Since times immemorial, women, particularly working women have faced the dual responsibilities of professional work and looking after their families which includes the tough task of balancing work and family and is one of the major challenges they face in their professional growth and development. There have been constant changes in the manner in which American families and parents assume dual responsibilities of home and work, with more and more women entering the workforce from different income levels. While some women prefer to quit the labor force to assume responsibilities of home and child care, others cannot afford to quit their jobs and need an income to support them.
Statistics indicate that women belonging to the higher income group preferred to stay home until their children were older and went to school (Klerman and Leibowitz, 1994), while the same was not possible for women who belonged to the lower-income group and could not afford to stay back for their children to become older. It is therefore found essential to have means to support these women who worked while caring for their families, and there are several ways in which companies and organizations have helped women balance work and home. This paper aims to analyze the several methods which parents, particularly mothers use to balance their work and family by flexing the time available to them.
Several organizations have policies that favor working women. These include several choices of work schedules such as flexible hours, part-time jobs, and job sharing for women who need to look after their children and families. Women workers are also allowed to telecommute on certain days and have ‘core days’ when they can choose to work longer as per their convenience so that they can take time off when they are needed to attend to filial responsibilities. However, not many organizations are patient and accommodating to the needs of working mothers, and do not allow filial responsibilities to intervene during business hours, which often results in elevated levels of stress.
Nevertheless, few other companies have a more flexible approach when dealing with women workers who need to look after their family’s while being at their jobs. Such organizations include “family-friendly” policies and programs like “flex-time” and maternity and parental leave during crucial events in life such as the birth of children (Lerman and Schmidt, 1999). Companies also have extended services available to mothers of young children like “on-site” care for infants and young children to ease the balancing pressures of women when they are at work (Lerman and Schmidt, 1999).
Other means and ways in which women try and balance home and families include self-employment and consultation jobs which would provide them with the much-needed income, yet not have fixed hours of work which would interfere with their family schedules. Women workers who have to cater to children, as well as the older generation living with them, prefer to work in temporary job settings so that they can balance their time and work in accordance with the demands of their family situations.
Research confirms that companies that do allow flexibility of time and work to their women workforce, do so with several policies and programs through access to “family sick leave”, and “job sharing” (Galinsky et al., 1996). There are also additional ways of supporting women with family responsibilities which include “extended lunch breaks” and some firms also provide the ability to work for fewer hours on some days when they need to attend to family tasks, which can be compensated by working for additional hours on other days when they are less burdened with family responsibilities (Galinsky et al., 1996).
However, research confirms that some policies to enable parents to balance their work and families including parental leave for family-related matters and, assistance and care for dependents including children and elders do not have a positive impact on stress levels of working parents. More importantly, it has been observed that many workers do not avail all of the benefits available to them to balance their family and work, for instance, sharing of work and flexibility of time, since they fear that by a reduction in their hours of work would negatively impact their professional prospects, a fear which has been established by research which affirms that promotion rates of such employees are low (Lerman and Schmidt, 1999).
Studies indicate that policies and programs which are preferred by employees with family responsibilities are those services that facilitate employees to augment their hours of working such as availability of child care services, referral services to family elders, and even emergency support services for children (Stone, 1997). Job satisfaction is believed to be an important attribute in reducing parental stress and parents found that they were happier and content with working in jobs that were not demanding and chaotic and at the same time provided job security.
The positive effects of allowing employees to balance their families and jobs have been confirmed with enhanced work productivity, which firms aim to achieve through effective communication between employees and their bosses and by allowing flexibility to time to enable workers to balance their work and families (Wall Street Journal, July 1998). This has been confirmed by companies like Xerox and Johnson and Johnson which have reported a substantial increase in work productivity and reduction in absenteeism, by adopting strategies like flexible hours of work and policies such as family leave (Lerman and Schmidt, 1999). Thus it is apparent that flexible work schedules and less demanding jobs enhance work productivity and are highly beneficial not only to the worker but the organizations which hire them.
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