Balancing Work and Life for Young Professional Women

Abstract

The role of work has dramatically changed throughout the world due to harsh economic realities and shifting social requirements. The economic turmoil has placed incredible pressure on workers to perform for purposes of securing their jobs on a long-term basis. Employees are reacting by searching for organizations that offer adequate work-life balance, and seminal studies reveal that they post enviable results for those that do. The underlying issues associated with balancing “life” and “work” are of germane importance to employees, their families, and employers. However, as the invasiveness of “organized” employment in people’s lives increases, conversing how to realize a more integrated balance between professional requirements on the one hand and leisure, family, and community interests on the other has become the preoccupation of many.

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It is against this background that the present project seeks to critically evaluate how young professional Indian women in the age-group of 23-35 could be assisted to balance life and work through identifying the stress factors related to life and work. The project employs a quantitative research design and uses purposive sampling procedures to select a sample of 200 female employees working for IBM India. The results, which are both interesting and informative, have highlighted possible gaps in work-life balance, especially in creating awareness, employee involvement, role overload, misconceptions, and implementation phases.

Various recommendations have been offered, including Intensifying campaigns to eradicate misconceptions; rationalizing work arrangements; building more on-site daycare centers; intensifying awareness on available work-life balance initiatives; involving employees in the development and implementation of the initiatives; and promoting a proper balance between work assignments and finish time.

Introduction

Background

Because of the shifting demographics in the modern workforce, more individuals, especially women, face the uphill challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities (McNall et al, 2010). Organizations the world over are increasingly engaging competitive strategies, including downsizing human capital and increasing performance benchmarks, to remain relevant in today’s globalized and competitive world. Employees, on their part, are calling attention to the reality that the time they have for leisure and tending to family responsibilities is becoming constricted by the day (Ollier-Malaterre, 2009).

As such, the balance between professional life and family life has become a much sought after but seldom accomplished state of being. (Kreiner et al, 2009). Accordingly, work-life researchers have undertaken to encourage organizations and employees to recognize and appreciate the fact that work and “life” in an organizational setting are inexorably linked even though some organizational leadership still views them as separate entities (Watts, 2009).

The fact that much has been achieved over the years in the quest to balance work and family life is undeniable (Kisilevitz & Bedington, 2009). Organizations are increasingly becoming aware that to cultivate, motivate, and retain valuable employees, the organization must invest in strategies aimed at assisting employees to learn how to realize and maintain appropriate work-life balance (Free Management Library, n.d.). Many studies have also been conducted on the work-life interface, with a majority espousing a scarcity perspective insinuating that “involvement in multiple roles leads to inter-role conflict” (McNall et al, 2010, p. 62).

This notwithstanding, the critical issues associated with work-life balance are of paramount importance to both employees and organizations. More specifically, these issues are at the core of the lives of professional women of childbearing age, who are tasked with immense responsibilities, putting them at risk of role overload in addition to exposing them to work-family interference (Hite, 2007). Although many studies have been concluded on the subject, only a handful has targeted this important group of professional employees.

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Work-life balance is an expansive concept, and usually entails organizations identifying and prioritizing with their employees to establish how both can mutually benefit from a more progressive and ingenious approach to working practices (Ollier-Malaterre, 2009). Such working practices must, in a sensible yet objective way, acknowledge and aspire to support the needs of employees in realizing a balance between their working lives and career ambitions on the one hand and their “life” and family-related responsibilities on the other. The topic of work-life balance concerns an employee’s effort to be productive and effective in work and in private life, as well.

This equilibrium, however, remains a specter of imagination for many professional women of childbearing age, especially those in the 23 to 35 age bracket, as they strive to meet a range of interests and responsibilities that are unequivocally distinct from other employees (Hite, 2007). In many instances, these women are at the prime of childbearing and leisure-life, yet the have to work extremely hard to safeguard their careers and ambitions.

Work and life are no longer distinct domains for a considerable proportion of the workforce in civilizations across the world (Higgins et al, n.d.). This explains why, for professional women working in demanding settings, it is becoming difficult to strike a balance between “life” and work, often leading to stress and work-life imbalances. These imbalances, however, are country-specific and multi-directional with some countries particularly in the West, reporting a more balanced view of this issue than other countries (McNall et al, 2010).

Professional women in some Asian countries such as Singapore and India, for instance, have strong ambitions to scale up the professional ladder; however, impediments still line their career paths in a work setting where fair and equal prospects for women are not yet exclusively entrenched (Arora, n.d.). It, therefore, becomes an uphill challenge for these women to seek more balance and flexibility in their lives in addition to negotiating a more justifiable relationship between work and family commitments. It should be remembered, though, that work-life balance is importantly a top concern for young professional women no matter their country of origin or scope of authority.

The Study Context

The present project was carried out in a multinational corporation setting in India. Multinational corporations are business concerns with manufacturing, sales, production, and service subsidiaries or outlets in a number of foreign nations, also known as transnational corporations (Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2005). Over the years, multinational corporations have received accolades for generating employment opportunities, creating wealth, and progressing technology uptake in host countries.

The multinationals, however, have also been criticized for their inordinate employment practices especially regarding women1. In India, multinational corporations offer productive employment which is fundamental for poverty reduction and economic parity in society. Some groups, however, remain subject to disadvantages due to the geometrically related challenges of globalization, unregulated operation of market forces, and cultural ideologies (Azad India Foundation, 2010). Women – especially young professional women – constitute one such susceptible group.

Since the early-1990s, the number of multinational corporations attracted to India has been on the increase and many more are in the initial stages of gaining entry. The multinationals continue to offer career opportunities to young professional women though these women continue to be subjected to suppression, marginalization, and exploitation, not mentioning the fact that offering professional positions to women in the “organized sector” continue to be viewed as slightly unfortunate, subtly wrong, and absolutely treacherous to their chastity and feminine virtue.

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This explains why, despite women accounting for 50% of India’s population, they constitute only 18% of the formal labor force2. Second and more importantly, it explains why achieving a holistic and complete life-work balance for Indian women professionals’ borders on the unimaginable (Arora, n.d.).

More specifically, the project targeted young professional women working for IBM India, a multinational subsidiary of IBM operating in several locations across India, including Bangalore, Noida, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune, among others. Having an employee headcount of 94,000 by 2008 against 9,000 in 2003, IBM India can surely pride itself as the leading multinational operating in India in terms of the number of its employees (IBM, 2010).

One of the critical diversity focus areas for the corporation is the advancement of women in their professional careers not only in India, but also globally. The corporation is not only dedicated to recruit, retain, and encourage young professional women by offering them competitive remuneration packages alongside merit-based promotions, but it has also assumed inclusivity as a long-term commitment with the adoption in 1935 of the corporation’s equal pay policy framework for men and women (IBM, 2010).

Though among other things, the corporation routinely carries out work-life employee surveys3, few modules of data have ever been evaluated to date to establish how work- life issues affect young professional women in the 23-35 age-bracket, and how this multiplicity of concerns can be delineated to achieve balance.

Problem Discussion

We all play many roles and functions in life which imposes demands on us that requires adequate time allotment, energy, and commitment for them to be fulfilled. The demands of the 21st Century economy are so much intertwined with our professional and personal lives such that it becomes almost impossible to separate the two, hence leading to work-life conflict, a situation that arises when the cumulative requirements of a multiplicity of work and personal roles becomes irreconcilable in some respect, so that involvement in one role is inexorably made more difficult by involvement in the other role (Higgins, 2010).

Yet, to attain optimal productivity from employees, organizations must rationalize strategies and practices of employment in an attempt to balance “life” and work. Indeed, a huge volume of literature4 insinuates that work-life balance is one of the basic prerequisites towards maximizing productivity and efficiency in the workplace. As systematic studies on life-work balance continues to be undertaken, the parameters of gaining balance seems to be widening in proportion to the mounting work-life demands. This is especially so for young professional women of child-bearing age.

The underlying issues associated with balancing “life” and “work” are of germane importance to employees, their families, and the organizations that employ them. As the invasiveness of “organized” employment in people’s lives increases, conversing how to realize a more integrated balance between professional requirements on the one hand and leisure, family, and community interests on the other has become the preoccupation of organizational management, the media, health professionals, and social policy analysts (Watts, 2009).

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In a multinational setting, which is the focus of this study, employees, especially women, are hard-pressed to offer more, productively, in a continuum of high performance benchmarks set by the corporations. This puts differential impacts not only on productivity and motivational levels of employees, but also on their physical, psychological, emotional, and mental health (Giancola, 2010).

Work-life balance in a contemporary context is further aggravated in a scenario where women are in a much subtle yet decisive manner, not culturally, normatively, and numerically put at par with their male counterparts in the workplace as is the case in India. Worse still, young professional women seems to be on the receiving end in the dynamics of work-life balance since they are in their child-bearing age yet they have to work extra hard to fulfill their career objectives.

This, in most occasions, leads to demoralization, high turnover, and descend in performance standards, mostly due to work-life conflict. Even though the work-life paradigm has attracted multi-institutional studies and multi-dimensional responses, information on balancing life and work for young professional Indian women, more especially in a multinational corporation setting remains scanty and out-dated5. More still, few empirical studies have assessed the effectiveness of work-life intervention programs already instituted by various corporate organizations. Based on this, sentinel surveillance statistics alone are not sufficient to guide informed program design decisions on work-life balance.

In summary, young professional Indian women need to be assisted to understand a better and well-formulated life alongside of putting work in perspective to make life less stressful. It is with these objectives in mind that this project has sought to demonstrate.

Objectives and Methods of Analysis of the Project

The general objective of the project is to critically evaluate how young professional Indian women in the age group of 23 to 35 could be assisted to balance life and work through identifying the stress factors related to life and work. Facts studied at the multinational corporation of IBM located in India formed the basis for this evaluation. The following were the specific objectives used for analysis of the project:

  1. Measure the types, sources, and amounts of stress affecting young professional Indian women;
  2. Create, administer, and quantify a questionnaire, then produce hard data from the evaluations gained in the study population questioned;
  3. Analyze and report on probable alternatives to alleviate these types of stress in this particular situation and study group;
  4. Formulate conclusions on a proper balance of life and work among working women in the study group; and
  5. Present my findings to corporate leadership of IBM-India.

Key Research Questions

The project is guided by the following research questions:

  1. How do young professional Indian women cope with competing and often conflicting work and family demands?
  2. What resources do Indian corporate organizations, specifically IBM-India, provide to help young professional women achieve a proper balance between work and life?
  3. What does IBM- India gain in terms of employee retention, turn-over, commitment, productivity, efficiency and motivation when they assist young professional female employees to balance their life-work situation?
  4. What are the possible losses for IBM India in terms of employee demoralization, turnover, re-training costs, and absenteeism when they fail to assist young professional female employees to balance their life-work situation?
  5. What advice can this particular study offer young professional Indian women in terms of reducing levels of stress and role overload associated with life-work conflict?
  6. What advice can this particular study offer IBM-India, in terms of assisting young professional women cope with work and family conflict, thereby curtailing stress levels and enhancing productivity at the workplace?
  7. What are the most common stress factors among young professional Indian women and which personal coping approaches do they use to deal with them?

Significance of Project

The value of this project cannot be underestimated. Organizations have been losing a huge pool of talented women employees due to the underlying issues that comes with work-life imbalance This, in any scale, is a huge loss to the organizations since they spend immeasurable financial and material resources to train these professionals only to lose them to pressure and stress that is diametrically related to their conflicting interests (Hite, 2007). Turnover related to these issues force organizations to recruit new employees, provide them with costly training, and continue to suffer, productively, as new employees must be allowed some proof-time to start performing. This cannot be allowed to happen in the 21st Century business environment which thrives on speed, productivity, performance, and motivation6.

The female employees on their part are affected both physically and mentally by the disjointed work-life imbalance, setting the stage for “such undesirable outcomes as stress, turnover, absenteeism, burnout, and dissatisfaction with job, family, and life” (Kreiner et al, 2009). This complexity of scenarios generates a compelling case for action.

In summary, this project has provided a body of knowledge that could profoundly assist all multinationals (and IBM-India in particular) to provide a more palatable lifestyle for young professional female employees, which would undoubtedly ensure to corporations a more stable workforce while relieving women of the choice to quit their jobs. More importantly, the project has cast a wide net towards understanding work-life issues by focusing on the individual level as opposed to organizational level. Many previous researches such as Kreiner et al (2009) focused on the organizational level with an emphasis on evaluating human resource practices, but this project further narrows its emphasis to specifically delineate how to retain young professional women employees

Study Delimitations

Although the research process was largely uneventful, some challenges were noted, especially in trying to get young professional women talk about their family and private/leisure lives, and how they manage the stress related to maintaining family responsibilities.

Specifically, I found that some of the women felt very uncomfortable divulging information on how they manage their private time and how their relationships at home and leisure engagements are affected by the long working hours and busy schedules demanded at work. As the researcher, I was constrained by time and finances from engaging in a much larger sample size that could have been more representative of the true picture on the ground. A cross-sectional study comparing the practice of work-life balance in a number of multinational corporations operating in India could have been more appropriate, especially when it comes to issues of results validation and generalization. However, this was outside the scope of this project. Therefore, the questions studied are purposively limited to data collection mainly done at IBM India.

Review of Related Literature

Introduction

The role of work has dramatically changed across civilizations due to the prevailing economic conditions and societal demands of our present technological era. Originally, work was viewed as a matter of absolute necessity and survival. Over the years, the role and characteristics of work has outstandingly progressed and the composition of the work force has also greatly matured to demonstrate more gender equality. Presently, work still is a necessity as a life without work only exists in the imagination, but it should be a foundation of personal satisfaction as well.

In light of this, there has been a dramatic change from the traditional approach towards “work” to a modern approach that demands organizations to factor in work-life balance programs. Volumes of literature has been published regarding the intricate issues surrounding work-life balance, but gaps still exist due to the multifaceted nature and wide scope of the topic. The present project I undertook to critically evaluate how young professional Indian women working in multinational corporations could be assisted to bring balance to life in order to maintain a home and career with a view to providing a more pleasant lifestyle for the employees, thereby enhancing their performance and productivity at the workplace and benefit IBM India.

Towards the realization of these general objectives, this section samples the existing literature relating to the broad topic of work-life balance and identifies and discusses pertinent issues affecting young professional women of child-bearing age.

Definitions of Work-Life Balance

Many people perceive work-life balance purely in the framework of what the organization does for the employee. However, it should be viewed in a multifaceted approach since the employee must contribute as much to the equilibrium as the organization (Kreiner, et al, 2009).

The concept of work-life balance has been broadly discussed by researchers and policy analysts with a view to conceptualize a universally acceptable definition. It has been extremely difficult to coin a universally acceptable definition for the reason that the concept is largely viewed and evaluated within the context of the organization, and different organizations apply divergent approaches and practices when dealing with employees7. Manfredi & Holliday (2004) argues that “the concept of work-life balance is based on the notion that paid work and personal life should be seen less as competing priorities than as complementary elements of a full life.”

In broad terms, work-life balance can be defined as working practices that recognize and aspire to support the needs of employees in realizing a balance between their home and private lives on the one hand and their career lives on the other (Kreiner et. al, 2009). Jim Bird, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Worklifebalance.com8 simply defines work-life balance as “meaningful achievement and enjoyment in everyday life” (Joshi et al, 2002). Giancola (2010) is of the opinion that work-life balance “involves employers making changes in their work schedules and job designs, and offering benefits programs to reduce the conflict and tension between employees work and personal responsibilities.”

Such benefits include flextime, telecommuting, childcare, leave, job-sharing, vacation, employee assistance services, and work hours, among others. It is worthwhile to note that the stated definitions, despite the difference in wording and perspective, underline the need for organizations to develop strategies and programs that will enable employees to lead palatable lifestyles, at home and work.

Work-Life Balance: Why does it Matter to Organizations?

In the modern economic environment, it might appear counterintuitive to focus much thought on work-life balance when most organizations are cutting costs and downsizing their human capital, otherwise punctuated as “doing more with less” (Kisilevitz & Bedington, 2009). Organizations are well aware that future success in a progressively competitive and dynamic business environment will inexorably depend on “making the most of one’s employees” (Higgins et al, n.d.).

The critical need to guarantee a sufficient work-life balance for employees is largely being neglected by organizations, even though they continue holding forth the view that employees are “their most valuable asset”. This is especially so for women, whose numbers in the global workforce continue to rise as more female professionals take up positions in the formal sector (Bagchi, 2007). While this is so, most organizations continue to treat women at par with their male counterparts when it comes to issues relating to work-life balance, completely ignoring the fact that women have special needs that are inherently absent in the male’s world.

Work-life balance matters to organizations in different yet useful ways. Depending on how well it is implemented, the concept offers a generous return on investment through enhanced engagement and a reinforced employment value proposition, which is the set of elements the labor market and employees identify as the value they achieve through employment in the organization (Kisilevitz & Bedington, 2009).

A 2009 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) research conducted on 50,000 global workers revealed that “…work-life balance now ranks as one of the most important workplace attributes – second only to compensation” (CEB, 2009). The survey, also quoted by Kisilevitz & Bedington, further demonstrated that successful work-life policies and programs can enhance employee productivity by 21% and progress employee commitment by 33%.

According to Higgins (n.d.), “the link between recruitment and retention of knowledge workers and the availability of work-life policies and support provides a compelling reason for…organizations to take another look at this issue.” It is no longer a secret that the best employees are seeking out employers who are ready to offer a more comprehensive work-life balance. Indeed, work-life balance is one of the three most important attributes for retaining U.S. workers and attracting job candidates, and features outstandingly as the seventh most significant attribute in India (Kisilevitz & Bedington, 2009).

In addition, work-life balance has been instrumental in curtailing employee turnover which has a costly financial dimension to the organization. Consecutive studies have demonstrated that the cost of recruiting one employee for a particular post is four times the annual remuneration for the position (Joshi et al, 2002). These studies, according to the authors, “…include lost productivity, recruitment, advertising and training as tools to build loyalty and encourage teamwork and camaraderie with coworkers…” There is, therefore, a strong case to compel organizations to develop and implement work-life balance programs as they offer more good than harm.

Work-Life Balance: Why does it Matter to Employees?

Employees, regardless of their gender, have responsibilities, needs, and lives outside of the work day. A debate has been mushrooming over the past two decades about the need for organizations to allow employees the flexibility to combine paid work with family responsibilities (Bell & Bryson, n.d.). The development of concern about realizing a comprehensive balance between work and lifestyle responsibilities stems from a recognition that the needs and demands of the non-work responsibilities have tremendously grown in proportion to the needs and demands of work responsibilities (Kreiner et al, 2009). Programs and policies supporting and facilitating work-life balance must therefore acknowledge this fact: that employees have their own family and private lives that must be harmonized with their working lives to offer them palatable lifestyles.

Indeed, work-life balance for employees must be viewed as a matter of urgency due to the unprecedented increase of female participation in the workforce9. Today, more than ever before, more women are being recruited into the workforce at younger ages and continue to stay in the labor market after their children are born, hence the need for work-life balance.

Work life balance offers some major rewards to employees. A major study in 2009 carried out by CEB demonstrated that employees who benefited from work-life balance programs in their workplace felt more rested, motivated, and energized while performing their responsibilities, both at work and home.

Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that work-life balance programs increases employee productivity and makes them to get more proficient, leading to more fulfillment from work and greater career success. In another study by Kossek & Lambert10, employees surveyed credited work-life balance programs for enabling them to improve relationships with family members and friends, and for enhancing their physical, psychological, and mental health. More importantly, work-life programs give employees the opportunity and audacity to make their own choices about their priorities in a rational and acceptable manner as opposed to making sacrifices among them (Kisilevitz & Bedington 2009).

In almost all instances, work-life conflict ensues in the absence of a healthy work-life relationship. Below is a diagrammatic representation of the benefits organizations and employees stand to gain if work-life balance programs are embraced.

Benefits to Organizations and Employees in Providing Work/Life Balance.
Figure 1: Benefits to Organizations and Employees in Providing Work/Life Balance.

The Concept of Work-Life Conflict

The fast pace of the economic environment in the 21st Century have created new endeavors and performance benchmarks for organizations across the world. In a spirited attempt to remain relevant and retain their competitive advantage, organizations, especially multinational corporations, are engaging in downsizing, streamlining, mergers/acquisitions, and reformulating their organizational culture. These measures, despite their perceived benefits to the organization, have taken a toll on employees, who are more involved in their jobs than was the case in the past (Nadeem & Abbas, 2009).

The long working hours, high work demands and work pressure present in today’s labor market have inarguably made it extremely difficult for employees to maintain a balance between their work commitments and family responsibilities. This scenario often leads to work-life conflict.

According to Higgins et al (n.d.), work-life conflict can be “defined as a form of inter-role conflict in which work and family demands are mutually incompatible so that meeting demands in one domain makes it difficult to meet demands in the other.” Kreiner defines the concept as a “subset of role conflict…and as a generalized state of tension that results from incompatible expectations and challenges associated with work and home.” This description, in particular, give credence to the rational model of work-life conflict11, which espouse that conflict increase diametrically in proportion to the amount of time individuals spend in the work and family spheres.

The above definitions denote a multi-directional relationship where work and career obligations can affect family relationships and vice-versa. As such, achieving benefits in one domain necessitate foregoing benefits in the other (Higgins et al, n.d.). The history of work-life conflict, as noted by Nadeem & Abbas (2009), is as old as mankind. It has, however, mutated in nature and scope to take new dimensions that, according to existing body of literature, are costly for the organization as well as the employees.

Evidence has demonstrated that employees, mostly women of childbearing age, suffer from a multiplicity of negative psychological and physical problems due to work-life conflict. In many cultures, including India, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, “women experience stress, distress, and burnout as a result of combining work and family roles” (Role Theory, 2010). Consecutive studies, however, demonstrates that the level of conflict differ across cultures mainly due to a myriad of perceptions, including gender roles, culture, and the subsequent amount of time available to perform work and domestic responsibilities.

Higgins and Kreiner envisage work-life conflict to include the following:

Role Overload

This type of work-life conflict refers to the experience of lacking the needed resources, desired to adequately or comfortably meet the demands of all prescribed activities;

Role Conflict

This concept depicts an incongruity between the beliefs and expectations of one tasks and those of another;

Work-to-family interference

This variety of role conflict presents itself when work demands and obligations make it extremely difficult to execute family-obligations. Seminal studies conducted by Frone & Rice12 elucidated that work time is substantially, positively correlated to work-to-family interference or general work-family conflict;

Family-to-work interference

In essence, this type of role conflict presents itself when family demands and obligations make it extremely difficult for an employee to execute work-role and responsibilities.

Works-Life Balance: Issues for Young Professional Women

Work and family are increasingly becoming propositions of choice for emerging young professional women, that is, many women professionals are being forced to make a choice of either opting out of the family to keep their jobs or opting out of their jobs to raise families. Indeed, according to Wilson (2008), “…a well documented opt-out revolution is underway, in which women professionals are leaving the workplace in droves.” This, of course, has everything to do with the tough work demands for performance and long inflexible working hours set by employers,’ especially in busy work environments as is the case in multinational corporations (Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2005).

In most instances, those who opt to stay in employment are forced to make tough choices of foregoing parenting roles and stable, long-term relationships, believing they cannot have a win-win situation. In such a scenario, these young women commit themselves to serve the organization at the expense of their own personal and family lives. Yet, in the presence of an effective and well planned work-life balance program, these women can be assisted to lead more palatable lifestyles that incorporate both their work and family roles and responsibilities (Ollier-Malaterre, 2009).

An emerging trend in modern workforce puts an overriding emphasis on living a prosperous, happy life versus merely realizing success at work. This is only possible if individuals are assisted to make the right choices, especially at the organizational level, in an attempt to balance work and life (Leger-Hornby & Bleed, 2006). Studies have demonstrated that when the priorities and objectives of the organization and employees become incompatible, the latter are more likely to look for consistent cultures elsewhere (Watts, 2009).

But this is as far as it goes, and in most instances, employees are likely to experience augmented stress due to the incompatibility, resulting in work-life conflict. This is especially so for young professional women of childbearing age, who “must make decisions on having children, whether to interrupt career plans, how soon to return to work, and how to manage ongoing childcare” (Leger-Hornby & Bleed, 2006). These decisions, according to researchers, are a source of conflict for many women employees. A 2002 RAND study13 revealed that the decision on whether women remain in the labor force will depend to a large extent on their ability to balance work and family.

Women employees are more likely to experience stress related to work-life conflict than their male counterparts. In most emerging economies in the world, it is the woman who shoulders all homemaking responsibilities, including giving birth, raising children, buying foodstuffs, cooking, cleaning, among others (Arora, n.d.). It therefore becomes unequivocally difficult for working women to balance these roles with work roles in the absence of family-friendly workplace policies, leading to stress and burnout (Bagchi, 2007). Some cultures, according to Arora (n.d.), are structured in a way that put women at a disadvantage, worsening the situation even further. A 2009 study conducted by TEAMS.Org14 among some oriental cultures, specifically in India and China, revealed that it was the absolute role of the woman to care for the children and the elderly even if the woman was working and the man wasn’t.

Evidence from psychologists15 illuminate the fact that such women employees end up experiencing increased stress levels and diminished perceptions of control and leverage over their work and non-work demands, and are more likely to leave the organization. If they choose to stay, they become less productive, less committed to organization’s objectives, psychologically disoriented, mentally unhealthy, physically disjointed, and are more likely to register deep “dissatisfaction with job, family and life” (Kreiner et al, 2009).

Such undesirable and negative outcomes have obvious ramifications on the performance and outlook of the organization (Hite, 2007). In one particular study, employees “…who experienced life/work conflict were nearly 30 times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder (e.g., depression), 10 times more likely to have an anxiety disorder and 11 times more likely to have a substance-dependence disorder (e.g., heavy drinking). On the other hand, employees with lower levels of work/life conflict report higher job satisfaction overall” (Hudson, 2008).Based on these statistics, there is a compelling case for action.

In their seminal research on coping, Skinner and colleagues16 outlined 13 higher order classes of coping strategies mostly used by employees when faced with work-life conflict. These strategies include:

  1. Problem solving;
  2. Support seeking;
  3. Escape;
  4. Distraction;
  5. Cognitive restructuring;
  6. Rumination;
  7. Helplessness;
  8. Social withdrawal;
  9. Negotiation;
  10. Opposition;
  11. Emotional regulation;
  12. Information seeking; and
  13. Delegation.

The strategies, which are either cognitive or behavioral based, do not necessarily bring the desired outcomes and hence the need for organizations to develop and implement programs and policies that will entrench work-life balance in the workforce.

Bridging the Gap: Towards Developing Work-Life Balance Programs

Work-life balance programs in organizations have become progressively more popular through the years. Corporations have realized the need to offer work-life programs after seminal studies17 done on the subject by a wide allay of researchers revealed their benefits, both at the organizational level and individual level (Higgins et al, n.d.). Many organizations, however, develop enticing work-life programs but fail to implement them, leading to work-life conflict among employees (Kreiner et al, 2009). In their research on work-life programs, Kossek and Lambart18 found that 45% of employees in the organizations polled never knew about the existence of work-life balance programs in their organizations. This reveals a divergence of policy and practice in regards to the work-life balance programs.

In her article on work-life balance, Melissa Arulappan recommends some fundamental measures organizations can implement to ‘respect’ their employees, including “identifying the key need or reason for introducing work-life balance policies, building the commitment to it into the organization’s vision statement, setting up a special task force, examining current practices, holding joint discussions with employees to evolve policies…identifying possible barriers, communicating policies through handbooks, newsletters, intranet…implement and manage policies, monitoring implementation and putting feedback systems into place” (Arora, n.d).

There exist various types of work-life programs dealing with a broad range of issues, including: Onsite child care; emergency childcare assistance; telecommuting; flexible working arrangements; seasonal childcare programs; eldercare initiatives; onsite seminars and workshops; educational or training opportunities, fitness facilities, and fitness or lifestyle membership assistance (CCOHS, 2008)19

However, organizations need to do more than offering work-life balance programs. A study carried out in 2005 on behalf of Working Mother magazine revealed that in spite of the growing popularity on work-life balance programs such as job-shares, flexibility options, leave of absence, and compressed work weeks, “…two out of three working mothers believe there is still a stigma attached to using flextime options that their companies allow” (IBM, 2010c).

This is a key priority area that organizations need to focus their attention, especially those operating in male dominated culture such as India. Possible intervention measures for such a scenario include developing training programs and conducting workshops on a continuous basis targeted at young female employees with a view to create awareness on how flextime options operate (Stone, 2007).

Work-Life Balance: The Case of India

India, according to Arora (n.d.), makes a strong case for a holistic work-life balance evaluation due to the fact that the boom in the country’s economy is a more recent event which puts the labor force in greater stress and burnout than in developed countries. More importantly, India is a service destination for many global corporations due to convenient labor policies and availability of less expensively paid labor, many of whom are obliged to work in nightshifts. There is compelling evidence that most Indian professionals are unable to cope with the high stress levels and work pressures due to increased workloads in the absence of effective work-life balance programs (Anand, 2008).

In a recent study carried out by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM)20, a majority of workers both in the public and private sectors grumbled over high tensions in the workplace, heavy workload, and prolonged working hours, not mentioning the fact that 85% of employees working in various industries such as Business Processing & Outsourcing, stock markets, and hotels reported being dissatisfied with their work as most worked for over 60 hours weekly.

The situation is further compounded by the entry of a huge proportion of women professionals into the workforce. India, as is the case in other Asian countries, is a fundamentally male-dominated society (Arora, n.d.). As such, women are made to bear all the major roles of the family, be it buying household items or raising children. This is generally the case even when the woman of the house is engaged in a professional career.

Not that this retrogressive mind-set is not shifting, but its rapidity “…is far slower than needed given that the number of women choosing to have a career is growing by the day” (Arora, n.d.). For instance, IBM India has over 35% women in its workforce (Anand, 2008), while Motorola India has about 20% (Arora). Many women, however, decide to opt out of employment due to work-life conflict. This is especially so for Indian organizations which fail to implement rigorous and all-inclusive work-life balance programs.

IBM India

IBM India can pride itself as one of the corporations with extensive work-life programs for its female employees. Not astonishingly for the nineteenth year in a row the corporation has featured in the ‘best companies’ list of diverse magazines and publications, including the Working Mother (IBM, 2010b). Through its diversity initiative, the corporation has managed to retain women professionals and attract new talent to drive its agenda in India (Anand, 2008). Apart from the work-life flexibility option, the corporation allows employees to work half a day at half the salary so that they can dedicate more time to cater for their family and private issues.

Through its work-life balance initiatives, employees are allowed to telecommute provided they meet the set deadlines, and are also allowed sabbaticals of up to five years and leave of absence for further studies or to care for a sick relative. Other diversity initiatives already on offer include Take Our Kids to Work Day, provisions for mobile working, wellness programs, and International Women’s Day (Anand, 2008). Such initiatives are always looked upon by management as tools to attain business success, not as hindrances or organizational obligations that must be provided to the employees (IBM, 2010c).

The corporation no longer depend on the traditional single workplace model due to the changing and dynamic nature of modern work environment coupled with the flexibility availed by improved technology (IBM, 2010b). Indeed, employees are provided with tools to work from any location, with the management taking note that such flexibility has improved the effectiveness and efficiency of employees. IBM India has gone a step further to develop childcare facilities and crèches in vital cities across the country in the hope of retaining their key female staff from opting out of employment to care for their children at home.

Through a separate project, the corporation arranges for professionals to visit the employees home to offer standardized training on a wide range of issues such as maintaining hygiene and caring for young children (Anand, 2008).

The above work-life balance initiatives are a step in the right direction for IBM India. Judging by industry standards, the corporation is ahead of many of its peers in the provision of these initiatives to employees (IBM, 2010a). However, shifting business trends and personal goals of modern economic environment demands a rethinking, reformulation, and development of new tailor-made programs with a view to devise a win-win situation where both the corporation and employees benefit. This is especially so for young professional women, who are the focus of this project.

Consecutive studies have demonstrated that some work-life balance programs tend to attract young professional women more than others. These include relocation with spouse placement assistance; childcare resource and referral; vacation plan; special care for children; midday flex; technical academic career program; and individual work schedules (Stone, 2007). It is prudent for IBM India to lay emphasis on these and other tailor-made programs with a view to offer a more palatable lifestyle to these young employees who are at the prime of their age, and therefore capable of offering more, productively, to the corporation as they enjoy their family, academic, or private lives to the fullest.

Clearly, for future commercial sustainability, corporations need to ensure they not just promote but mandate a realistic and practicable work-life balance programs, benefiting and meeting the requirements of both the organization and its employees (Hudson, 2008).

Methodology

Introduction

This section purposes to provide information on how this project has been conducted and the rationale behind using the discussed methodologies and procedures to augment the project’s validity. In addition to explaining the research design, theoretical framework, and population and sample size, the section will also touch on instrumentation and data collection instruments, issues of validity and reliability, and pertinent ethical issues observed in the course of undertaking the project.

Research Design

The present project employs a quantitative research design to critically evaluate how young professional Indian women in the age group of 23 to 35 could be assisted to balance life and work through identifying the stress factors related to life and work. This methodology best suits the objectives of this project because, as Hopkins (2000) posits, most quantitative research designs are interested in determining the correlation or association between an independent variable and a dependent variable. It is the purpose of this project to fastidiously articulate which initiatives multinational corporations can take to ensure a proper balance between life and work for young professional women.

Most quantitative studies are either descriptive or experimental (Sekaran, 2006). This particular project employs a descriptive approach since the subjects were measured once. The project employs a survey technique to collect the requisite data from IBM India. A survey technique is mostly useful when the researcher is basically interested in descriptive, explanatory or exploratory assessment. The rationale behind choosing a survey approach for this project is based on the fact that subjects have the ability to respond to the data collection instrument by way of self-report either directly or using other channels such as emails, telephone, and letters, among others (Sekaran, 2006). This project employs an online survey.

A comprehensive review of related literature have been undertaken to compare the projects findings against other previous works on work-life balance and offer authenticated solutions or alternatives to challenges facing young professional women in contemporary settings.

Theoretical Framework

A theoretical framework “is a conceptual model of how one theorizes and makes logical sense of the relationships among the several factors that have been identified as important” (Sekaran, 2006). The fundamental function of a theoretical framework is to map out or outline and evaluate the diverse interrelationships that exist between phenomena or variables thought to form a crucial component to the situational dynamics under study. The framework is constructed based on the interrelationships between the independent variables and the dependent variables considered to be important to the project (Sekaran, 2006)

Based on the project objectives and key research questions, programs and initiatives supporting and facilitating work-life balance are the independent variables while the benefits or losses attainable to organizations and employees becomes the dependent variables. According to Sekaran (2006), a dependent variable is directly influenced by the independent variable, and is altered depending on the effect of the independent variable. Based on this description, the present project is guided by the theoretical schema illustrated below.

Theoretical Schema Used to Guide the Project.
Figure 2: Theoretical Schema Used to Guide the Project.

Target Population and Sample

The target population for this project comprises of young professional women working in a multinational corporation setting in India. Specifically, the project targets working women in the age-group of 23-35 working for IBM India. The rationale behind selecting this population is based on the understanding that this category of employees is faced with a myriad of challenges when it comes to issues of work-life balance since they are at their child-bearing age yet they have to fulfill their work responsibilities and accomplish other responsibilities such as family obligations, academic advancement, leisure, and caring for children. The stress levels, therefore, becomes unbearable in the absence of a proper work-life balance program, adversely affecting the corporations they work for as well as the employees.

The present project uses purposive sampling procedures to select a sample of 200 subjects for purposes of data collection. According to Sekaran (2006), subjects in a purposive sample are selected based on their compatibility to the study objectives and understanding about the topic under investigation.

The Sampling Criteria

Since this project is age and gender specific, the subjects had to meet the following standards for them to participate

  • Must be between 23 and 35 years.
  • Must be women of Indian origin.
  • Must have worked for IBM India for a period of not less than two years.
  • Must display adequate understanding of the issues under study.
  • Must be ready and willing to take part in the online survey.

Data Gathering Instruments

The questionnaire schedule is used in this project as the primary data gathering tool. It is important to note that the project employs an online survey approach and, as such, the rationale behind using a questionnaire schedule becomes apparent due to its easy application and adaptability (Johnson & Christensen, 2007). Sekaran (2006) posits that a questionnaire schedule can be equated to a self-report form deliberately designed to extract important information that is key to meeting the objectives set out by the project. The questionnaire has its own distinct advantages over other approaches when it comes to data collection.

In the present project, for instance, it was easy to administer the questionnaires using online protocols and still receive adequate responses from the selected subjects in time. Other advantages of employing a questionnaire schedule, according to Sekaran (2006) include:

  • Cost effective when administered online.
  • Most questionnaire schedules comprise of closed-ended items, thereby making it easier for the researcher to undertake a comparative analysis on each of the items.
  • The researcher is at liberty to incorporate unstructured questions to enquire about new information that is previously unknown to her or to just explore new horizons.
  • Ability to guarantee anonymity as names or physical identity of selected subjects is of no significance to the purpose of study, thereby encouraging the subjects to respond to questions in an objective manner.
  • Ability to attain a high response rate.

Secondary data for this project is gathered through undertaking a critical review of related literature. The review is ingeniously important for comparative purposes aimed at developing benchmarks that multinational corporations, specifically IBM India, can employ to implement contemporary work-life programs that best suits the interests of young professional women of childbearing age. In the view of many researchers, a comprehensive review of related literature is fundamental to any research process as it “…represents a reflection of reality” (May, 2001).

Reliability and Validity

Reliability

Reliability in any research process insinuates that the same set of data or information would have been gathered each time in repeated investigations of the same variable or phenomenon, otherwise known as consistency of measurement (Handley, 2005). To achieve reliability of the project’s findings, the researcher made sure that measures incorporated in the questionnaire schedule captured only the data that was of interest to the objectives of the project. The range of measurement of the questionnaire schedule was also increased to enhance internal consistency of findings. Lastly, the researcher employed the use of multiple indicators to ensure that data collected were unabridged.

Validity

Validity is a term that is used to describe a measure or instrument that correctly reflects the phenomena it is intended to measure, thereby strengthening the conclusions, deductions, or propositions made from the study findings (Handley, 2005). Internal validity, which refers to the soundness of an investigation, was achieved through employing appropriate sampling procedures and using a validated and reliable questionnaire schedule for purposes of data collection. The same procedures were employed coupled with the involvement of an adequate sample size to achieve external validity, thereby ensuring that the project findings could be generalized to other settings.

Ethical Considerations

Saunders et al (2007) posits that “…ethics refers to the appropriateness of your behaviour in relation to the rights of those who become the subject of your work, or are affected by it.” In addition to seeking for consent from the management of IBM India to conduct the survey using the corporation’s employees as subjects, the researcher also took time to explain to the subjects the nature and purpose of the project, not mentioning the fact that the researcher kept the subjects in the know about their rights, especially the right to informed consent and the right to privacy.

Data Analysis

The researcher made use of SPSS21 for Windows for purposes of analyzing quantitative data. The analysis included data coding, entry, cleaning, analysis, and interpretation. The software was then used to run univariate analyses aimed at generating frequency distributions. The data resulting from the distributions were further harnessed, interpreted and presented using statistical procedures such as pie-charts, bar-graphs, and normal text. The analysis of mean, median and standard deviation was also employed where applicable. Qualitative data arising from the open-ended questions in the questionnaire schedule was analyzed using content analysis technique, whereby data was reduced, presented, and finally, conclusion drawing and verification made (Sekaran, 2006).

Results

Introduction

The present project is focussed on the need to develop and implement strategies and policies that will enable young professional Indian women in the age bracket of 23 to 35 lead more palatable lifestyles by achieving a proper balance between work and life. Towards the realization of this broad objective, a survey was conducted on a sample of 200 Indian professional women working for IBM India with a view to gain objective insight on a variety of issues related to work-life balance. This section will outline the results of the survey followed by a comprehensive discussion of the results based on the project objectives and key research questions. It is important to mention that 128 duly filled questionnaires were received from the field, representing 64% response rate.

Statement of Results

The main highlights of the project are both interesting and informative. Demographic analysis reveals that IBM India has a young workforce of women employees as almost two-thirds (65.2%) of the participants were in the age category of 23 to 30, with only a handful (4.8%) saying they had reached the age of 35. Many of the participants had worked for the corporation for a period not exceeding ten years, and held varying positions in various departments such as technical support, research and development, clerical, human resources, and administration. Almost one in every ten women (9.6%) held a managerial or supervisory role. The intranet was credited by 68.8% of the women as being the primary source of information on work-life balance initiatives available in the corporation, with the HR department coming in second place with 60.4%. The rest of the distribution is shown in the figure below.

Source of Knowledge on Work-Life Balance Programs.
Figure 3: Source of Knowledge on Work-Life Balance Programs.

Of particular importance to this project is the fact that more than eight in ten employees reported having being engaged in other caring commitments besides their work responsibilities, with a third saying they had caring commitments for toddlers and young children under the age of five. A substantial number (54%) had double caring commitments for children in primary school and their elderly relatives, with a quarter of the employees reporting having to cope with more than two caring commitments at the family level. This is an important indicator of the amount of stress employees undergo as they try to balance their work and family roles. Below, the results are outlined based on the project’s objectives and the questionnaire structure.

Issues of Work-Life Balance and Stress

A fifth (21.8%) of employees said their work-life balance was ‘very good’ as opposed to 16.4% who classified their work-life balance as ‘poor.’ Majority, however, responded that they were comfortable with the current work-life arrangements in IBM-India. A cross-tabulation of the level of satisfaction with own work-life balance and current position at the corporation revealed that most employees who stated their work-life balance was ‘very good’ held managerial/supervisory positions while majority of those who ranked their work-life balance as poor held clerical and secretarial positions.

This may be an indicator of inequities in the implementation of work-life balance initiatives in IBM-India. Two-thirds (67.3%) admitted to experiencing some difficulties in achieving work-life balance that was acceptable to them. When asked to explain why they experienced some difficulties, four in every ten women (41.9%) cited family and private-related hindrances while a third cited work-related hindrances.

Employees were asked to rank how work related responsibilities made it difficult to achieve some family/personal activities previously predetermined by the researcher. Figure 4 next page explains some of responses. However, it is important to note that over half (56%) stated that work related responsibilities made it often impossible to engage in leisure activities while 52% stated that they were unable to have the number of children they wished due to work responsibilities. A further 56% said it was sometimes impossible to spend time with children/family due to work related responsibilities. Such hindrances to work-life balance are known to initiate stress.

Employees were then asked to select some of the issues that had posed challenges to them in an attempt to achieve work-life balance. From the results one cannot help to notice that job-related stress; being on call; requirement to work nightshifts; requirement to work on

Conflict Areas on Family/Personal Life posed by Work-Related Activities.
Figure 4: Conflict Areas on Family/Personal Life posed by Work-Related Activities.

weekends; lack of personal input when work schedules/shifts are arranged; amount and regularity of travel required; and the short notices given when one is required to work overtime or for long hours, are some of the overriding challenges affecting female employees as they strive to achieve work-life balance. Only a small percentage (6.8%) had problems with the expectations and attitudes of their respective line managers/supervisors.

A possible gap in work-life balance initiatives was highlighted when three in every ten women (29.6%) attested that they had contemplated leaving their current positions of employment at the corporation to start a family or to have more time with family. The importance of work-life balance was underlined when employees stated that work-life balance was the second top-most factor they considered before accepting their current positions, selected by 63.2% of the participants in a multiple response question.

Salary considerations was selected by eight in every ten women (81.4%) as the top-most factor, while geographical location came in third place, selected by more than half. Possible conflicts of interest between work and life were further highlighted when 40.2% stated that they were forced to sacrifice personal/private time a few times each month to get the corporation’s work done. 30.5 % sacrificed their personal time once or twice per week. The rest of the distribution is shown in the figure below.

Frequency of how often Employees Sacrifice Personal Time to get the Corporation’s Work Done.
Figure 5: Frequency of how often Employees Sacrifice Personal Time to get the Corporation’s Work Done.

Work-Life Balance Arrangements and IBM India

Employees were asked to list some of the work-life balance arrangements they utilize or intend to utilize in IBM India. Some of the most mentioned arrangements include: on-site day care; use of flexitime (flexible work/finish times, flexible work hours, working part-time, flexible annual/domestic leaves, etc), choosing own work schedule; telecommuting; career break; maternity leave; forward arrangement about the need to work overtime; choosing not to work on weekends; and supportive self and spouse relocation policies. The three most supportive arrangements selected by employees include flexitime, on-site day care, and maternity leave.

This question was also designed to measure the level of awareness of the existing arrangements for work-life balance. A significant proportion of the employees (24.5%) didn’t know they could buy or negotiate extra annual leave while 18.4% felt that it was impossible for them to be consulted before work schedules were arranged. Still, a sizeable number (15.2%) felt it was untenable for them to work longer on some selected days and take a day off in exchange.

Organizational culture plays a fundamental role in entrenching work-life balance initiatives. In this regard, some statements were posed to the employees with a view to understand how IBM India’s corporate culture handled the initiatives. In summary:

  • About two-thirds (65.2%) said they would feel comfortable requesting time off from line managers to attend to an emergency.
  • Almost half (48.6%) believe that employees who work part-time basis get promoted on merit, just like their counterparts who work full-time.
  • Seven in every ten women (69.8%) believe the management is more interested in input rather than hours worked.
  • A third of the women (32.7%) believe they can use non-standard work arrangements such as part-time if they needed to.
  • Three-quarters (74.2%) believe working long hours is not perceived as a significant indicator of commitment in IBM India.
  • 71.8% believe their colleagues would cover for them if they had important business/ private issue to attend.
  • Almost all (98.5%) believe managers and supervisors themselves utilize flexible work arrangements.
  • Above half (58.4%) believe that employees who utilize flexible work schedules are just as likely to mould their career paths than those who do not.

Employees were asked to rank some of the perceived benefits or losses attributed to presence or absence of work-life balance initiatives. A Lickert-type scale was used to measure the variables, with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 representing ‘strongly agree.’ The descriptive statistics are presented in the table below

Table 1: Descriptive Ratings of Benefits/Losses Related to Work-Life Balance Initiatives.

Statements (N= 128) Mean Std. Dev. Cases
1. Arrangements enhance employee commitment, motivation, performance, and productivity 4.3240 .97104 128
2. Arrangements enhance image of organization 3.3333 1.00407 126
3. Arrangements enhances organizational productivity and retention 4.5213 .96003 128
4. Inadequate/absence of arrangements enhances employee demoralization and absenteeism 4.0034 .87236 118
5. Inadequate/absence of arrangements enhances turnover 3.1420 1.0079 110
6. Arrangements do not change the quality of my life 2.1428 .61734 128
7. IBM do not do enough to implement work-life balance arrangements 3.6232 1.13663 128
8. Some arrangements only benefit people in high office 3.1333 1.00502 10 2
9. Employee who work more flexibly require closer supervision 2.0148 1.56721 120
10. Employees who work more flexibly generate more work for others 2.1529 1.42934 127

The above findings demonstrate that employees and the corporation will gain immensely if work-life balance initiatives are effectively implemented in IBM India. Most employees, for instance, agree or strongly agree that work-life balance initiatives not only enhance their level of commitment, motivation, performance, and productivity, but also reduce demoralization and absenteeism. At an organizational level, most employees believe that work-life balance initiatives enhance organizational productivity, image, and retention, while inadequate/absence of the initiatives enhance employee turnover. Majority of the employees seems to disagree with the fact that working more flexibly requires closer supervision or generate more work for other employees. The statistics also reveal that IBM India could still do much more to enhance work-life balance among this category of employees.

Coping Strategies

From the project findings, it is aptly clear that most professional Indian women in the age category of 23-35 sacrifice their own personal needs; procure assistance from outside the family in the form of house helps; work harder to meet set objectives; decide to delay having a family; and cut down on the number of children they would wish to have as a coping strategies against the pressures and stress related to work responsibilities. The figure below shows the rest of the distribution.

Copings Mechanisms when Faced with a Challenge Involving Work-Life Balance.
Figure 6: Copings Mechanisms when Faced with a Challenge Involving Work-Life Balance.

Discussion

In recent years, the difficulties faced by professional Indian women trying to balance disproportionate work and life demands has been the subject of considerable discussion in human resource panels and management conferences across India (Caliguiri & Lazarova, 2005). The present project has not only corroborated the findings of previous studies on work-life balance, but has also demonstrated useful insights that could be used to alleviate the challenges faced by Indian professional women of childbearing age as they attempt to balance their work responsibilities and other issues outside of work. This section will aim to critically analyze the findings presented above in relation to the review of related literature and the project objectives and research questions.

Identifying the Stress Factors

It is important to note that IBM India has gone an extra mile to develop and implement workplace policies and practices which seek to offer employees more palatable lifestyles. Through its diversity initiative, the corporation has managed to retain women professionals and attract new talent to drive its growth agenda (Anand, 2008).

But this is as far as it goes as a sizeable number of employees, especially in the lower cadre, still classify their work-life balance as ‘poor,’ and two-thirds still experience some difficulties in achieving a work-life balance that is acceptable to them. Of particular importance is the perception by junior employees that work-life balance initiatives are designed to offer more benefits to senior personnel than to entry level employees. Evidence from available literature demonstrates that such women end up experiencing increased stress levels and diminished perceptions of control and leverage over their work and non-work demands (Kreiner et al, 2009).

It has been revealed that majority of the women employees have more than one caring commitment outside of work, and hence are hard-pressed to achieve a proper balance due to conflicting interests. According to Manfredi & Holliday (2004), “…the concept of work-life balance is based on the notion that paid work and personal life should be seen less as competing priorities than as complementary roles of a full life.” Yet, this appears not to be so for women employees working for IBM India.

The personal and societal ramifications of failing to effectively meet an individual’s main life or family responsibilities have been well documented (Kreiner et al, 2009; Bagchi, 2007; Bell & Bryson, n.d., Giancola, 2010; Higgins et al, n.d.; Major et al, 2002).

It is imperative for organizations to develop and implement policies that avail an adequate balance between work and life responsibilities. The present project’s findings have brought into the fore the fact that an average Indian professional woman of childbearing age is only averagely satisfied with the type of work-life balance arrangements on offer, making it often impossible to fulfil her leisure demands and spend quality time with children or family members. Such hindrances, according to the comprehensive review of literature, are known to initiate stress.

Work-Life Balance Policies and Possible Gaps

IBM India has put in place nearly all conventional work-life balance policies, including flexitime, telecommuting, maternity leave, career break, and onsite childcare, among others (IBM, 2010a). These initiatives are intended to alleviate work-life conflict. However, the present project has demonstrated a unique trend of stressors which may appear mundane at an organizational level but which profoundly affects women of childbearing age.

The stressors include: working on call; working nightshifts; working on weekends; amount and regularity of travel required for job-related purposes; failure by management to consult employees when arranging work schedules; and the short notices given when one is required to work overtime or for long hours. These stressors have resulted in a third of the female employees contemplating leaving their current positions of employment. According to Giancola (2010), effective work-life policies must assume an integrated approach whereby major and minor issues affecting employees are catered for.

Bagchi (2007) is of the opinion that organizations need to do more than develop work-life balance initiatives for their employees; they need to focus attention to creating levels of awareness that will enhance the uptake of the initiatives by employees. However, according to Major et al (2002), few organizations bother to create awareness of the available arrangements, subjecting employees to more stress.

A sizeable number of IBM female employees are unaware of some arrangements that could be of immense assistance to them such as negotiating annual leave, forward consultation before work schedules are arranged, and compressed work arrangements. Existing literature reveals that such lack of knowledge about existing work-life balance arrangements only serves as fertile breeding grounds for work-related stress (Kreiner et al, 2009). According to Giancoli (2010), work-life balance initiatives should always be evaluated in retrospect to the existing levels of awareness extended to employees, that is, the usage of the arrangements is proportionately equal to the level of awareness created at an organizational level about the existence of such arrangements.

From the project findings, it is evidently clear that IBM’s organizational culture is in synch with the existing work-life balance initiatives, not mentioning the fact that these arrangements are deeply entrenched in the corporation’s culture. This is an important milestone since culture serves as the driving force or the engine of an organization (Stone, 2007). An important indicator is the realization that an estimated two-thirds of the polled women say they would feel comfortable requesting time off from line managers or supervisors to attend to an emergency.

Organizational culture is fundamentally essential in aiding the entrenchment of these initiatives in a multinational setting for the reason that these corporations are increasingly engaged in unprecedented levels of worldwide mergers, takeovers, and international growth (Bardoel & Cieri, 2006). Employees, especially women of children bearing age, must therefore be cushioned against the vagrancies of modern business environment by offering them a global work-life approach that institutes shared guidelines while giving room for local differences.

Perceived Benefits and Losses of Work-Life Balance Policies

The present project reinforces the findings of previous studies on the benefits and losses of instituting work-life balance initiatives both at organizational and individual levels. Reliable works of Kisilevitz & Bedington (2009) and CEB (2009) postulate that not only does the concept of work-life balance offers a generous return on investment through enhanced employee engagement and a reinforced employment value proposition, but also ranks as one of the most essential workplace attribute in ensuring growth and productivity. Indeed, the CEB research further demonstrate that successful work-life arrangements can enhance employee productivity by 21% and progress employee commitment by 33%. A large proportion of women employees who took part in this particular project affirm this prepositions by agreeing that work-life balance arrangements not only enhances employee commitment, motivation and performance, but also improves organizational productivity, retention mechanisms and image.

Equally, the project has evidently revealed that inadequate or absence of work-life arrangements fuels employee demoralization, absenteeism, and turnover. Such undesirable outcomes, according to Joshi et al (2002), bear costly financial implications for the organization since the cost of recruiting one employee for a particular post is thought to be four times the annual remuneration for the position.

These objectionable outcomes, according to the authors, “…include lost productivity, recruitment, advertising and training as tools to build loyalty and encourage teamwork and camaraderie with coworkers…” Indeed, issues related to retention and recruitment are increasingly becoming of significance to work-life balance initiatives as more and more organizations become aware of the fact that their workers are the most valuable asset and key to business success (Kreiner et al, 2009). There is, therefore, a strong case to compel IBM India to develop and implement more plausible work-life balance programs to cater for its female employees, especially those engaged in other caring commitments.

Coping Strategies and Possible Gaps

According to Higgins et al (n.d.), the lack of or absence of effective coping mechanisms for work or family related complexities is a possible culprit for great levels of stress witnessed in the modern-day labor force. The present project have demonstrated that female employees working for IBM India still utilize some coping strategies that greatly exposes them to stress. Indeed, according to Major et al (2002), some personalized coping mechanisms such as sacrificing own free time for organizational gains or deciding to delay having a family due to job obligations subjectively affect women more than they affect men.

From the findings, it is evidently clear that a possible gap exist in the amount of workload that a typical female employee is accorded on a normal working day vis-à-vis the amount of time accorded for completion of task. A possible gap of policy and practice in relation to work-life balance arrangements is also evident due to the high number of women who have adopted at least two or more coping mechanisms to deal with issues of work-life imbalance. It is interesting to note that a substantial number of women embrace defensive tactics such as: Sacrificing own personal needs; working extra hard to meet set objectives; procuring assistance from outside the family; trying to forget the problems at hand; or even taking prescription pills and alcohol.

According to Skinner and colleagues, some of the above strategies are not only ineffective in design, but also potentially fatal to the health of workers. Higgins et al (n.d.) suggests that most coping strategies used by employees in an attempt to balance work and personal obligations can be classified as: Support seeking; escapism; rumination; helplessness; or social withdrawal. It is therefore imperative for IBM India to come up with more supportive arrangements for this category of employees to assist them lead more palatable lifestyles.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Conclusions

Almost every female employee knows at least two or more work-life balance initiatives, with majority of them reporting having received the information from the corporation’s intranet or the HR department. However, many employees are still unaware of some initiatives that may be of deep-seated importance in assisting them balance their work obligations and other things outside of work.

Almost every female employee is engaged in other caring commitments besides work responsibilities. However, despite the many work-life balance programs initiated by IBM, many employees, especially women of childbearing age are yet to achieve adequate balance between work and “life,” with a sizeable number within the age category of 23-35 saying that work-related responsibilities make it difficult for them to accomplish some family/personal roles such as looking after children or engage in leisure activities. In essence, most female employees experience difficulties achieving a work-life balance that is acceptable to them.

Most female employees who have adequate work-life balance holds managerial or supervisory positions while majority of those who ranks their work-life balance as poor holds junior positions. This is an important indicator of possible inequity in the implementation of the initiatives in IBM India.

It is evidently clear that: Job-related stress; working on call; requirement to work nightshifts; requirement to work on weekends; lack of personal input when work schedules/shifts are arranged; amount and regularity of travel required; and the short notices given when one is required to work overtime or for long hours, are some of the overriding challenges affecting female employees in IBM India as they strive to achieve work-life balance

Work-life balance is the second topmost attribute considered by female employees before joining formal employment – after salary. Indeed, a sizeable proportion of employees consider leaving the corporation due to lack of adequate balance as this makes them sacrifice their own personal/free time a few times each month.

The most supportive initiatives desired by women working for IBM India include: onsite daycare; flextime (all options); choosing own work schedule; maternity leave; telecommuting; forward arrangement on work schedules; free weekends; and supportive self and spouse relocation policies. However, the level of awareness on some initiatives is still low despite IBM’s organizational culture assuming a vital role in entrenching the initiatives.

Most employees are of the opinion that presence of adequate work-life balance enhances their productivity, performance and commitment to the organization while at the same time enhancing organizational productivity, retention, and image. The absence of these initiatives brings geometrically proportionate results in terms of enhancing employee demoralization, performance descent, absenteeism, turnover and overall dip in the organization’s profit margins.

A substantial proportion of female workers employ unconventional coping strategies when faced with challenges relating to their work or other issues outside of work, thereby worsening the situation by increasing stress levels.

Thus, the war against work-life conflict in IBM India is yet to be won. The efforts towards achieving work-life balance for women of childbearing age need to be intensified in a multi-dimensional approach and in line with the needs of the 21st century female worker. New interventions must attempt to address the gaps identified in this project, but they must be streamlined to be inline with the corporation’s policy. Further research is required to guide work-life balance initiatives in maximizing the productive capacity of organizations and employees when flextime and telecommuting becomes the arrangements of choice for the modern-day worker. Further research is also needed to guide policy on the possibility of establishing departmental counseling centers for purposes of disseminating critical information on work-life balance to female employees.

But more importantly, unless programs shift their attention towards addressing work-life challenges on an individual needs approach, the issue of achieving adequate work-life balance for young professional Indian women is likely to lag behind for the better part of the 21st century irrespective of the huge quantity of initiatives that have been developed to date.

Recommendations

The project recommends the following measures to promote favorable work-life balance initiatives that will enable women of child-bearing age enjoy more palatable lifestyles while working for IBM India.

Intensify campaigns to eradicate negative perceptions

There is need for increased campaigns on work-life balance education to correct the misconceptions held by some employees that the initiatives only benefit people in high office. Focus should be on, among other things, simplifying the criteria used to request for specific initiatives, elaborate structures for information dissemination, role-modeling on work-life initiatives by senior personnel, and improvement of relations between senior and junior staff. This should be achieved through employee counseling, sensitization campaigns, seminars and the mass media, and should mostly target female employees in the lower echelons of employment.

Promote proper balance between work assignments and finish time

Workloads assigned to female employees of childbearing age should be tied to a host of other factors including the ability of such employees to finish work in good time while going about their caring commitments. Focus should be on allowing flexible work schedules, engaging these employees when scheduling work-related assignments, and doing away or lessening work on call requirements for this specific category of employees.

Rationalize work arrangements

Work assignments need to be rationalized according to individual needs of the employee. Work that requires a lot of travel, short notices, working nightshifts, or working on weekends need to be devolved to employees with less caring commitments so that these women could have more time to be with their children and families. Special attention should be accorded to women with small children or those who are about to start their own families. This particular strategy will be of great importance to the corporation because it will curtail turnover while ensuring maximum performance and productivity from employees.

Build more on-site day care centers

There is need for every IBM facility in India to establish adequate on-site day care centers to cater for employees who feel uncomfortable leaving their young children under the care of somebody else. Again, this will be beneficial to the corporation because it will curtail the need by employees to terminate employment for purposes of looking after their children

Intensify awareness on available work-life balance arrangements

The Corporation has some of the best arrangements on offer yet a good number of employees are oblivious of specific arrangements that best suits them. To alleviate this scenario, attention should be focused on creating awareness through all available means, including posters, banners, newsletters, meetings, departmental seminars, and conferences. This way, employees will be better informed on which arrangements suits their individual needs, thereby enhancing productivity while curtailing turnover.

Involve employees in developing work-life balance initiatives

It should be noted that it is often the employees doing specific jobs that can develop the most innovative and creative ideas for improvement. As such, there is a compelling need to involve them in any consultations affecting them, including the development and review of the initiatives. This will definitely enhance the uptake and effectiveness of the initiatives, both at the corporation and individual levels.

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Footnotes

  1. Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused some multinational corporations operating in Mexico for compelling women to undertake pregnancy testing as a fundamental condition for their employment. Professional women considered to be pregnant are denied employment (Deen, 2009).
  2. Subroto Bagchi’s at the NASSCOMIT women leadership meeting, Bangalore. The speech, on Board room of the future and the place of professional women, made mention of how Indian woman professional choose to specialize in the broad interest of work-life balance, thereby opting out of rotational obligations and geographical displacement that is necessary for mid-career for one to scale up the professional ladder (Bagchi, 2007).
  3. IBM on diversity and advancement of its women employees. In addition to the work-life surveys, women are mentored, coached and encouraged to attend local and international conferences and symposia. Little, however, is said about the corporation’s work-life strategies (IBM, 2010).
  4. See: McNall, L.A., & Nicklin, J. M. (2010). Flexible work arrangements, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions: The mediating role of work-to-family enrichment. Journal of Psychology, Vol. 144, Issue 1, p. 61-81.
  5. See: Anand, J. (2008). Changing workspaces: India. Telecommuting: An Indian perspective. Web.
  6. Keynote speech delivered by Dr. Roger Selbert on the competitive business scenario of the 21st Century (Growth Strategies, 2003).
  7. Kisilevitz, M., & Bedington, T. (2009). Managing work-life balance programs in a down economy. Benefits & Compensation Digest, Vol. 46, Issue 12, p. 30-34.
  8. Worklifebalance.com is a global work-life balance consulting company, and provides training and tools for stress management and change management at the workplace, among others Speech by former UK Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair (Bell & Bryson, n.d.).
  9. Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E.C. & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing boarders and bridges: Negotiating the work-home interface via boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 4, p. 704-730.
  10. See: Major, V. S., Klein, K. J., & Ehrhart, M. G. (2002). Work-time, work interference with family, and psychological distress. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 3, p. 427-436.
  11. See: Major, V.S., Klein, K.J., & Ehrhart, M.G. (2002). Work-time, work interference with family, and psychological distress. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 3, p. 427-436.
  12. See: Leger-Hornby, T., & Bleed, R. (2006). Work and life: Achieving a reasonable balance. In: C. Golden (Eds). Cultivating careers: Professional development for campus IT. Web.
  13. See: Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E.C., & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing boarders and bridges: Negotiating the work-home interface via boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 4, p. 704-730.
  14. See: Giancola, F. (2010). Is the work-life initiative on the right road to change? Employee Benefit Plan Review, Vol. 64, Issue 11, p. 31-34.
  15. See: Higgins, C., Duxbury, L., & Lyons, S. (n.d.). Reducing work-life conflict: What works? What doesn’t? Web.
  16. See: Hite, L. M. (2007). Hispanic women managers and professionals: Reflections on life and work. Gender, Work, & Organization, Vol. 14, Issue 1.
  17. See: Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E. C., & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing boarders and bridges: Negotiating the work-home interface via boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 4, p. 704-730.
  18. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.
  19. See: Arora, V. (n.d.). Work-life balance in Indian industry. Web.
  20. Statistical Package for Social Sciences.
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