Quality of Life in Enforced Work from Home: An Exploration of Gender Differences.

AuthorShukla, Rajeev K.


The Covid-19 pandemic has unsettled the conventional style of business operations. It was a far-fetched thought for the mankind that a virus would lead to drastic shifts in the way organizations and employees used to function. Beyond anyone's imagination, in March 2020 the business processes turned to complete digitalization and virtualization. The organizations which never imagined to operate remotely were compelled to shift their operations to work from home (WFH) due to nationwide lockdown and social distancing norms adopted to control the spread of Covid-19.

Although previous studies have indicated that offering remote and flexible working to employees is beneficial to organizations as well as employees for various reasons like reduced commuting cost, increased efficiency, productivity and work output (Felstead & Henseke, 2017; Flores, 2019), however, WFH availed by choice and as an additional benefit given by the organization is different from WFH by force. Hence both the organizations and the employees had to face the associated challenges during the 'enforced-WFH' (eWFH) due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from the professional challenges associated with implementing remote working practices, employees had to face numerous challenges on the personal front too as the scenario was quite different in the eWFH. All the members of family were confined to home with no or minimum domestic help, increased work load as individuals had to 24/7 juggle between work commitments and taking care of the family, lack of IT infrastructure, sharing of equipment between parents and children, and internet connectivity issues were some of the factors which led to spur in stress levels while WFH during the pandemic. Moreover, there was no defined boundary left between the personal and professional life during the eWFH.

According to the boundary theory, employees create 'physical', 'temporal' and 'psychological' boundaries for themselves to demark the time, place and people associated with work and family roles (Allen et al., 2014). Creating these boundaries help them to minimize the intrusion of work with non-work life. Deducing from the boundary theory, it is postulated that while employees struggled to create the physical, temporal and psychological boundaries between work and family roles during the eWFH, their work-life balance and QoL might have suffered adversely, and there would have possibly been unfavorable interference of work-life in family-life and family-life in work-life (Bhumika, 2020). These changes and challenges therefore posed the following pertinent questions which prompted the researchers to undertake this study.

  1. Whether the shift is fulfilling for working professionals in terms of quality of life (QoL)?

  2. Does the shift have any special bearing on the female working professionals as they are the ones who have major responsibility of the household chores, especially in India?

Although earlier studies have explored the relationship between WFH and QoL, but rarely any research study has explored the pandemic affected work scenario and QoL experienced during the eWFH. Moreover, gender based differences are a popular variable in WFH studies (Rohilla et al., 2021, Bhumika, 2020; Drummond et al., 2017; Delina & Raya, 2016; Shah, 2015) and it is considered as an important factor in determining the QoL during WFH. Since men and women prioritize work and family differently (Bhumika, 2020), gender becomes an important factor in exploring the QoL especially in eWFH. Literature has also suggested that whenever there is any change in the work-family setting, gender differences must be explored in both work-life as well as family-life realm (Drummond et al., 2017). The purpose of the study, therefore, is:

(i) to understand and identify the factors that constitute QoL while eWFH,

(ii) to ascertain if there is any gender wise difference in QoL especially during the eWFH.

Review of Literature

Traditionally, flexible working arrangements and giving employees an option to WFH have been considered as prominent indicators of offering work-life balance by the organizations, as they provide greater flexibility and autonomy to employees in terms of when and how to work. The managers, however, at times become skeptical of this arrangement as it could result in evading from allocated tasks while being at home (Bloom et al., 2015). The benefits and challenges of remote working have already been documented in literature. Felstead and Henseke (2017) established that WFH results in higher commitment towards the organization, increased job satisfaction and work-related well-being of the individuals. Flores (2019) stated that WFH results in increased efficiency, productivity and work output. On the contrary, evidence also suggests that remote working especially from home leads to increased stress (Moore, 2006), feeling of isolation due to limited face-to-face interaction with fellow colleagues (Busch, Nash & Bell, 2011), and the challenge of making the technology work (Flores, 2019).

The eWFH home due to nationwide lockdown in March 2020 had its own unique challenges and consequences. On one side, employees got a chance to spend more time with family, while on the other it challenged effectively managing the work and family responsibilities (Bhumika, 2020). Although organizations adapted and responded well to the sudden need of shifting operations to remote working to ensure business continuity, eWFH impacted the lives of the employees in some way or the other. Marsh and McLennan Companies (2020) reported negative psychological effects of WFH like loneliness and isolation, depression, anxiety, stress, and pressure. They stated that prolonged remote working can turn positive and optimistic employees into unmotivated and pessimistic individuals, thereby negatively impacting the well-being and QoL. Anderson and Kelliher (2020) argued that the benefits of greater flexibility, autonomy and gratitude as offered by WFH are relished because employees are able to exercise their 'choice' over the work arrangement. Moreover, willingness to WFH is dependent upon a number of factors like family support, presence of children at home, comfortable and quiet environment to support WFH, availability of IT infrastructure and good internet connectivity (Shareena & Shahid, 2020). However, these choices are not available in case of eWFH. Prolonged working hours, changes in work role, reduced productivity and increased stress, on one hand, and sparkling increase in creativity for self-nurturing on the other hand, have been the results of WFH during the pandemic (Jaiswal & Arun, 2020). As per a research report by National Insurance Academy (NIA), (2020) on 'Work-From-Home in Insur ance Industry: Adapting to the 'New-Normal' WFH has both pros and cons. The perceived benefits as per the study were increased productivity, better identification of process, role and skill redundancies, more work flexibility, and cost reduction. On the flip side, negative aspects were increased stress especially in women due to increased work load and role conflict as they had to handle both home as well as office role at home, increased working hours, lesser scope for socializing, reduced performance level and delay in communication.

Although both men and women faced the challenges during eWFH, Banerjee and Pati (2020) in their thematic and chronological analysis identified that Indian women had certain unique experiences in WFH between March 2020 and September 2020.

(i) WFH and work for home resulted in overlapping of office and home responsibilities. A major part of the household and childcare responsibility fell on women during the pandemic, which indicated that neither the organization nor the family is sensitive or considerate about women's work pressure.

(ii) In order to cut down the company cost, women were the first to be laid off during the pandemic. This is a psychological bias which considers women employees as dispensable.

(iii) The irritation and frustration caused by the pandemic, job loss, lack of recreational activities were all poured out on women and there has been a sharp rise in...

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