Does Hybrid Working Allow Women To "Switch Off From Work?"

The Women@Work report clearly displays that inclusive, supportive organisation gain a competitive advantage across parameters v. lagging organisations


 As aware, Deloitte recently released India edition of women@work report and Mohinish Sinha, Leader – Diversity and Inclusion, Deloitte India was keen on conversing on Ability to switch off from work’. This is basis additional data that was collated post the launch of W@W report and it provides detailed overview on the issue of switching off from work amongst women in workforce.

1. Why are the burnout levels largely experienced by women in middle management roles and younger women?

Middle management, both men and women are a stressed lot in general. They juggle multiple expectations involving coordination, reporting, alignment, managing teams, and keeping stakeholders abreast. it’s no surprise most middle managers report higher stress and usually, there is a higher churn at these levels. Within this, women find it worse as in many cases, the responsibility of typically they are also managing the home or being care givers to their family also falls disproportionately on them, in addition to their work role. That tips the balance for women, and they experience a higher burnout. It’s no surprise that 37% want to leave work since they feel they are burned out.

2. What is the fear amongst most women who report difficulty switching off from work?

42% women in India say that they feel their career progression will be impacted if they switch off. It’s quite interesting that women across all age groups feel this way. This is followed by the fear of being excluded from important projects. Here, it’s the 26-38 age group feels the strongest, perhaps because they’re at a growing stage of their career with a lot of prove and get ahead. The third top reason is that the organisation will care less about them – the highest concern for the 18-25 cohort, an age where they’re still learning and fear that out of sight will become out of mind. Experiencing microaggressions, such as those below, also plays a role in the ability to switch off.

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Being excluded from meetings is a fear much more prevalent amongst women who have experienced microaggressions, showing that they expect it to happen as a kind of behavioural pattern. Something worrisome is that irrespective of whether they have faced microaggressions, the figure for this parameter is consistent for feeling that their career progression will get impacted if they switch off. This is something that needs to be addressed through sufficient checks and balance that filter out the impact of individual unconscious biases at the time of promotion decisions. 

3. How can we improve working conditions for women? Are there any specific policy changes that can be considered by corporates in India?

It is critical that corporates work towards a healthy work environment, especially keeping in mind the needs of women colleagues. The Women@Work report clearly displays that inclusive, supportive organisation gain a competitive advantage across parameters v. lagging organisations.

  • Several policy initiatives in terms of flexible working hours, days, place, etc. could be considered. Flexibility is the key.
  • Special well-being leave considering the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health of the workforce. Keeping in mind the stigma attached to mental health related issues in workplaces, availing such categories of leave should not entail any probing questions/judgements
  • Senior leadership needs to walk the talk by making attending/arranging late evening meetings the rule rather than exception or working back-to-back on multiple weekends.
  • Senior leadership should create a culture where it is okay to take days off to recharge, follow a hobby, or go on extended holidays, without being judged or questioned.

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The Women@Work survey from 2021 captured what kind of initiatives organisations had already implemented, and where there was room for improvement. However, corporates must remember that having these initiatives in place is only the start. Words need to translate into action. Therefore, many of the initiatives that appear to very widespread remain causes for concern amongst women professionals.

For example, while the chart above shows that a clear process for reporting discrimination and harassment exists in 38% Indian organisations, the 2022 results showed that Indian women professionals have the lowest reporting amongst all surveyed countries for 8 out 15 surveyed non-inclusive behaviours. 

4. Is educational inequality a reason for women to feel a certain way in their workforce compared to men?

Not at all. Women are at par with men in terms of education, at least amongst the Gen Zs, and to a high extent, amongst millennials. While educational equality is in the hands of the employee, compensation equality is something that the employer can ensure. Unequal pay for equal work is not acceptable and will instantly mean that your women professionals are not invested. Gender-pay equity should be a leadership priority and organisations who truly value the contributions of all genders should periodically invest in pay equity studies that can identify and rectify gaps, if any.

5. Is proper supervisory support given to women at their workplace for work-life balance?

This isn’t often the case in lagging organisations. 75% women in India working for organisations that are gender equality laggards rated their work-life balance as poor or very poor versus just 18% of those in gender-equality leaders. 

It is very useful to have proper coaches and mentors assigned to women to help them meet their career aspirations and yet have a healthy work-life balance. Going beyond HR and Inclusion teams or firm leadership, support can also come from on-ground working groups who keep a close watch on factors that are hampering women professionals from thriving and help co-create the organisation’s resources to alleviate these concerns. Whoever looks into this, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The survey tells us that the issues that women professionals face are different across age-groups, career levels, caregiving responsibilities, and other differentiating factors.

6. How many strong policies have been put into effect for working women?

We believe many corporates are putting in extra effort these days to help their women colleagues. Better parental leave policies, extended allowances for childcare, availability of creches around office locations, flexible working hours/days, hybrid working, training programmes to upskill/reskill after maternity leave, and sabbaticals, are a few examples provided by gender equality leaders.

7. Is working from anywhere creating a ‘double burden syndrome’ for Women@work?

Yes, everyone must have encountered this conversation over the past two years at some point. Working for home in a situation where many women shoulder a disproportionate share of household work and caregiving responsibilities means that focusing on a work project can get difficult. The burden to be available all the time from anywhere and inability to switch off from work is leading to increased stress, burnout, and loads of mental health problems. 

Some organisations did reinforce measures to alleviate this, such as flexible hours, virtual workshops to keep children engaged, and sensitisation trainings. However, those bring out their own issues. For e.g., a whopping 90% of Indian women respondents, as well as worldwide believed that flexible working options will not entail a corresponding adjustment in their workload and 94% of both cohorts felt that such flexible working options will affect their chances at a promotion. An interesting insight from the survey is that amongst those who have household responsibilities, work life is extremely poor/poor for women who have adult caregiving responsibilities (62%) v. childcare responsibilities (47%). This could be because a lot of effort taken by organisations is towards alleviating the burden of childcare responsibilities specifically. 

8. How is Deloitte playing a pivotal role for its women employees to help them switch off their work timely and adhere to family responsibilities?

We are extremely proud of our women colleagues and value the diversity of thought that all groups brin to the table. At Deloitte, our senior leaders regularly communicate the importance of switching off from work to celebrate life and to take care of their mental and physical health. Even before the pandemic, we have had flexible work timings and now, professionals are empowered to mention their standard working hours in email signatures and update this in their digital calendars, so that their stakeholders plan deliverables accordingly. 

Promotion decisions consider a wide variety of perspectives to ensure that unconscious biases, if any, from any one person, do not affect the growth prospects of talented professionals. Factors like reduced working hours/days, parental leave and other priorities are not considered as hampering prospects – the focus is on quality of outcomes instead of quantity of output. 

We have working groups in each business looking into the unique needs of women professionals, be it work-life balance, stress, or others, and many of the suggestions of these working groups have been successfully implemented.

Additionally, we have flexible and hybrid working policies to supplement all the support we can provide to working women such as collaboration with good daycare centres, childcare allowances, special learning programmes for mothers, parental leave policy, happiness time-offs, etc. Our year-end block leave from Christmas to New Year has always been a great help to our people to recharge.

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