New Tension for WFH Women: Managing Work from Home interface
Ph D scholar, MCC
Ms Sashi Jayakumar had worked from home even before the pandemic struck. A typical day for her began by waking her kid up for school, getting her breakfast and lunch ready, dropping her off at school and post lunch logging into her work from home to cater to a different time zone. The day ended with a dinner and the routine continued in cycles with good weekend breaks and timely vacations. She was able to fulfill both her domestic and professional duties with a good support system like her husband, a domestic help and her mother.
The pandemic changed the beautiful work-life balance for Ms Jayakumar, an administrator for an overseas educational firm. As the pandemic peaked, she was expected to work full time.
The expectations from her organisation and her family only began to increase as she tried to balance her multiple roles sometimes stretching into the wee hours of the next morning. Rest and rejuvenation seemed to be things of the past as her dual roles demanded her to be available through the week with no breaks be it a weekend or a holiday. Today with schools being scheduled to reopen and other arenas of work also slowly getting back to normal the rest of the household will get back into the groove but the expectation and benchmark that she has set will continue. Though there have been several setbacks in the past year one thing this situation has done is to bring the family closer and they have been able to spend some quality time together irrespective of how tired each of them were.
The situation post the global pandemic of COVID – 19 has become a nightmare for women who are juggling responsibilities between the domestic front and managing an active and advancing career both demanding their undivided attention. The growing women in the work force and the increase of the dual – earner couple have made organizations face challenges of implementing practices that allow their employees to achieve career gratification at work, while also engaging meaningfully in their homes and communities. In the past research has addressed the way work and non – work roles might influence one another, building on psychological constructs such as affect, cognition and values. It has been debated whether negative affects at home spill over and negatively influences work styles or whether the person compensates by throwing themselves into the work role to escape such negative effect. Psychological theories on self – regulation and self – esteem explain why positive experiences in one role might carry over and enhance functioning in another role. Developments in work – family research centre around people’s strategies for managing the boundary between the defined roles. More recent research has begun to examine how integration or segmentation strategies are used to navigate work – family boundaries that may affect an individual’s psychological experience of work family roles.
There are personal and psychological consequences of home-based work which include personality as well as developed strategies. Home workers are diverse in demographic terms in relation to gender, skills and income. Not all home workers are able to successfully negotiate the social, personal, temporal and physical transitions between the boundaries of home and work. The work from home option has always been a wanted relief for women to find a little work life balance. However, during and post the global pandemic situation the same option offering multiple arenas of relief from stress has become a forced choice that they have begun to resent. Women today are craving the solace of the physical office environment to be away from the home front to maintain a little sanity.
There are potential tensions that come with homeworking. Homeworking can increase the permeability of the boundary between work and family domains causing attempts to juggle work and family schedules to become more difficult. There are personal and psychological consequences of home – based work which include personality as well as developed strategies for working from home.
Today women have developed numerous strategies for coping with motivation, isolation and stress. They include developing a support system with friends and colleagues, setting personal targets for the completion of work on time, making appointments to socialise with friends and family, taking part in regular social activities and developing workable and realistic schedules for themselves. However, owing to the current scenario many have found that there were personal implications in the home – working scenario through either reduced social contact, loneliness, lack of self-esteem and motivation.
A professional mother employed in an international organisation said, “It’s easy to sit in your office and be de-motivated and have no one there to cheer you up rather than be criticized by the spouse, in-laws and at time the kids as well for a task where more than one’s potential and effort has been given”. Ms. Tabitha employed in an MNC has been trying very hard to juggle her responsibilities as an employee, a mother, a spouse, a daughter – in – law and a homemaker. The work from home option used to help her catch up chores and rest before the pandemic but now she doesn’t seem to get a break from anything. She wishes for more time just get at least four hours of continuous sleep in a day.
The responsibilities for every role seem to be increasing with every day placing more demands than she can manage. Providing exotic dishes for the family that began as hobby during the first few weeks of the lock down seemed to have become a daily expectation from the family if she fails to reach the set benchmark the menu seems to be frowned upon. The Workfront does not spare her either the tasks set seem to have unrealistic deadlines and the reason always seems to be that she is at home, and she has a lot of time at hand. Handling all these responsibilities together at the same time has made her feel that she does not have any time to even breath on her own. The same work from home situation that she used to look forward to every week has now become something that she resents and wants to get back to her nine to five working hours away from home.
Mr. Daniel Christopher, General Manager Human Resources in a leading IT firm feels that the pandemic was a challenge in all walks of life from a homemaker to the MD of a company. In his firm the people at the managerial level were instructed to be accommodative to all employees especially women with children as they were required to be present everywhere, at the Workfront and handling domestic roles during the working hours. He also feels that the office will become a place of social collaboration as the same has been restricted during the pandemic and in the near future. He feels the office space will become a place of social collaboration in the future where employees will use it as an outlet from their routine lives. He says “Future of work would be hybrid and post Covid work norms would have undergone some unconventional changes. We used to in the past, go out as a team away from office to collaborate and build teams. In the new normal, office spaces could be used to build teams and come together to collaborate.” He also says, “Nature of work is likely to change and evolve for good where the focus could shift from tasks to outcomes, initiatives to influence, automation to AI, and content to context.”
Home life is not necessarily rosy for all, and the home, despite its continued stereotypical representation as one’s castle, safe haven and respite is fraught with tensions for many. Until work–life balance includes a realistic appraisal of home life, acknowledging inherent tensions, it will remain generic and removed from most people’s experiences. The current emphasis on work – life balance should be welcomed and offered with greater flexibility and choice for a broad range of workers. Little progress can be made in the development of policy in this area of home-based work if the term remains ambiguous and ill – defined. A more cautious approach to homeworking would be wise given that so little is known about its effects on home and family life. Creating a realistic balance between work and home life is definitely a goal worth pursuing.