Psychologist Debasmita Sinha writes Work-life imbalance is the tip of the iceberg called gender inequalities. A good time to start changing this was yesterday.
Scenario one- Husband and wife bump into each other near the elevator of their apartment, on their way home from work. There is banter about the work day and traffic. Then husband asks: what’s for dinner? Wife responds, with the dinner menu that she had planned and left instructions for the cook, before going to work.
Scenario two - A 3-year-old’s first day at school. Both parents drop her to school. The father leaves for work after she enters the school gate. Mother stays back to pick her up. She has taken the first half off. She talks to the other parents, mostly mothers, gets to know them, and joins the class whatsapp group. An hour later she picks up her daughter, takes an uber drops daughter home and then reaches work.
This does seem familiar. It’s no one’s fault really. Women across the globe are conditioned to take on caregiving and domestic responsibilities in addition to professional work. It is normalised by society and in many cultures glorified. At work on the other hand, women are under greater pressure to perform as they are inherently discriminated against as the relatively more unreliable gender, professionally. This is not new. The pandemic has however brought this to the forefront of our awareness in a way that you cannot ignore anymore.
- More women (45-55%) reported feeling burnt out, exhausted, and chronically stressed than men, in a 2021 report by Mc Kinsey & Company.
- More women left their jobs in the last two years, widening the gender gap in the great resignation A trend that is predicted to continue.
- More working women struggle with their mental health than men. They are less likely to grow professionally than men. Deloitte’s study Women @ Work reports that 60% feel excluded from important meetings and decisions at the workplace.
While there are voices trivialising these issues and suggesting that it is what it is. These reports are disturbing and can have far reaching consequences for individuals of all genders, families and economies. Hence this is not a women’s issue or an individual problem. It is a systemic issue, maintained by societal disdain.
Thankfully, there are some exceptions to this norm. Women working for organisations that foster Gender Equality through genuinely inclusive cultures that support them and promote mental wellbeing, report different experiences. 3% report burnout as opposed to 46% in other organisations. 14% say they feel excluded as opposed to 60% in other organisations.
Historically, organisations have had tremendous sway over cultural change and public health. Since work-life imbalance and burnout for women is a complex problem amplified by the workplace culture yet rooted in the societal norms, organisations need to take cognisance of their potential and responsibility to impact this grim scenario favourably.
Here are some things organisations can do:
- Inclusivity - promote gender equality as a core value critical to business success. Hire, promote and retain all genders on merit. Include women in top leadership to inspire younger women in the workforce and lead by example. Provide equitable support to all genders. Sensitise the non-marginalized genders towards a culture of inclusivity. Give due notice to gender-based micro aggressions and bullying and promote addressing of such issues to improve gender safety.
- Check burnout: Wellbeing champions for women, from within the work community but who are trained to provide preliminary emotional support and first aid, can play a significant role in normalizing openness about challenges unique to women. Women are more likely to save leaves for others’ needs or emergencies than take leaves for themselves. Encourage well-being leaves and breaks systematically. Improve pay parity. Focus on growth, meaning in work and development, and acknowledge ambition.
- Hybrid Work with genuine flexibility - Hybrid work has become a forced norm, however, the pressure to be visible always and prove one’s dedication to working has taken a toll, especially on women. As women juggle domestic and caregiving responsibilities they tend to drop out of sight and then out of mind leaving them excluded from the decision-making, de-accelerating growth. In hybrid work, true flexibility comes through collaboration, trust, honesty, and an inclusive mindset. Culture is set by leaders and trickles down the ranks. Leaders, both men, and women need to demonstrate these values unwaveringly.
- Revisit workloads regularly - Workloads tend to grow with time and at a greater pace for the ones who cannot assert themselves adequately. Managers can revisit workloads, create healthy thresholds, and accept regular feedback to create hygiene around workloads.
- Provide opportunities for work-life integration- Exercise space, kids room at work, sick room, meditation/prayer space, office garden. Self-care initiatives in teams to promote work-life integration and wellbeing. Nutritious food options in the cafeteria.
- Mental health- Focus on mental health has become a leading predictor in retention and joining decisions. Women acutely aware of their predicament and wanting to change the situation are choosing to prioritize their mental health. Providing mental health support does not just mean offering to counsel when needed. It essentially means eliminating the stigma around mental health through exposure and conversations and being proactive and preventing mental health struggles through regular emotional health check-ups, fostering healthy coping habits, and resilience.
Work-life imbalance is the tip of the iceberg called gender inequalities. A good time to start changing this was yesterday. Today will do as well. This requires a deeper understanding of the issues and a genuine top-down interest in resolving them. Organizations have the potential and social responsibility to drive this. (The author is a Psychologist & Clinical Director, Manah Wellness)