By the time she quit her corporate job of seven years, Gurugram-based marketing executive Rashmi (name changed on request) had had it. “It was getting pretty toxic with the kind of work environment they had created, especially in the pandemic. While the lockdowns gave us a semblance of peace — what with working from the comfort of the house — the back-to-office routine left a chaotic void of having to go back to a system that no longer served us,” she shared.
Rashmi, originally hailing from a tier-2 city in central India, added that the rigidity of the corporate world, endless meetings, working longer hours and reaching home late every night made her want to take a sabbatical — she is on one currently. “I am staying at home, watching the plants grow, while my husband goes to work every morning. It is just a temporary arrangement until I find myself a job that is more flexible.”
Rashmi is among the many Indian women who quit their jobs in the recent past, because of an inflexible work environment. In April this year, online professional network LinkedIn released its latest consumer research report that highlighted the challenges faced by women at work.
The report, based on 2,266 respondents in India, found that poor employer sentiment towards flexible working and career breaks are stopping women from asking for greater flexibility and re-entering the workforce. They are either quitting or considering quitting their jobs in 2022 as pay cuts, bias, and exclusion become penalties for choosing to work flexibly.
What is flexi-working?
In a post-pandemic India, flexi-working — short for flexible-working — has become critical in promoting female representation across the workforce. A flexible work arrangement entails, among other things, letting an employee choose what time they begin their work, where they work, and what time they call it a day. Simply put, it is their prerogative whether to get work done at home, from a cafeteria, or in the structured set-up of an office.
Right after the first lockdown was imposed back in 2020, however, it was established that women, more than men, were burdened with the task of managing domestic chores while meeting professional deadlines. Parental duties were added responsibilities. With some of them returning to the workplace full-time, the pressure of maintaining a work-life balance became immense.
Ruchee Anand, senior director, talent and learning solutions, India, at LinkedIn told indianexpress.com that the Covid-19 pandemic caused a major shift in the way professionals in India, especially working women, perceive their life priorities and goals.
“Today, more women are demanding flexibility at the workplace to achieve a greater sense of balance between their personal and professional lives. Our #Flexiblels consumer research echoes this sentiment, as findings reveal 2 out of 5 working women feel increased flexibility would improve their work-life balance (43 per cent), because it would allow them to effectively juggle personal responsibilities and professional tasks, and build their careers on their own terms.”
There are some who are choosing to work at their own pace and are following this model. Twenty-nine-year-old Shweta Ektare is one of them. A visual artist, Ektare is a chartered accountant by qualification and “an artist by passion and profession”. She told this outlet that she mainly creates hand-painted artwork. “Since I am an ‘artpreneur’, I need to dedicate my time to the business aspect of it, too. So, I try to divide my time into 70:30 where 70 per cent goes to painting/creativity and 30 per cent goes to business work. I also try to have my work schedule similar to how anyone has in their jobs. It helps me to stay on track.”
Ektare, who is a resident of Bengaluru with roots in Indore, added that she works 40 hours a week. “If I have working hours on weekends, I make sure to take time off during the week so as to not over-exert myself. Inspiration comes from experience, so it is important to allocate time for that, too.”
Adding to this thought, Farzana Suri, a victory coach, trainer and speaker — who calls herself a ‘student of the university of life’ — told indianexpress.com that her work involves coaching people for their various needs ranging from personal development, leadership challenges, relationship and financial issues.
“It requires a pre-session prep and the actual session. I work across time zones and it involves 1:1 intense sessions with clients, which can happen in-person, over a video or phone call. My day begins at 4.30 am with my first client call as early as 6 am. I work for 6-7 hours daily, which includes client sessions, networking for brand visibility, studying, browsing the net to keep myself up-to-date with new ideas, managing my social media, and business development.”
For her, flexi-working is “not just about being busy making a living, but living the life [she] want[s]”. “It gives me the freedom to decide my rest time and day-offs. I have the flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities at my convenience. Most importantly, choose the kind of work I’d like to do, when I’d like to do it and where I can do it from. It allows me the space to sleep in on a Monday if there are no clients that day,” Suri said.
Agreed Ektare, saying that it enables her to prioritise her life to “accommodate work and personal things”. “The opposite of flexi-working would be completely-blocked calendars and fixed schedules without room for changes. It becomes difficult to manage personal life, as it gives only selective hours for pursuing personal projects/having family life.”
Suri explained that when it comes to building a career and maintaining work-life balance, “one must not forget that we work to live”. “Work facilitates the life we dream of — a richer, happier and secure life, where we have time to spend with the ones we love and still do what is needed to bring the money home,” she said, adding that after having worked in the corporate world for years, entrepreneurship and flexi-working provides her the joy of integrating work and life.
“There is no such thing as ‘balance’. Integrating the two in a way where I have the opportunity to grow as an individual and as a professional is tantamount to my joy; knowing where to set my boundaries and doing a better job of putting myself higher on my own ‘to-do’ list.”
Ektare said that for her, an “ideal day” would be one wherein she is satisfied with the amount of input she has put in, both in personal and professional work, and has spent time with the people who matter to her. “I am trying to create a checklist of things I have completed at the end of the day, rather than just checking off to-do lists; writing it down gives me a feeling of completion as well as a feedback on what is essential and how much time I would like to invest in things in the future,” she stated.
Anand pointed out that the growth rate for female entrepreneurs was at its highest during peak pandemic time, growing by 2.68x between 2016 and 2021, as compared to just 1.79x for men. “These findings reinforce the need for organisations to practise more flexible, accommodating, and inclusive ways of work. Making gender representation an organisational priority is critical to bringing more women into the workforce, and the first step is being open to dialogue,” she added.
According to her, while flexibility is just one aspect that can help retain women at the workplace, “employers must understand that only those who stay committed to listening and responding to the evolving workforce needs can make work work for women”.