Article (November-2017)


Work-life stress - the way forward

Dr. Archan Mehta

Designation : -   Ahmedabad

Organization : -  Ahmedabad


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For thousands of years, Indian society was agricultural like all other societies in the world. In India, as in many other agricultural societies, the problem of work - life balance did not arise. This is because the rhythm of work - life in agriculture is consistent with the rhythm of the family life in an agricultural setting. Thus, if there is a family crisis, agricultural work can wait in a joint - family because other members can take the burden of your work in any emergency. There are no bosses in your agricultural work. In fact, you are your own boss.

However, as India enters into global competition, there is an increasing work - stress among employees. This is because the process of globalization is competitive and makes greater demands on employees. Business Standard (November 27, 2009) has reported increasing work - stress levels among employees. A study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations found that India's rapid economic expansion has enhanced corporate profits and employee incomes, but has also sparked a surge in workplace stress and lifestyle diseases that few Indian companies have addressed. According to the survey, 45 percent of Indian workers are stressed by the increased focus on profitability that has arisen during the recession.

In fact, this particular pressure is stressing out Indian employees more than workers in any of the countries surveyed. Another major factor for 37 percent workers is the pressure to maintain excellent customer service. Moreover, workers in mid - sized Indian companies (30 to 249 employees) have experienced a greater rise in workplace stress than people in smaller businesses. For example, 61 percent of employees in mid - sized firms have reported higher levels of stress against 55 percent in small businesses. This could be due to the potential of downsizing.

With increasing competition in India, and no fixed hours of work for employees, employees feel that they are losing balance between their work and family life. In this connection, Sarang Panchal of the Nielson Company observes : "In the last few years, we have noticed a number of new career opportunities opening up for Indians especially in the service sector. However, better opportunities along with good packages and growth prospects bring in a long work schedule leaving individuals with very little time to balance their work and life. Demanding careers have dominated the lives of many young Indians for some time now and it takes a toll on their family life. It is not a surprise then that most Indians consider work - life balance as their biggest concern."

The economic environment in India also emphasizes a higher rate of GDP growth. India's growth rate has increased dramatically from what was pessimistically referred to by Indian economist Raj Krishna as the "Hindu rate of growth" of below 2 percent in the 1980s to a rate of 7.6 percent in 2015-2016. However, an increasing rate of growth does not come free. It puts increased work pressure on employees. Working women in India are especially hard hit by the increasing work - life imbalance. Many women believe that even though they work outside the home, work is not their primary source of fulfillment from life. Instead, raising children well is their primary source of happiness. More and more women are joining the labor force in India. The percentage of women in the organized sector increased from 12.2% in 1981 to 17.2% in 1999. Although the employment and status of women has been changing due to the forces of modernization and industrialization and due to the efforts of women's movements in India, this change has been slow.

Working women formed about 32% of the working population in India, according to the 2001 census survey. Since then, this percentage has gone up. Most of these women are employed in the unorganized sector. They are wage earners without formal employment contracts. They are ineligible for any social benefits. There is also a huge drop - out rate for women in the workforce. Although there are no statistics for working women who suffer from work - life imbalance, it could be logically argued that current trends in employment are against their improving work - life balance. It must be mentioned here that workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and the hunting industry seem to have a lower prevalence of work - life imbalance compared to all employed adults including women. This survey was conducted in the United States where it was found that the workers in the former sectors had only 9% work - life imbalance compared to 16% of all employed adults. It is not difficult to understand that in this survey ; never married workers had less work - life imbalance than that for all married workers.

One of the reasons for increasing work - life imbalance in society (including Indian society) is lack of control on the job. The organizational structures which are as yet hierarchical despite globalization play a major part in employee stress caused by lack of control on the job. Even though there is a trend for working from home in Western countries, this does not imply that work - life and home - life have lesser conflicts. The employee has to finish work in a time - bound fashion even if he/she works at home. The employee cannot abandon his/her accountability because of his working from home. Paid work is not a voluntary activity like gardening or painting your own home. And work is not always a source of self - fulfillment for all even in western countries. In the corporate world, emergencies frequently arise and this puts extra work - load requirements on employees who have to work beyond their regular hours, sometimes late into the night. And this is disappointing for the family members.

This form of work - life conflict occurs when work demands and responsibilities make it more difficult to fulfill family role responsibilities. For example, long hours in paid work may prevent an employee from taking care of a sick child in a hospital. The reverse also happens - that is, when family members are demanding, an employee may find it difficult to fulfill work - role responsibilities. Sometimes, the job is not well - defined and may involve the employee in multiple roles which are too difficult to perform. Thus, the role overload may cause an employee frustration on the job resulting in family conflict.

Many organizations believe that work - life balance initiatives can be part of health and safety programs in the workplace. For this, the suggestion is a strong health and safety policy for employees. But this solution is lopsided. Instead of merely focusing on health and safety issues, it is important to look at holistic solutions. One solution for this is a sound counseling program not only for improving work - life balance for employees but reducing all types of stress on the job. When people are asked to work beyond their capacity, they get frustrated. And there is no mechanism in the company for venting this frustration. There is also no "one size fits all" solution to this problem. Psychologists have offered many solutions for job stress in the workplaces including the stress caused by work - life imbalance. They have advised the employees to reduce job stress by practicing yoga, getting help from spouses and in - laws. Women employees are encouraged to use labor saving devices at home and cooking easy recipes for meals. Thus, a more flexible schedule of work may ameliorate this problem.

In all Western countries, there is a five day work week although there are few public holidays. The new work arrangement has not reduced but increased the productivity at work. In contrast, we have a six - day workweek in India, but more than twenty public holidays. Such excessive public holidays can be rationalized and the work week may be reduced to five days a week. This would not solve the problem of work - life imbalance, but may go a long way in reducing the magnitude of the problem related to work - life imbalance.