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Wednesday 17 September 2014
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Balance work & family for a successful life

Vasanthi Srinivasan

Enhanced well being

Scholars have recognised that permeability between professional and personal life has a positive impact

Scholars and practitioners have written a lot about work family balance during the last two decades. With significant changes in the socio-cultural environment like nuclear families, dual career couples, increased women’s participation in the workforce, changing expectation of men in society, changes in traditional gender roles within homes, work life balance assumes greater significance.

In recent times, the advent of technology like blackberry and computers has resulted in more and more professionals becoming employees of an organisation 24/7.

They are expected to be on call and mail at all times of the day. Apart from this, integration to global markets with significant time differences across geographies has blurred the boundary between work and family. All of these pose acute challenges in managing work and home.


This phenomenon gets accentuated for women,  who in most societies are expected to play multiple roles, as caregivers and as professionals. Therefore, much of the literature on work-family balance has focused on work family conflict and its impact on stress, career growth and life satisfaction for an employee and poor performance, decreased job satisfaction, burnout and voluntary turnover for organisations.

In contrast to this role strain perspective, a number of scholars have recognised that the permeability between work and family could have positive impacts on individuals. The key question that is being asked in recent years, which is, “Whether work and family roles facilitate, enable or enhance one another”.

It can be argued that role integration between work and family can lead to enhanced well being.

Tough choice

A number of reasons for the beneficial effects of work family integration include additional income, increased self- confidence, improved status in society, providing support to family and opportunities to experience success, for both men and women. 

Work-family enrichment is defined as, “The extent to which experiences in one role improves the quality of life in the other role,” Where quality of life is conceptualised as high performance and positive effect in both spheres. How does such enrichment happen? Is this a function of individual differences across people or a function of the manner in which organisational roles are structured? Previous research supports that structuring jobs in a manner that reduces conflict, peer environment that is enabling and reporting manager’s support are all ways to reduce conflict at work.

Care & Support

Dependent care support and spousal support are elements in personal life which reduce conflict. Therefore, the presence of such an environment automatically reduces conflict and builds greater integration.

However, other attributes like satisfaction with job and organisation, confidence that one possesses the capabilities to deliver the requirements, clear purpose  and clarity of goals in life are also required to management work life enhancement and integration better.
Work-family balance has been conceptualised by various authors as ‘an individual’s orientation across different life roles, an inter-role phenomenon’ and ‘satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home with a minimum of role conflict’ and ‘a satisfying, healthy and productive life that includes work, play and love, that integrates a range of life activities with attention to self and to personal and spiritual development, and that expresses a person’s unique wishes, interests, and values’.

It is clear across all these definitions that there is a notion of some satisfaction and good/healthy functioning across all life roles. This view is quite romantic and all of us know that there are only 24 hours in a day.

Women sacrifice more

Therefore, given our interests in different walks of our life, our prioritisation across them and above all, life’s realities of needing to earn a living, is likely to result in some trade offs being made. Any trade off will result in dissatisfaction in one or more parts of life.   It is well known and documented that women’s careers differ significantly from men’s careers.

During the key biological stages of a women’s life , it is expected that there will increased stress in balancing the various roles.

Therefore, the need for certain flexibility in work related policies like extended maternity, work from home, part time work and career breaks. All of these allow for achieving time balance.

Nature of industries

However, satisfaction is more than time balance. It is about whether I enjoy the role I am performing, whether i experience security at work, whether my work environment is supportive and challenging, whether i am upgrading myself or not etc. In general, working women professionals are likely to experience greater impact of work life balance.  
The nature of industry and sector also impacts work life balance for employees.

The nature of IT industry which requires constant upgradation of technical skills at short periods of time, long work hours, clients in alternate time zones aggravate the work life balance. In service industries like customer support where emotional labour is very high, ie. You only get complaints rarely get compliments, continuous barrage of such feedback can cause stress both at work and in life.   Does life stage impact work family balance? My own research shows that women with children experience very high work life stress compared to women who are single and women who are married but with no children.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that for  men and women at later stages of their careers, dependent care creates imbalance. It is not uncommon to find returnee Indians at senior leadership positions do this for dependent care.

 How do individuals cope with work family balance: Manage self :  This would start from asking yourself, how ambitious are you; what price are you willing to pay in which sphere of your life, how well do you  plan, how well do you manage time

 Managing the work: do some planning, delegate, use technology productively and efficiently, set goals, review yourself ruthlessly, say no if someone makes unreasonable demands (this is tough, will appear strange initially, but once you get to do it more often, it becomes ok.

Manage relationships: significant relationships requires nurture. Therefore, invest time in them. Often people tell me it is quality of relationship that matters; yes it does, only if there is quantity of time that one can demonstrate the quality of relationships. Be prepared to say sorry since you will be making trade offs against priorities. 

For a more detailed discussion on this topic one can attend the Faculty Development Programme being hosted by Jain University on 18th September 2010. 

(The writer is a Professor at IIM Bangalore)

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