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Women in the Workplace: One’s Definition of a Work\Life Balance

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014, 57% of women participated in the labor force.  Of those women, 69.9% were mothers.  Since 1975, the rate of women in the workforce and working mothers has risen from 47.4% to 70.3%, which implies that women continue to work after having children.

The Department of Labor of the United States of America, in The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993(1993), clearly recognizes the needs of working women. According to this statute:

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 states that “it is necessary to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity. The lack of employment policies to accommodate working parents can force individuals to choose between job security and parenting. Due to the nature of the roles of men and women in our society, the primary responsibility for family caretaking often falls on women, and such responsibility often affects the working lives of women more than it affects the working lives of men. Employment standards that apply to one gender only have serious potential for encouraging employers to discriminate against employees and applicants for employment who are of that gender.” (The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (1993).

A woman has the privilege to actually choose between work and motherhood. Social conditioning, however, entails that the woman put home before career and that society treats women differently.  Social expectation affects the decisions women make about their careers. They are subjected to many different demands and are often expected to play several roles that may be conflicting. Caring for a family often means that many work-life conflicts emerge for women. A woman may face simultaneous pressures from both work and family roles. These conflicts are often intensive, and a woman’s response may result in the reduction of employment which in turn leads to a restriction in career opportunities and advancement.

How Women Can Help Themselves

According to Powell and Greenhouse (2006), women may not receive any formal help from their employer to manage their work−life balance and if they want to strike any balance between work and their lives outside work, they must find their own ways of doing so. Women must have a desire to take control of their own work−life balance and have self-initiative, representing their own individual effort aimed at securing this work−life balance with being goal-oriented.

 

There are different kinds of unofficial techniques or behaviors that a woman, as an active manager of her own work−life balance can use in being proactive.

 

According to Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001), in order to gain control over work and their identity in the workplace, women must be able to clarify their bosses’ expectations about the workload that they can handle and also manage spouses’ and friends’ ideas about how hard they need to work.  A job may have at least some aspects objectively defined by the organization, however, work−life balance must be constructed subjectively by an individual.

 

A woman may need to consider controlling the length and timing of her working day by managing when her work actually begins.  A woman must also define her own terms in making decisions about the job she wants to work in. She must make choices about her employer, job or work projects based on the hours she thinks she will have at work.  A woman may want to move closer to her workplace in order to reduce the amount of time she spends travelling to and from work every day.

 

Some women will craft their own definitions of work−life balance, framed in terms that they believe are possible for only them to achieve.

 

For some people, cognitive techniques such as reframing and defining what work−life balance means to them or compromising an ideal work−life balance in return for future rewards are significant aspects of changes in their behavior.

How Employers Can Help

The modern work environment needs to consider the special needs of the working mother population, changing its orientation from male dominance to gender neutrality and parenting friendly behavior. The joint family and the nuclear family unit both need to adjust to the needs of the working mother so as to allow a healthier family to develop.  In order for organizations to retain talented women, they must continue to establish family-friendly human resource practices such as flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, assistance in finding daycare or providing onsite daycare, as well as suitable nursing areas. Organizations can cope with the increase in stress by creating programs to promote work-life balance, especially for employees with families.  Organizations can also make sure that mental health services are included in their health care plans through employee assistance programs.

 

From a Student’s Perspective

I am a working mother of three children.  I am now working toward my second career later in life with a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.  Twenty years ago, however, I started working professionally when I was just 19 at Johnson Space Center\NASA in Houston, Texas.  I trained the astronauts on the communication equipment onboard the Space Shuttle, was a flight controller in Mission Control and later became the deputy facility manager of Mission Control for the International Space Station.  All the while, having three children, going to school for my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, and managing my household with my husband of 16 years.  Looking back, how did I do it all?  I remember “swapping” my kids when they were little in the parking lot of Johnson Space Center with my husband as one of us came to work for graveyard shift, and the other one was just getting off.  Those were really hard times, but I will tell you, I had to know myself very well to manage any stress from my job or in being a mother at home.  Knowing myself meant, knowing my own boundaries, knowing my limitations.  Knowing what I was and was not willing to settle for – which meant pay, job hours, flexibility with duties, my own alone time as an individual, and what my priorities were for our family.  I have seen many successes over the years by just wanting to have that genuine interest in myself as a woman and in wanting it all with my career and as supermom.  I HAD to discover what my work\life balance needed to be for me.  My advice for women today would be – Make individual goals for yourself and with your family, and do whatever you need to do to achieve your own definition of success.  Think it through and set both short and long term goals.  Talk with your employer about your struggles, if you are comfortable, so that they know what you are trying to handle in your life.  Talk with your partner.  Make hard situations become simple by planning ahead and as I always say – “Break down any stressors in your life into manageable pieces that can be solved.  You can do it!” – I learned those critical thinking skills from working in Mission Control as a flight controller!

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Twenge, J.M., Campbell, S.M. (2008).”Generational differences in psychological traits and their impact on the workplace”, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23 (8): 862 – 877.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02683940810904367

 

Wrzesniewski, A., Dutton, J. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review 26(2): 179–201.

 

Retrieved from US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015).

http://data.bls.gov/search/query/results?cx=013738036195919377644%3A6ih0hfrgl50&q=women+in+the+workplace

 

Retrieved from the US Department of Labor (2015).

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/fmla.htm