Mothers at Work: Striking a Balance
Changing Gender Demography at Work
Employee demographics in organisations have been undergoing a steady transition over the last few decades, with a rising number of women in the workforce. At all levels of employment, women are increasingly reappraising themselves into new and important work roles. Working women contribute to their family income, allow for a better quality of life, and heighten their own self-esteem with economic independence. A quarter of business leadership in India is comprised of women; one in ten Indian companies are led by women, and women head several top public and private banks in the country.
Higher education in women increases their workforce participation. It also, however, delays the age of joining work and getting married.
With late marriages and delayed childbirth, women bear children at the peak of their careers, thus taking on significant responsibilities on both personal and professional fronts. A significant proportion of mothers face hardships balancing professional, maternal, relationship and other personal commitments. The recent surge in divorce and single parenting is also a considerable factor that has driven more mothers into the workplace to enable them to meet their financial needs.
Work and family life are increasingly competing domains for working mothers. Individuals create personal meaning for themselves from what they do, and hence have to make tough choices. It becomes important to negotiate the interface between these domains, in order to find the perfect integration of them. If unsuccessful in this attempt, all aspects of life begin to suffer.
Working Mothers – the Reality
Research affirms that the majority of working mothers do not have adequate time for leisure, self-care and socializing. They do complain of fatigue; however, they are usually relaxed with household responsibilities and spend quality time with their partners. Studies reveal that mothers who are housewives face more constraints in family matters as opposed to working mothers and attribute the latter’s advantage to better discipline, structured task allocation and optimal time management on part of working mothers. Efficient use of technology- most commonly, phones and emails- helps working mothers integrate, and segment work and personal life.
The finite nature of time makes life a continual balancing act between competing ‘critical’ demands. Altering routines and manipulating daily, weekly, monthly and annual plans become customary for working mothers. Business planning, audits, appraisals and project submissions may often require extra attention at work, while on the home front – a school meeting, examination, birthday party or illness qualify as ‘crucial’.
Striking this balance and the ensuing conflicts it creates becomes a part of everyday life. There are always unmet work demands, unfinished homework, poor academic grades, household responsibilities, family gatherings, social commitments, an illness, a birthday or a wedding that needs attention. How the individual perceives such demands is contingent upon the positive or negative appraisals of these events. Stress may seem inevitable but is also often avoidable.
How Can Mothers Strike a Balance?
Choices in life aren’t always easy. Some women willingly select the ‘career tree approach’ which involves switching roles or jobs, and seeking flexible options to accommodate family life; while others persist with the more traditional ‘career ladder approach’. The ‘kaleidoscope career’ involves systematic planning where mothers seek challenges earlier in their careers, balance in the middle stages and seek meaningfulness in other ways later on. Mothers frequently work from home; work closer to home, work part-time; many refuse promotions for the sake of family responsibility. Those who make peace with their choices, whatever they may be, are most likely to find happiness in them.
A 2014 research study suggested that one of the main causes of stress in women is their ability and desire to multi-task. Women often try to do too much simultaneously, allowing themselves the opportunity to worry about more issues at any given point in comparison to men. Time and task management training can enable women to accomplish more in lesser time and with lesser stress. Confident women negotiate expectations better with their employers and their families. Communication and negotiation skills training can help achieve better outcomes.
Work enhances wellness, but only in a supportive work environment.
A 2004 article in the Journal of Social Issues confirmed that women managers were perceived by men to be less committed and inadequately authoritative. They were also suspected of being more irrational and emotional. Organisations that cultivate a supportive and non-discriminating work culture can significantly enhance productivity and wellness of both their male and female workforce. Additionally, practical organisational solutions like day-care, flexible working hours and a pragmatic work-from-home policy can further support working mothers.
It becomes important for both partners to partake in household responsibilities and domestic chores fairly. Older siblings, both sets of parents, neighbours and friends- all serve as a valuable wider support network to the working mother and should be leveraged without feelings of guilt and failure.
Finally, in a small number of instances, counselling or structured therapy can help women achieve a balance between work and family by reality orientation, enhancing self-worth, assertiveness training and augmenting social support. By redefining their own expectations of themselves, women can achieve a better balance in their lives.
If you are or know a working mom looking to gain useful skills that will help you balance work and kids, an InnerHour therapist might be of help.
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