that helps one to be happy rather than always trying to make others happy. It is the word that helps one retain his/her principles of life and avoid doing things that others would want one to do.
“India, and particularly the IT services industry, rewards hard work, not just smart work. Many blame the system for not offering better work-life balance, but we are still a poor country and with so many people striving to jump into the middle/upper classes there is always someone willing to slog; and competition drives economics. We’ll need to be way more prosperous before there will be regulations enforcing 40-hour weeks and paid 4-week holidays. So, it rests with the individual to opt out and carve a balance between economic growth and inner peace,” feels Paul.
On a Final Note
Summing up the scenario aptly, Dev says, “Internet and mobile devices are great boons to work-life balance. One can now work from home. But then there’s 24×7 connectivity, which means no escape from work and infringement of work into life. The debate goes on…. Perhaps, if the focus is shifted from ‘good living standards’ to that of ‘living with good standards’ then finding the elusive goal of perfect work-life balance would be much easier.”