In the modern world, a larger percentage of women work outside of the home than ever before resulting in unique demands from work and home. While the contributions these women make to their families financially have changed, the amount of responsibility for their homes and families are often still higher than their partners. For many women the demands of their household conflict with the demands of their professional lives making the work-life balance more challenging than ever before. Due to these increased demands on women for work-life balance, it is necessary for the field of human resources to implement work-life balance initiatives such as shared jobs and increased options for flexible hours and compensation programs to meet the growing needs of women in the workforce.
Women still play a primary role in the care of their homes and families. One study, conducted by Schiebinger and Gilmartin on female scientists in some of the top research facilities in the country, states that “…despite women’s considerable gains in science in recent decades, female scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts” (Schiebinger & Gilmartin, 39). Although this study only researched women in the science field, the trends of women completing more domestic tasks than their heterosexual partners is relatively consistent throughout the history of women in the workplace.
The impacts of higher levels of stress and demands from home have challenging and detrimental effects on the workplace as well as the workforce. Workers who cannot find a work-life balance struggle with “higher rates of absenteeism and turnover, reduced productivity,decreased job satisfaction, lower levels of organizational commitment and loyalty, [and] rising health care costs” (Hobson, Delunas, & Kesic, 39). These issues lead to businesses losing some of their best work and result in further issues for businesses that could have been solved through work-life balance initiatives. For female workers especially, who are often primary caregivers for their children and responsible for a large part of the daily functions of their homes, these initiatives are particularly important.
Women are socially expected to be present at their children’s functions, keep up with their housework, care for their aging parents and “drop everything” when their spouses or family need them. When women do not meet these expectations, they often feel a sense of push back from the people around them, including other women in the workplace. This idea of being everything for everyone leads to a challenging conundrum when women are working outside of the home; how can businesses help women find a balance between their careers and their lives?
Some organizations have begun taking this into account through programs such as job sharing. Unlike flex time positions which may still require full time hours condensed into a smaller work week and part time positions, which provide limited benefits and often make it difficult for professional advancement, job sharing allows for more full time benefits and opportunities while still providing coverage and scheduling flexibility (Kane, 28). For women in job sharing roles, Kane found that women were happier in their positions, had a better overall sense of well-being and had a better sense of balance in their lives.
The well-being of employees and their families and the impact that household demands have on women may also be combated through additional services and benefits being offered by employers. In combination with more flexible hours and job sharing opportunities, including benefits packages that “provide benefits to support housework” (Schiebinger & Gilmartin, 40) and offering additional benefits and assistance in times of need or stress may be a solution for improving work-life balance for women. “Employer recognition, acknowledgement, and understanding of these challenges, coupled with effective support programs can be invaluable in helping employees cope successfully,” particularly in higher stress times of need for families (Hobson, Delunas, & Kesic, 40).
While many businesses have begun to take the concerns of all employees, the impact that work-life initiatives could have on women’s ability to juggle the demands of their lives and their careers is absolutely necessary for the improvement of women’s work conditions, general well-being, and their productivity. Schiebinger and Gilmartin proposed in their study that “…institutions provide a package of flexible benefits that employees can customize to support aspects of their private lives in ways that save time and enhance professional productivity” (40). This flexible benefits option would be beneficial to all employees, and the customizable options would provide female workers the opportunity to build a plan which works best for them and their family’s needs.
These flexible benefits and scheduling hours have particular importance during times of stress for families. In a study performed by Hobson, Delunas, & Kesic, three thousand one hundred twenty-two working individuals in the United States were surveyed about what they considered to be the most stressful events in their life and explored how work-life balance initiatives must be implemented to support employees and build loyalty and productivity within the companies. The research also provided a case study, which supported the research that by offering managerial support in times of grief or familial strain, and supporting employees with whatever time and efforts could be afforded by the business, employees were more productive and had a much larger amount of loyalty for their organization (Hobson, Delunas, & Kesic, 41).
Combining flexible benefits and scheduling options with a better understanding of the demands placed on women in developing work-life balance will benefit all employees, workplaces and our society. Work-life balance results in happier and healthier female employees who are able to focus on their work and still care for their families, resulting in better productivity and healthier, happier individuals and families.
Hobson, C.J., Delunas, L., & Kesic, D. (2001). Compelling Evidence of the Need for Corporate Work/Life Balance Initiatives: Results from a National Survey of Stressful Life-Events. Journal of Employment Counseling, 38 (1), 38-44.
Kane, D. (1996). A Comparison of Job Satisfaction and General Well-Being for Job Sharing and Part-Time Female Employees. Guidance and Counseling. 11 (3), 27-30.
Schiebinger, L., & Gilmartin, S.K. (2010). Housework Is An Academic Issue. Academe, 96 (1), 39-44.
As originally submitted for credit at Elmira College in the Corporate & Community Education program.