As society moves to a more equal distribution of work and family responsibilities between the sexes, conflict and confusion between these two roles have become a major concern for both organizations and individuals. The phenomenon of work-family conflict is increasingly experienced by women. Work-family conflict is generally defined as a form of inter-role conflict in which compliance to one of the role pressures makes it more difficult to comply with the other. On the other hand, work- life balance is a term used to describe the balance between an individual’s personal and professional life.
Factors such as expansion and increased access to higher education, the rise of the service sector, and decline of the manufacturing sector, have either allowed more women to go to college, increasing their ability to obtain jobs or created a demand for female workers.
Consequently, the professional women in the 21st century have the exceptional challenge of balancing the multiple tasks associated with their homemaker and work roles, namely, fulfilling the responsibilities of mother, caregiver, spouse and employee simultaneously. It is also clear that women’s ability to balance these roles has a direct bearing on their physical and mental well-being, as well as their career performance and success. It is important to note that work-life balance is not only about parents or women but also men who need workplace policies that allow them time with their children. Caregiving is an issue that ranges across ages, from childcare to eldercare, and affects every demographic in every organization.
A healthy work-life balance is a central issue for the working women particularly in the context in which care roles are disproportionately left to women because of prevailing social and gender norms, as these dynamics make it harder for women to consequently achieve the life-work balance.
Research related to the subject reveals that working women experience greater difficulty than men in balancing work and family. It also asserts that women experience conflict as there is ‘job spill’ over into the home more frequently than ‘home spill’ over into work. A significant proportion of working women experience difficulty in balancing work and family due to excessive work pressure, too little time for themselves and the need to fulfill others’ expectations of them. Majority of the working women experience job spill over into the home as they have to put in longer hours. Younger Women employees especially (50 percent between the ages of 26 and 35) have had to leave their jobs at some point due to caregiving responsibilities.
Contextual local research is limited. Globally, a research conducted by Forbes states that women take ten (10) times as much temporary leave from work as men upon the arrival of a child. Without a national paid leave policy, this usually means that women are taking home less or no money during their time off. This can lead to long-term financial consequences, due to loss of income and benefits, missed raises and promotions, and inability to fund their retirement accounts. Additionally, women are also eight (8) times more likely than men to look after sick children or manage their children’s schedules, which will take time out of their work day or other daily responsibilities.
After becoming a parent, women are more likely to switch to a job with greater flexibility and work more from home, which can result in lower pay. A similar research by Catalyst indicated that 21% of women are paid less for doing the same work they did before they took time off to care for their children.
Major consequences of poor work-life balance are high levels of stress and anxiety, disharmony at home, experiencing job burnout and inability to realize full potential. They feel irritable and resentful often due to their inability to balance work and family life. Besides succeeding in one environment, working women are often called upon to make sacrifices in another as each of the environments makes different demands on them and have distinct norms to adhere to. Outside of the negative financial and career ramifications, women are also more stressed and have less time for self-care.
In Kenya and other Sub-Saharan countries, this has also been affected as the relatively inexpensive extended family support for childcare has been declining; with urbanization, kinship networks that women have typically relied on for child care support are weakening rapidly and eventually diminishing the traditional family support for child care. Most women in the formal sector are part of dual working couples and have fixed job schedules that go from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm.; therefore, many families hire domestic workers.
According to a research by Strathmore Business School; organizations in Kenya have not instituted telecommuting options that allow employees to work from home, or policies that permit work flexibility. Kenyan employers still have a long way to reach international standards in enacting family-friendly work policies and practices. Family-friendly work policies are “a formal or informal set of terms and conditions which are designed to enable an employee to combine family responsibilities with employment. These policies are subdivided into three categories: leave arrangements which include maternity leave, paternity leave, and compassionate leave; flexible working arrangements such as part-time arrangements and/or a compressed work week; and workplace facilities such as subsidized childcare, crèches, counseling, and so on.
Many employers allow employees to take an unpaid leave of absence for activities and events such as: When employees have serious, life-changing events, emergency family needs, the premature birth of a baby who is hospitalized for an extended time period, or nursing a parent with a serious illness in another town but there are needs to other policies in place. Such of these could be;
Offer a Flexible Work Schedule
A flexible schedule does not mean that employees can come and go at will, which is a possibility that concerns employers. A flexible schedule policy spells out what the employer means by flexible hours. In many workplaces, flexible starting and ending times are easy to implement. More sophisticated flexible schedules such as a four-day workweek or telecommuting require more planning, but flexible work schedules are a cornerstone of work balance.
Offer Paid Time off (PTO)
Offer PTO instead of traditional paid sick leave, paid personal days, and paid vacation. A paid time off (PTO) approach treats employees like adults who are capable of making decisions about how, when, and why to use the paid time off supplied by the employer. In a PTO system, neither employers nor employees need to worry about accounting for how the time off was spent. It eliminates confusion and the need for additional policies, such as defining what constitutes a sick day.
Model the Work-Life Balance Yourself
Managers and senior managers need to model the work balance they’d like to encourage their employees to exhibit. When a manager uses ‘Paid Time Off’ to take a vacation yet responds to email as if she is in the office, this sends a powerful message to employees about whether they need to do email while on vacation.
Reconciliation of work and family is a fundamental aspect of promoting equality in the world of work and of reducing poverty. It is also an essential condition for making progress towards gender equality.