Is it possible to perfectly balance work and life or do we have to choose between them? This article examines this question in the form of a case study, followed by a commentary in the light of integral management.
Ambika Rajesh was sad because today also she can’t go home early to spend more time with Rahul, her five year old son. This was happening for the past one week and she was failing repeatedly to keep her promise to take her son to the game park. Ambika is the Vice President (Customer relationship) at the India office of the Global IT firm, Max International. Her husband, a senior consultant in a leading engineering consultancy firm, is out on a foreign assignment. Her mother is sick in bed with rheumatic complaint. She has to put both her son and her mother under the care of a housemaid. And Ambika was not happy with that woman.
Ambika was not only ambitious and competent but also a loyal executive in Max. Unlike many of her colleagues and classmates, who constantly switched jobs almost every two or three years, Ambika remained in Max since the day she joined the company as a management trainee, fresh from IIM Ahmedabad, some ten years back. Her ambition and drive, competence and loyalty, earned her rapid growth in Max. At 33, Ambika was one of the youngest VP’s in Max. She loved her work and was satisfied with her career in Max. But her “life” element in the work-life balance always remained problematic. In spite of liberal flexi-time, understanding husband and a very sympathetic boss, Ambika was finding it difficult to keep the famous and much sought-after “balance”. Her husband, though very considerate and caring, is not of much help, because his nature of work demands travelling and he can’t always be at home to help her. So Ambika’s family life is not happy and in her heart there was an undercurrent of guilt that she was not able to pay much attention to her ailing mother or bestow the much needed maternal care to her child. Working at home was not very appealing to Ambika, because she loved the direct interaction with people, sharing of ideas and the rush of energy she felt in this interchange.
As Ambika was about to leave her plush office after a very busy day, her mobile rang. “Hi Ambi”, uttered the very familiar voice of Renuka her classmate at IIM and her close friend. “Hi, Renu”, said Ambika “I feel good to hear your happy voice”.
“Where are you now? In home or office” asked Renu. Ambika said with a sad sigh in her voice “just about to leave the office”. Renu said “You sound unhappy and tired, Ambi”.
Renuka also joined a multinational retail chain, married a flourishing entrepreneur and pursued a successful career as a HR executive. But when she became a mother, she quit her job. Ambika recalled her visits to Renuka’s house, how happy she was with her cheerful and jovial husband, her affectionate in-laws and her chubby and pretty child.
“Hi, Ambi, are you still there in the line”, Renuka’s voice interrupted her reverie. “Yes Renu” said Ambika “I envy you. I was remembering my visits to your home and how happy you were within your beautiful family”.
“Many of our classmates envy your phenomenal success in your career”, said Renuka “I think there are very few woman VP’s at your age in global companies”.
Ambika was undoubtedly much more ambitious and aggressive than Renu. Unlike many women executives, she was not soft. She pushed hard for her success. And this flame of ambition is still strong in her. It was kindled into a fire when her boss Ron Felix, president and head of Max India told her recently that he was likely to be shifted to New York in a few months and vaguely hinted that she can hope for his job. Ambika felt strongly that she deserved the top job. In these months she has to work extra hard and stay ahead of other contenders for the post to get the coveted job.
“Hi Ambika, are you again off with some reveries of the past” said Renu. “Oh sorry Renu, again my mind went astray. Renu, I have a question. Do you think it is possible to achieve happiness in home and success at work with a perfect balance?” There was a long pause. “Hi, Renu, now it is my turn to say, are you still there”.
“I am thinking Ambi”, said Renu “Personally I feel it is not possible Ambi. I tried for some time but I couldn’t. I think you have to make a choice”.
In our present condition of humanity and the corporate world, what Renuka says is right. We have to make a choice based on our priorities and values. If you are a corporate woman like Renuka, who values motherhood and happiness in home more than success in work-place, then you have to a certain extent sacrifice work-place success for the sake of the greater fulfillment in motherhood and in home. This doesn’t mean you have to quit the job like Renuka, but you can’t expect to reach the top of the corporate ladder. In fact, this is one of the reasons why there are not many women at the top of the corporate hierarchy. As Jack Welch, former CEO of GEC rightly points out,
“There are very few women CEOs and a disproportionately small number of women senior executives because women have babies. And despite what some earnest but misguided social pundits might tell you, that matters. Because when professional women decide to have children, they often decide to cut back their hours at work or travel less. Some women change jobs entirely, to staff positions with more flexibility but much lower visibility. Still more women actually leave the workplace entirely. In fact, a 2002 survey conducted by Harvard Business School of its alumnae from the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 showed that 62 percent had left the professional world… Is that bad? We don’t think so. It’s life. Every choice has a consequence. As a working mother, if you decide to take time off, work fewer hours, or travel less, you gain something of immeasurable value: more time with your children. You also give up something: a spot on the fast track. In business – where bosses are paid to win, with shareholders cheering them on – those spots usually go to the people with the most availability and commitment.” (1)
On the other hand, if you are ambitious like Ambika, like the corporate game of power and wealth achievement and success, and very much want the top post, then you have to sacrifice some of the joy and fulfillment which comes from family and children and bear the consequences of a lack of sufficient attention to this part of life. “It’s a hard choice” says Anjali Bhansal, MD, Spencer-Stuard India. “You will never get enough time with the family as you’d like. That’s the reality of every committed professional”. (2)
However we need not take these present facts of life as something permanent and unchangeable. Our human organism, both individually and collectively, is an evolving entity capable of constant enhancement of our potentialities through education, self-development, experience, research, insight, sharing, networking and learning from others. The corporate world should consciously explore all these possibilities and strive towards a progressive and increasing harmony, integration and balance between work and life. Here are some measures which can lead to such a greater balance.
- Learning from role models like women CEOs or senior executives who are able to achieve an effective balance between work and life. For example, Swarupa Sanyal, Head of Strategy and Corporate Initiatives at Genpact, comes home every day at 7 pm and doesn’t take any calls until 8:30 pm, when both her kids go to bed. She spends another hour with the children in the morning. If work calls, she goes to office after 8:30 pm. (3)
- Creating forums for sharing experiences, insights and best practices on work-life balance.
- Making work-life balance into a core value of corporate world and paying as much management attention to it as other corporate values like productivity or customer satisfaction, which means doing much more than giving flexi-time. Managers and team-leaders must make a more conscious effort to resolve work-life problems of the employees under their care through collective dialogue and discussion. And the management should provide active support to employees in the form of education, training, guidelines and processes which help them in achieving a greater balance between work and life.
- Inner harmony and balance is the foundation of outer harmony and balance. When an individual makes a conscious effort to integrate and harmonise the various parts of his own being, he gets the insight to achieve a similar harmony in his outer life. Every employee has to be awakened to this principle and provided with right-educational inputs for building harmony in his or her own being.
- Jack and Suzy Welch, “Winning: The Answers”, pg. 158-159.
- Manisha Singhal, “Headhunting Hunting Honcho”, Business Today, August 2013, p.75.
- Sunny Sen, “A Quantum Leap”, Business Today, August 2013, p.76.