www.wfrn.org | May 24, 2020
Most of us at the beginning of the global pandemic were convinced that COVID-19 is foreign to India. Hardly, did we ponder over its spread and its cascading effect on our lives. As the situation worsened, the Indian government authorities enforced strict guidelines to the public to combat the pandemic. That did not suffice, the ever increasing number of the infected led to a complete nationwide lockdown for almost 2 months. Businesses not falling under the category of essentials were completely shut down; whereas the work arrangements in the majority of organizations, companies, institutions, universities had to undergo expeditious changes; the safest and accomplishable alternative to be adopted by employees was ‘work-from-home’. After a long day, employees no longer have to change from their crisp, formal office wear into their home Pajamas – the roles seem to be blurring. This article shall elucidate the influence of coupling factors on role blurring further leading to lower job satisfaction and lower job performance in comparison to on-site work performance.
In normal circumstances, for India employees balancing work-life has always been a herculean task due to many factors such as high work demands, pressing time deadlines, high performance pressure, dealing with competition in the market, limited or non-availability of resources at work, availability or non-availability of resources in family to support employees in balancing their work and non-work lives (Shah, 2014). For a basic understanding of work-life balance, it is prudent to mention how “work” and “life” as constructs are conceived. “Work” in a straightforward way is conceived as paid employment and “life” is viewed as activities outside work (Guest, 2002, p. 262). Considering the unforeseen and seemingly unending lockdown situation, work-life balance has limited itself to work-family balance, as ‘life’ predominantly is engulfed by family life roles. For the purpose of this article job performance is defined as setting of goals within one’s job, role or organization and acting in a way that you reach the goals (Campbell, 1990). Job satisfaction according to Locke (1976) is a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences” (p. 1304). The influence of coupling factors on role blurring needs to be considered which further leads to lower job satisfaction and lower job performance in comparison to on-site work performance.
Grzywacz & Carlson (2007) define work-family balance as an “accomplishment of role-related expectations that are negotiated and shared between the individual and his/her role-related partners in work and family domains” (p. 458). This definition focuses on the social domain, conveniently making the work-family experience observable. This specific definition of the work-family balance also suggests that the balance does not necessarily depend on effectiveness or performance. Considering this aspect of achieving balance in spite of being less effective can be judiciously considered appropriate in the situation where each individual is struggling with the pandemic in his/her own way. The definition further sheds light on the fact that it is not expected that an individual must excel in work and family domains to be able to achieve a balance. (Carlson et al., 2009). This aspect becomes very important in the current 2 months lockdown in India. Neither employees can reach their work goals as per their plans by working remotely; nor can they utilize the resources available at the workplace (infrastructure, social networks, assistance from support staff etc.) which facilitate their job performance and job satisfaction. Work-from-home creates a rosy picture for both employees and employers in most countries across the globe, but not exactly for India!
In India, one of the basic factors that affects the relationship between work-from-home and job performance is an employee’s marital status. An employee’s marital status may be connected with the roles he/she has to play while exercising the work-from-home option. Employees staying with families and children associate themselves strongly with role blurring. For them, family roles pertain to household responsibilities namely house management, engaging children constructively, taking care of elderly, looking after pets and so on; ultimately leading to additional work load along with working remotely for office. There is no doubt that Indian employees feel more stressed and fatigued managing work and life demands in the current lockdown situation. The concept of ‘me time’ is a far-fetched dream for them.
On one hand, Indian employees with families juggling multiple roles, struggle for the “me time”; on the other hand for singles, the common assumption is that they are blessed with the “me time” and are facing lesser challenges. Employees who are singles have their own story to narrate. They lack the task related support, moral support and comfort provided by a family; which may affect their psychological state negatively. This ultimately leads to loneliness, high levels of anxiety, extreme boredom, and lack of motivation culminating in a depressive state of mind. In both cases, inferentially, managing work and life is equally challenging. The inability to strike a balance between work and life pertaining to excessive strain in playing designated work roles and family roles directly has an impact on job performance of Indian employees.
Furthermore, job performance is also influenced by various factors nested in the family structure in India, which undoubtedly is quite complex and diverse. In the case of a joint family in the Indian context, the family support and equal contribution of other family members in household responsibilities and child-engaging activities will have a positive influence on the job performance of an individual. In the case of a nuclear family, where both partners are working from home, having a child to care for, without any other family or domestic support may face challenges in managing their work and life as their work demands may clash with house responsibilities. Job performance and satisfaction involve daily goal achievement. Goal achievement requires proper time allotment to specific tasks in specific roles; which is no longer possible due to high permeability of the borders between work and family due to the lockdown. Prioritization of activities involved in multiple roles becomes increasingly difficult.
Eisenhower’s Matrix is a classic example of time management and prioritization of tasks seen for years to be fruitful in achieving goals. The matrix which focuses on two facets of a task – urgency and importance; in the current lockdown situation can be scantily applied as it demands a possibly clear demarcation of work and life. In this changed situation, it is challenging to focus on tasks based on only two facets of urgency and importance. There is a constant feeling of being engaged in some activity of the other. It is evident that most people lack the recovery experience. As there is not much separation between work and family roles, one does not feel psychologically detached from these roles, leading to an overwhelming feeling of burden. Geurts & Sonnentag (2006) affirm that recovery experiences have been considered extremely important to unwind oneself. In the current situation very few or almost no recovery experiences add to the work-life related stress consequently leading to work-life imbalance. Indian family structure clearly contributes to the high permeability of work-family borders. Conclusively, family structure seems to be a major component in deciding whether a work-from-home option is a viable option or not; as it promises to be in India.
Advantages of remote working and its significant role in raising productivity are well documented in recent times in Harvard Business Review. Work-from-home in certain favourable situations results in saving money that organizations have to invest in creating working spaces and providing other infrastructural facilities like furniture, office stationery, allowances for commutation etc. There is supportive evidence to the fact that the savings resulting from the work-from-home option would outweigh the decreased productivity when employees are not able to perform well on-site. An example would be a Chinese travel website ‘Ctrip’, in which their company found that people working remotely completed 13.5% more calls than the people working on-site. They also found out in their study that due to the work-from-home option there were higher chances that employees stick to the same job and want to be employed in the same company. Job satisfaction seemed to be higher in remotely working employees as compared to on-site employees.
It is imperative for Indian employers to consider the downside of work-from-home in the current situation. Experts confirm that work-from-home may have impressive implications in normal conditions but specifically during a lockdown in a pandemic crisis may have a ripple effect. A recent article on Stanford news, affirms the fact that work-from-home with kids around, with no choice of a suitable place to work, hardly any on-site workdays, will have an alarming effect on productivity. Especially in the Indian context several factors apart from family factors play a significant role in determining the performance of a job using the work-from-home option. The factors such as type of employment, availability and consistency of digital sources to carry out daily work related activities will affect the job performance.
A recent interview published on bloombergquint.com, with a couple of Indian business leaders revealed that the reality companies are having a tussle with technological glitches and lockdown hitches. For some companies working remotely may work well but work-from-home is not an option for shop floor employees and physical processes. Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest car manufacturer, had to adapt to the changed scenario and design digital platforms for their employees to work remotely. Within a short period of time they had to create a help-desk to cater to the technical needs of their executives, needless to say the manufacturing of cars has come to a standstill. Another company InMobi confirmed that they had to provide dongles, set up desktops for their 1400 remotely working employees.
The outsourcing giant WNS Global, while providing work-from-home option, corroborates the conclusion that India faces more technological challenges. On-site workplaces are better equipped to handle the connectivity load; whereas remote working is not very suitable for broadband connections at home. The reason being a massive number of users accessing their accounts from home fluctuates the internet. The Indian work culture, which is distinct from the western culture; entails greater socialization practices at workplaces. It is paramount that we have adequate social interaction at the workplace. In the work-life context, social capital resources play a vital role in job satisfaction. They refer to “the influence & information gathered from interpersonal relationships at work and at family that are instrumental in achieving goals” (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006, p. 80). Workers stranded at home do not benefit from face-to-face interaction about team projects, meetings and consultations. There will be a whole-hearted agreement to the argument that workplace is not only completing your daily assignments, working on your laptops/desktops but it engulfs diverse opportunities to connect, bond with co-workers over tea-time or lunch time, experience team spirit through projects, participate in events boosting competitive spirit, benefitting from employee-friendly facilities e.g. sports. All these factors contribute to the recovery experiences; consequently aiding employees to manage stress. If Indian employers continue for long with the work-from-home option this may lead to lower job performance due to low morale, especially for the category of employees who perform better in a team and for whom social interaction is central to their self-concept.
So when would the work-from-home option work?
With most jobs, the highly reliable work-from-home option seems to be a great fit if employees exercise this option for one or two days a week. Optimal use of this option ascertains the huge benefits to employees’ well-being, also it can be considered as a marketing strategy to attract talent, and it can prove to be a constructive strategy to lower attrition. Also while implementing this option in the Indian context, various factors such as personal factors of employees along with the technological compatibility must be considered. As per the definition of work-life balance posited by Grzywacz & Carlson (2007) work-life balance does not necessitate excellent performance. Amid the COVID-19 chaos in India, would it be reasonable to infer that we have been partially successful in achieving work-life (family) balance? A word of caution to all the decision makers: the work-from-home option may not necessarily lead to a higher job performance and higher job satisfaction. Hence, working in home Pajamas even after the lockdown ends may not be a great solution for all Indian employees.
Campbell, J. (1990). Modeling the performance prediction problem in industrial and organizational psychology. In M. Dunnette & L. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 686–707). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Carlson, D., Grzywacz, J., & Zivnuska, S. (2009). Is work-family balance more than conflict and enrichment? Human Relations, 62(10), 1459-1486.
Geurts, S. A., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery as an explanatory mechanism in the relation between acute stress reactions and chronic health impairment. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 32, 482-492.
Greenhaus, H., & Powell, N. (2006). When work and family are allies: a theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31 (1), 72-92.
Grzywacz, J., & Carlson, D. (2007). Conceptualizing work-family balance: implications for practice and research. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9, 445-471.
Guest, D. E. (2002). Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social Science Information, 41(2), 255-279.
Locke, E. A. (1976). The nature and causes of job satisfaction. In M. D. Dunnette (Ed.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 1297–1349). Chicago: Rand McNally.
Shah, S. S. (2014). The role of work-family enrichment in work-life balance & career success: a comparison of German & Indian managers (Doctoral Dissertation), Ludwig Maximilians University Munich (http://edoc.ub.uni-muenchen.de/16634/).
- Dr. Shalaka Sharad Shah, Assistant Professor- Psychology
*Views expressed are personal.