Work-life balance is often explained as the division of a person’s attention and time between working life and private life. Balancing hours and attention to one’s employment with careful and equal consideration to time and attention equally spent outside one’s employment could be described as optimal individual management.
However, is it simply possible to achieve such harmony or is it just an optimistic theory hypothesised by current day practitioners? Is work-life balance gender balanced?
Employment was gendered until the late eighteenth century and was determined by location until the late twentieth century. However, the industrial revolution followed by the onset of World War 1 enabled the advancement and evolution of a female workforce.
Technological progression, over the past three decades, has presented a nomadic workplace with flexible working time. The technological modernisation of society has presented both opportunities and hazards for occupational health and wellbeing.
The flexibility that virtual consultations, video conferencing and cloud sharing have contributed to organisations accessing the global market whilst also providing a lack of rigidity of a fixed workspace for employees with disabilities, illnesses, additional needs and caring responsibilities in addition to those opting to work remotely is welcome.
However, the instant send and respond method offered by evolving social communication and technology has led to an ‘always on’ working population. Work emails and tele-conversations can be misplaced in home life if mismanaged. Legislation in France has attempted to address the same and has established a worker’s right to disconnect from their workplace (“The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era”, 2017).
Work-life harmony provides the opportunity of the ideal state of health and wellbeing for individuals and the organisations for which they work. Resilience training and wellbeing framework implementation in occupational settings is a must for individual, organisational and societal health to support work-life balance.
Although, it is possible for men to experience work-life imbalance it is generally accepted that women tend to be statistically dissatisfied with their occupational and family life balance.
The European Working Conditions Survey states that gender variations occur through the working life course but notably widens after a worker becomes a mother. In the three-year period 2013-2016 females accounted for 59 % cases per 100,000 workers of work-related stress.
Work-family conflict has been established as a prominent predictor of health and wellbeing variations for the entire workforce. But although males may also experience stress from work–family conflict, it is evident that there are significant outcomes for females that may be more hazardous to their health and wellbeing.
Women traditionally stayed at home and cared for their children whilst their partners went out to work. The past three decades have seen an increasing shift in dual income families with a more shared responsibility of both parents towards child rearing.
However, there is still a tendency for female workers to seek employment opportunities that provide non-demanding jobs with flexible working hours and that are geographically located nearby to allow them to them to cater for family demands. As a result, women often miss out on professional development, promotion and pension entitlements.
One of the many misconceptions held of women as carers is that they are younger women. However, caring for family members with additional needs and the aged is also carried by many female workers. EU-OSHA in a recent publication highlights that only 20% of informal caring for sick and elderly relatives is done by male employees.
Female workers almost commence a life cycle of caring from childbirth until they reach their own retirement age. This gender imbalance is one of the areas that is targeted for research and improvement of the EU 2020 Employment Strategy.
Therefore, to address the work-life imbalance of those with caring responsibilities, flexible working conditions such as flexi-time, job sharing and remote working should be applied not only to parents with young children but also to workers with caring responsibilities. This could eliminate attrition from the workforce and also improve wellbeing at work through greater work-life balance.
Striking a balance for the female worker seems to have become more challenging as the workplace has evolved and work intensified. Investment in resilience training and flexible working arrangements are immediate ways which can support women and carers in their roles in the workplace.