Work from home dilemma: IIT Madras, IIM Amritsar experts decode violation of employee boundaries

Work from home affected family life negatively and vice versa, which is known as 'work-family conflict' and employees find the situation unbearable.

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IIT Madras, IIM Amritsar experts conducted an investigation to analyse whether boundary between work and home is blurred during remote work.IIT Madras, IIM Amritsar experts conducted an investigation to analyse whether boundary between work and home is blurred during remote work.

Press Trust of India | January 23, 2023 | 04:38 PM IST

NEW DELHI: Has work from home violated boundaries of employees? Does gender play a role in remote work being productive? Is working from office better to maintain work life balance? Experts at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Amritsar have the answers. Teams from the two reputed institutes conducted an investigation into the situation to analyse whether the boundary between work and home is blurred during remote work and whether work affects family life negatively and vice versa.

The study has also been published in the noted journal "Employee relations". According to them, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organisations to assign their employees work-from-home. This choice pleased many organisations as they saved on risks and maintenance costs. Big employers have continued the trend. However, not all employees are happy.

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"Work-from-home caused an incredible amount of stress on both male and female employees, especially those who were married. New complications had arisen that had never been dealt with before, for instance, a fear of COVID-19, pandemic-related job insecurity, and so on," Rupashree Baral, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras told PTI.

"The boundary between work and home was blurred, work affected family life negatively and vice versa, which is known as 'work-family conflict'. Employees find the situation 'unbearable'. They also feel like a failing parent and a failing professional. The persistent traditional gender ideology in a country like India increased the stress during peak pandemic, especially for women since they were expected to take care of the household, children and their profession all at once and in one place," she added.

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The study found that a 'problem-focused coping strategy' was vital to deal with the boundary breakage between work and home and prevent either from them negatively affecting the other. The researchers recommended that individuals can practice this strategy by focusing on information-seeking, planning, and problem-solving activities to face the issue at hand. Actively reaching out to one’s support system (spouse, family, and friends) was found to be necessary.

The researchers also called upon organisations and employers to suggest such strategies to their employees and ensure they were followed. "The problem-focused coping strategy was found to be an excellent coping mechanism to ensure boundary control, reduce work-family conflict and improve subjective well-being. Although this is a cross-sectional study, the findings of this study can be helpful for individuals, organisations, and practitioners,” Baral said.

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"Gender role ideology was another factor determining the relationship between boundary control and work-family conflict. The impact of poor boundary control on work-family conflict was found to be more damaging to women. It was more harmful to those with traditional gender role ideology (traditional notions about the division of labour) than the progressive ones," she added.

The researchers suggest that women should fight against and stop accepting the traditional gender ideology and embrace, practice, and demand a progressive one, as it is found to be beneficial to both spouses. "During the additional and pressing challenges created by situations such as COVID-19, mere spouse support is insufficient. Men were found to experience more work-family conflict and poor subjective well-being than women due to job insecurity.

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The traditional thought of associating the breadwinning role with men could be the reason," said Dr Aswathy Asokan Ajitha, Assistant Professor, IIM Amritsar. "Organisations and policymakers can intervene and regulate the level of job cuts during a natural crisis such as the pandemic to help their working professionals and their families," Ajitha added.

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