The tricky terrain of work-life balance in India

Once upon a time, employees in India’s leading IT companies used to take pride in saying how they were working long hours from the office and even from home on weekdays and weekends. Cut to today and you will find the scenario has changed a lot.

You will still find employees and managers working late into the night to handle their tasks and staying shackled to their desks. However, many, especially millennials, have shifted their focus to striking a balance between their professional and personal lives. And that’s what work-life balance in India is going to be, we believe. 

What’s Work-Life Balance?

The work-life balance is all about finding that seemingly elusive balance between your professional commitments and personal life. Some people say they have a switch-off-switch-on mode that helps them stay sane and keep the line demarcating their professional and personal life clear.

If you too can switch off the moment you step out of your office and enjoy the rest of your time with your family and friends, and go into work mode again the next day, you might be successful in balancing your personal and professional life.

But is flipping that on-off switch as easy as putting the light on or switching it off? No, we say!

What’s the way to achieve that work-life balance then? Many Indian employees say having flexible working hours, a lower time to commute, and an empathetic employer can help them achieve work-life balance. When you have an empathetic employer, who focuses on your health and overall well-being, encourages learning and growth opportunities, and can spot signs of overwork to take necessary preventive measures before you experience burnout, striking that work-life balance becomes a lot easier.

Having an empathetic employer who offers flexible work options is a big factor in accomplishing a work-life balance. For instance, if you have the flexibility to work from the office 3 days a week and work from home for the rest two days, you can save a lot of time and money on your commute. For instance, 42.45 minutes is the actual time (one-way) taken by commuters to reach their workplace in Bengaluru. Thus, each day at work means spending around 85 minutes on the road.

Working from home for even 2 days would mean saving almost 170 minutes (or close to 3 hours), which can give you a lot of flexibility to plan your schedule. Say, you decide to finish work early and catch a movie with family, go grocery shopping, do the dishes, or just laze on your couch watching your favourite series. Sounds cool, right? You bet it is!  

The growing need for flexible work options isn’t just driven by employees in Bengaluru. The above figures are related to just those with the “easy” commute. Life for workers in Mumbai and its neighbouring areas is a lot tougher, as some have to travel an astounding 8 hours every day to get to and from work.

No wonder why flexible working hours have emerged as a key factor for finding that elusive work-life balance. Such flexibility can be especially helpful for young parents or those caring for their elderly family members, as they can continue holding their position at the workplace while meeting their personal life’s responsibilities.

In other words, balancing personal and professional lives becomes a breeze when employers let you have flexible hours and focus on the work getting completed, not the hours you spend at your desk or in the office.

Is Work-Life Balance in India a Misnomer?

A study conducted a few years back by Arcadis, a consultancy firm in Amsterdam, found that India ranks pretty low with respect to work-life balance. Indians worked 2,195 hours (on average) yearly, unlike Hamburg, Germany, which ranked among the top 3 cities for work-life balance and had workers putting in 1,473 hours.

These figures show how India’s population is overworked and struggles to balance its work responsibilities and personal life. Various factors contribute to Indian employees’ life being so unhappy, overworked, and poorly balanced.

Since Indian society still has gender roles that are quite traditional, women are expected to play the role of a good wife and mother. When they are employed, such strenuous expectations weigh heavy on them. Constantly balancing the role of a stellar employee and a good wife and mother often takes a toll on them – both physically and mentally.

As a result, women employees resign, go on long sabbaticals, or look for part-time jobs that would give them the requisite flexibility to raise their families. Those who take long leaves typically find they have been left behind in the career race on their return to the workplace, which makes them drop out of the workforce eventually.

The troubling fact? It doesn’t matter if you are a senior editor, newsroom leader, or your company’s senior vice president. Irrespective of the professional post you hold, you will still be expected to play the role of a dutiful wife and loving mother, even if you have slogged at the office for 12 hours, braved a 2-hour commute, and just need to put up your feet at home and relax.

But if you thought this skewed work-life balance in India applies just to Indian women, think again, as men do no better.

From braving long and arduous commutes to their workplaces to missing precious family time and staying stuck in a toxic work environment just because they are the family’s sole breadwinner, many Indian men endure multiple silent battles.

Do all these factors and data indicate there’s no hope for Indian employees to achieve a work-life balance? Is it all gloom and doom? No, we say!

The Changing Workplace Scenario in India

Several reputed companies in India walk that extra mile to value their employees’ contributions and help them have a decent degree of work-life balance. According to a study by Ambition Box, where companies were ranked based on their employee ratings in terms of facilitating the best work-life balance, companies like Amazon, Samsung, Tata Motors, Concentrix Corporation, IBM, TCS, Reliance Industries, and a few others made the cut to feature in the list of the top ten.  

India also ranks among the top five countries in the world to offer paternity leave to its employees. It offers its women employees fully paid maternity leaves for a period of 26 weeks as well. Thus, it can be said that India is taking steps to make things easier for its employees so they can achieve a work-life balance. Yet, there’s still a long road to cover.

Wrapping Up

From improving the country’s weak urban infrastructure to reducing the time to commute to one’s workplace and offering flexible work options to helping would-be parents with paternity and maternity leaves, a lot needs to be done to help Indian employees attain a work-life balance.

Employers can also initiate health and well-being initiatives and build an open and positive company culture where diverse opinions and views are celebrated. Having a supportive and positive work environment can go a long way in helping Indian employees inch closer to that work-life balance that has been eluding them until now.

What steps will you be taking as an employer to help your employees achieve a work-life balance in India?

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