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What Employers Can Do To Help Their Workforce Strike A Work-Life Balance

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Unending hustle culture in the corporate world has over time given rise to the myth of an ideal worker — someone who is available to work 24×7, ready to prioritise their professional life over their personal life and is at the beck and call of their boss, no matter what.

This absence of work-life balance is often romanticised in popular culture and encouraged in real-life situations at many workplaces. At the same time, any attempt at setting boundaries or declining certain tasks to maintain a healthy balance is seen as a sign of weakness at best and a lack of commitment to your job at worst.

The Devil Wears Prada Anne Hathaway
The Devil Wears Prada.

We’re all familiar with Anne Hathaway’s character Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, aren’t we? The film shows her working herself to death under a ruthless and apathetic boss, and as a result, she suffers tremendously in her personal life.

While she manages to escape this situation, albeit, at the cost of quitting her job, her colleague continues to work in the same toxic environment. This kind of organisational culture compels many employees to push themselves to unhealthy limits, as seen in the film, to maintain the illusion of productivity and needless to say — it does not work.

Has Working From Home Affected People’s Productivity?

This phenomenon by itself was damaging enough but has gotten worse with the global pandemic last year. The pandemic has fuelled questions about declining productivity levels as people had to switch to working remotely, or in other words, from the supposed comfort of their homes.

A lot of people have lost their jobs in the last year. Those who were lucky enough to escape the axe inevitably began working longer hours to keep their jobs. According to data from virtual private network service provider NordVPN (as reported on Bloomberg), teams in the U.K., Austria, Canada and the U.S. have seen a sustained 2.5-hour increase to the average working day.

In another survey conducted by Los Angeles-based staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends and 45% say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before.

The survey also found that working parents were more likely to work more than 8 hours per day and weekends than those without children.

Who Does The Status Quo Affect The Most?

Woman Working From Home
Representative Image.

With home and work-life inextricably fused together, the most affected are those who are expected to give their 100% at work and home. More often than not, it is the women of the household who are primary caregivers to children and the elderly. They also manage the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities.

While this proved to be a challenging task even before the pandemic, extended work calls and the unsaid expectation of being reachable at all times has affected women in the workforce disproportionately.

With office work spilling well outside of office hours, any semblance of the boundary between the two spheres that one felt while physically leaving the workspace has virtually disappeared, leaving most people with no time to manage personal errands, cook or eat on time.

Most people working for corporates that I spoke with felt that organisations have assumed that if a typical working day began at 10 a.m. and lasted till 6 p.m., they have the liberty to schedule work calls from 8:30/9 a.m. and as late as 9/10 p.m. since that would’ve been the hours their employee would otherwise spend commuting.

Naturally, this would prove to be hectic for anyone but more so for those who have additional responsibilities at home, be it household tasks or taking care of children and other family members.

While these issues are more or less faced by everyone at large, there are certain dangers that only women have had to face. Cases of domestic violence grew exponentially globally as countries began enforcing social distancing measures and imposing lockdowns.

Those who have to live with their abuser at home tend to view their workspace as a safe haven. However, physically removing oneself from such a situation became no longer possible or significantly harder than before the pandemic.

Therefore, working women facing abuse are at even more of a disadvantage due to remote working because the abuser might create a disruptive environment, further affecting their overall well-being.

Additionally, instances of sexual harassment in the online workspace have also been on the rise. While the POSH Act can be interpreted to extend the definition of “workplace” to our online workspaces, nearly 30% of women in a survey conducted by Pink Ladder said that they would hesitate to report digital harassment because they fear that it wouldn’t be taken seriously.

How Can Employers Help?

workplace harassment
Representative Image.

A great first step for all employers would be to acknowledge that members of their workforce might need support. One way to do that is by ensuring your workplace is POSH compliant and employees know how they’re being kept safe as they continue to work from home.

Support For Survivors Of Domestic Violence And Abuse

To combat domestic violence and abuse, companies need to develop policies to offer assistance, protect and grant relief to the survivors, like Hindustan Unilever did last year.

Creating a safe space for survivors at a time when they have limited access to family, friends and domestic violence support organisations can prove to be life-saving for many.

One of the biggest challenges that surround the conversation about domestic violence is that it’s often looked at as taboo. Given that roughly one in three women in India face domestic violence, it is imperative to talk about it openly and create an organisational culture that recognises this abuse and simultaneously affirm your organisation’s commitment to helping those in need.

Managers, Please Fix Working Hours

Managers and other people in leadership roles must ensure that all office communication happens in clearly demarcated working hours to genuinely switch off for a specific amount of time without feeling the pressure to be continuously available.

This is especially important for women and all those in caregiving roles who have to manage meals and other chores not only for themselves but also for other family members as well. Something as simple as not scheduling a work call early in the morning and between 2–3:00 p.m. could take off a lot of pressure from someone’s mind knowing that they can plan their housework or other responsibilities accordingly.

Niharika, 31, who works as a brand manager at a leading MNC, said, “There’s no time to take a break or have a meal in peace because you don’t know when your boss will call you and assign more work because they seem to think we’re all relaxing at home when it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Representative Image.

Another reason why setting a cut off time for the last formal communication one may receive from their office is because hyper-connectivity is known to cause elevated stress and anxiety levels amongst people. One can’t truly relax if they keep hearing about all the tasks lined up for the next day till late in the night.

In a survey conducted by Florida based firm Neuvana, 47% of the respondents said that having multiple communication platforms makes it harder to focus, while 43% of them agreed that these platforms often made them feel less productive.

Avantika, 35, a marketing coordinator, said: “I’ve come to realise that even if I’m on an off, my superiors continue to email me about the work I’m supposed to do the next day which eventually makes me work in my down-time as well.”

Companies Need To Revisit Their Policies On Childcare

Certain company-wide policies need to be developed to ensure that people in caregiving roles get the appropriate aid they need and are entitled to, without being reprimanded or deemed bad employees.

For instance, as per the Maternity Act, any company employing more than 50 individuals is required to provide creche facilities to their employees or reimburse them for childcare expenses. However, due to the pandemic, single parents or even working parents who do not live with extended family have no relief in terms of their schedule even though a major form of assistance is no longer available to them.

Finally, The Workforce Needs Your Empathy

Lastly, it is absolutely essential for workplaces to be more accommodative of their employees than ever before:

  1. Because everyone could use some empathy right now, considering human beings aren’t meant to be in fight or flight mode continuously for over a year.
  2. Because one may not know if another person struggles with something as basic yet important as daily routine or something as serious as violence and abuse.

Written by: Elisha Vermani

About the author: Elisha is a student of Multi-Media and Mass Communication at Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University. When not writing, you’ll find her complaining about the news or deconstructing badly made spy films just for laughs.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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