Support System's Impact on Work-life Interface: A Study of Part-time Adult Students in India.

AuthorKumar, Payal


There has been quite a progression in research focusing on the impact of work-life interface on both the individual and the firm. Terms such as 'work-life balance' or 'work-life conflict' have been refined to work-family enrichment (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006; Carlson, Kacmar, Wayne & Grzywacz, 2006), work-family facilitation (Rotondo & Kincaid, 2008) or work-family synergy (Beutell & Wittig-Berman, 2008). Greenhaus and Powell (2006: 6) define work-family enrichment as "the extent to which experience in one role improves the quality of life namely performance or affect, in the other role."

Much of the literature so far emanates from western countries where nuclear families are defined as being either dual households or single person households, with or without children (Ozbilgin, Beauregard, Bell & Tatli, 2011; Pocock, Williams & Skinner, 2012). We argue that it is also important to study work-life interface in India, a collectivist society that lays particular emphasis on the extended family unit, where the norm is for married sons and their family to live with the parents, and multi-generational families to go on holidays together (Schanzel & Yeoman, 2015). Given that research on work-life interface is still in the nascent stage in South Asia (Allen, French, Dumani & Shockley, 2015) deeper insights are required to examine whether the existing western positivist models are generalizable (Budhwar & Debrah, 2013), or whether in fact the context of the ubiquitous family unit provides a more nuanced understanding of work-life interface in India (Lewis & Rajan-Rankin, 2013).

Our study focuses on a niche set of full-time employees who are also part-time adult students and play various social roles (Darkenwald & Merriam, 1982). While enrolling part-time for higher education, they maintain their jobs and attend classes during weekends or over short periods during the year (Chen & Carrolle, 2007; Turtle, 2005), and also manage family responsibilities, juggling a range of work, study and family commitments (Osborne et al., 2004; Watts, 2008).

We have chosen to study employees in India who live in a joint family (2, 3 or 4 generations), who while working have also opted to pursue a higher education course of his/her choice. A number of employees are opting to pursue MBA or Ph.D programs, while working fulltime, in a country where social security or unemployment benefits are negligible and where the pressure to retain a job is intense given that job creation is significantly less than the number of job-ready graduates entering the job market every year (Rajan, 2006).

Research in this area is particularly important at this juncture for two main reasons. Firstly, the increasingly changing nature of work often blurs the boundaries between work and non-work (Allen, Cho & Meier, 2014). This is particularly evident in the burgeoning information technology sector in India, which has had a phenomenal growth of close to 50 per cent annually since 1991 (Chandra, Fealey & Rau, 2006). With online work-from-home option often increasing online work time, this puts undue pressure on relationships at home.

Secondly, there is a shift in the demographic work composition in India. While post-liberalization in 1991 there were many more women joining the workforce, more recently over the last two decades women are leaving the workforce in greater numbers, with female participation at 27% as per the International Labor Organization, which is one of the lowest in the world. This is a matter of concern given that India has gone down by 21 places in the Global Gender Gap Index. One antecedent of this trend is the twin pressures of work and home, where the working woman is also expected to be the primary caregiver for both children and ageing in-laws.

In order to examine the intersectionality of work-life-education from the employee's perception in the Indian context, we ask the following research questions:

  1. To what extent do organizational practices and people in the organization respond to the work-life needs of a manager who is also a student?

  2. To what extent do family members respond to the work-life needs of the manager who is also a student?

Work-life-education Interface

The seminal work of Britton & Baxter (1999) on mature individuals provides four different reasons for returning to studies namely credentialism (the validity of a formal qualification), realizing unfulfilled potential, using education to improve the present situation of the individual and for transforming of the self. For these part-time students who are working, real-life work experiences give them opportunities to draw relevant and topical examples (Laher, 2007).

Research suggests that age is a strong predictor of academic success for part-time students (Hoskins & Newstead, 1997; Richardson, 1995; Ibrahim et al., 2011) when compared to traditional students, with female part-time students faring better than traditional male and female students (Cantwell et al., 2001; Spitzer, 2000). Though childcare concerns tend to have priority over education (Fairchild, 2003), family or child responsibilities do not affect non-traditional female students' academic achievement negatively (Spitzer, 2000; Ibrahim et al., 2011) when compared to their male counterparts (Choy, 2002; Taniguchi & Kaufman, 2005; Ibhrahim et al. 2011). It is envisaged that our study will add to this literature by providing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon, leading to recommendations on how to ensure a more inclusive organization for employees who are pursuing higher academics--so that she may realize the greatest potential for herself and for the firm.

Indian Scene

Work-life balance policies and practices were adopted in the west largely in order to attract and retain talent (Beechler & Woodward, 2009) by trying to provide an environment where employees could balance both their personal and professional lives (Kelly, Kossek, Hammer, Durham, Bray, Chermack & Kaskubar, 2008). An effective balance is said to enhance job satisfaction (Kossek & Ozeki, 1998; Thompson & Prottas, 2005), increase organizational commitment (Kopelman, Prottas, Thompson & Jahn, 2006) and reduce work-family conflict (Thomas & Ganster, 1995). Interestingly, similar job outcomes in the Indian context have proved to be more limited (Baral & Bhargava, 2010). For example, one study suggests that gender sensitive or family friendly policies, while positively impacting job satisfaction of the employee, had a negative effect on the stress levels of woman executives (Verma, Bhal & Vrat, 2013).

It is likely that different results emerge for the same phenomenon given that work and family issues in non-western countries are closely tied to cultural norms and values which differ from the West (Mortazavi, Pedhiwala, Shafiro & Hammer, 2009). The work-family discourse in countries such as the US rests on the assumption of individual choice nestled in nuclear families, rather than in collectivistic and paternalistic normative expectations from individuals in their daily lives in India (Rajan-Rankin, 2016).

Indian families are more interdependent, with nearly half of Indians living in joint families (Census of India, 1991). With the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 and more opportunities for economic growth, organizations in India had to address the challenges of new economy workers who faced increasingly strenuous workloads (Lewis, Gambles & Rapoport, 2007), and also gender diversity given the increase of the number of female employees joining the workforce (Lewis et al., 2007). Given the traditional gendered role of women as primary care-givers, family continues to be a priority for working women (Munn & Chaudhuri, 2016), thus putting a double burden on them, while for many men family responsibility tends to be limited to providing financial support (Kalliath et al., 2011).

The family in India is seen as a source of support, cooperation, strength and courage to its members and could explain the minimal presence of formal family support programs in Indian firms when compared to their western counterparts. In the US there is an integration of work and family domains through permeable boundaries, while in India there is a more clear-cut separation of work and family through more non-permeable boundaries (Poster & Prasad, 2005). So, the implications of flexible work timings superimposed from a western country has a different meaning from the original intended policy meanings in the West (Gambles & Lewis, 2006), and may serve to complicate matters for Indian employees in this context.

In terms of higher education India is the third largest system in the world, catering to 30 million students. There is no data about how many working adults have enrolled for MBA and Ph.D courses, but this seems to be an increasing trend given that the rising number of courses being offered as executive courses. Amongst the top 30 business schools in India, 17 offer part-time MBA courses with student profiles of minimum 3 years of experience. Executive Fellow Program in Management (EFPM) courses are pitched as tailormade for senior executives and are offered across 11 business schools amongst the top 30 business schools.

To sum up, so far current work-life-education balance discourses, seen from a western lens, have perhaps not taken into account complexities of...

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