The Pandemic Could Change Work-Life Balance Forever
There is no rule book that exists for this unprecedented situation. However, there are steps that employers and employees can take to promote a healthy work-life balance for everyone.
The concept of work-life balance can be misleading especially with the global shift to remote working. There have been both positive and negative consequences of the global pandemic for working professionals. Although employers are more understanding now on the concept of work-life balance, it has proven to be less achievable as the boundary between the time dedicated for work and the time for family has become blurred. The boundaries for self, especially for women, have been completely erased.
Heavy Care Burden: The pandemic has triggered stressors in family life and increased the burden of care responsibilities on working adults resulting from school and daycare facility closures, as well as reduced in-home care and support. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a global professional society that advocates for women in engineering and technology, recently conducted a study of its members in India to examine how the pandemic has affected their personal and professional lives. In the survey, women reported significantly higher care responsibilities, particularly involving childcare and educational support for their children along with greater average hours spent in household chores than compared to men. The study also indicates that men have higher levels of satisfaction than women when it comes to work-family balance. SWE contends that companies can play an important role in balancing the burden of unpaid home care by encouraging family leave options for both men and women and offering childcare for employees who are required to be onsite.
Impact on gender equity: One of the most concerning pandemic trends is the threat it has placed on gender equity gains in the workplace. Decades of progress are at risk of being lost as corporations grapple to save their companies. As per a recent McKinsey study, global data suggests that women’s jobs are more vulnerable than men’s jobs and more women have lost jobs compared to men during this pandemic. SWE’s study found that women are also more concerned than men about finding a new job if their current job was lost. It is now more important than ever for organizations to prioritize gender equity at workplaces and mitigate biases. Organizations should ensure that hiring practices, project assignments, and promotion decisions are considering gender diversity. Data transparency and accountability can help prevent worsening gender imbalances caused by biases in decision-making.
Overlapping personal and professional lives: With remote working, digital connectivity is at an all-time high, which makes one feel pressured to be as responsive as an automated technology. The quality time that we used to set aside for ourselves and family has been compromised with the 24/7 ‘always-on’ work culture that is becoming a norm. Almost 60% of women in the SWE survey reported feeling more pressure to agree to work-related meetings outside of normal work hours during COVID-19 than prior to the pandemic. It is extremely important to understand how work-life balance benefits you and your productivity. If your company does not understand this then you must set that personal boundary.
Rethinking time management: Routines and schedules give us a sense of control of our lives. The pandemic has caused a significant alteration in our routine -- most of us may be grappling with how to plan our workday and make it productive. SWE member, Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri says, “Bringing back parts of your old routine may be helpful in conditioning your brain into channeling productivity for work. Typically, following the 8 AM to 5PM or 9AM to 6PM with an hour or so break in between. The important thing to remember is to recognize and account for life, as you factor in time for work”. Bhaduri also acknowledges the fact that since most women may be primary caregivers, account for flexibility in schedules would be ideal as one would plan for when to work.
Establishing transition time for yourself: Now that there are blurred lines between work and family life, creating cues that apply to your schedule is important. Mimicking our pre-Covid commute is one way to enhance work productivity. A lot of us miss the calm of the personal cocoon that the daily commute allowed us. We never realized how important it was for our own sanity. One way to replicate this is to replace your commuting hours to the office with a walk or a quiet cup of coffee alone. This could also help you de-stress your mind and give you a sense of clarity about your upcoming tasks or work.
Dedicated in-home workspaces: Creating a designated workspace in your home is helpful to establish a physical delineation between your free time and work. An in-home workspace would ideally be relatively quiet, offer plentiful lighting, and help you block out distractions. Physically moving away from the space when your workday ends helps you to transition back to homelife. A designated workspace may also help signal to other members of the household when you can or cannot be interrupted while working.
While the new normal may come with the benefits and increased flexibility of working from home, finding the balance between your personal and professional life might still be difficult. There is no rule book that exists for this unprecedented situation. However, there are steps that employers and employees can take to promote a healthy work-life balance for everyone.
(The given article includes inputs from Karen Horting, Executive Director & CEO, Society Of Women Engineers)