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Bleak house

The concept of working couples is not working. In India, where two-pay-cheque families are not too common, major problems have not hit the headlines as yet. But going by the experience of the West, they are bound to, sooner or later.

“We have an advantage here,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “We know the issues and should be able to prepare ourselves better to tackle them.” Yet he’s sceptical if organisations are bothered enough. Everyone thinks they will be able to cope when it comes to the crunch.

“There exists little formal research in India’s work-family field and few organisations have family-friendly policies such as flexitime,” says the Sloan Work and Family Research Network. “Issues around work-family conflict are just emerging here, where women are newcomers to the urban workforce… It has only been within the past two or three years that people in India have begun to talk about the strain of dual-earning families.”

“Attitudes in India are still buried in the past,” says Singh. He feels that work is regarded as the greater God here. Thus, it is taken for granted that family life will suffer. It was true in the West too, until people started looking at the quality of life as more important.

While nobody denies that quality of life suffers, there are nuances that have surfaced only recently. It’s obvious that if a spouse is overworked, the partnership suffers. A Cornell study does show that such couples have the worst quality of life. “The fact is that in contemporary working-couple households, at least one spouse typically puts in long hours,” says the research. In India, where 45 hours a week is at the lower end of the work-hours spectrum, you can expect the marriage casualty rate to be higher. (The reason for fewer divorces is that society still holds them unacceptable.)

A more interesting finding is that it doesn’t help if one partner works part-time while the other works whole time. The problem may be of not matching up to expectations on both sides — the employee and employer. The other reason is the quality of part-time work available.

There are no obvious answers. Phyllis Moen, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that Americans have generally acknowledged the inadequacy of the feminine mystique (that women could find total fulfilment in homemaking), but continue to embrace the career mystique, the (false) myth that continuous full-time investment in paid work is the ticket to men’s (and now women’s) success and fulfilment.

Don’t think we are far away from such debate because the crisis is almost upon us. A study conducted by Kamini Rao, medical director of the Bangalore Assisted Conception Centre (BAAC), of the city’s IT professionals has some startling findings. Infertility used to be a pathological problem. “But today it has become a lifestyle problem,” says the study. “The mouse has replaced the spouse. Young couples are so busy chasing careers that they forget that the reproductive cycle also has a life span.”

Another Bangalore survey by the Institute of Sexual Medicine says that working couples in the city have sex once every 120 days against alternate days for normal couples.

If all seems bleak, there is one ray of hope. Another study of technology workers in Bangalore by Carolyn Wei of the University of Washington says that couples find salvation in technology. “They rely on mobile phones to maintain relationships despite the modern realities of living apart or working hectic schedules,” says Wei. It could be voicemail, SMS, MMS or just a vibrating alert.

Perhaps the problem will not be so big in the future, after all: working techies — and there will be many more of them — throb to a different beat.

SUCCOUR, NOT CURE

A menu for togetherness

Figure out what you like to do together. Do it regularly. A shared interest outside work can help a lot.

At least one night a week, put the kids to bed, go somewhere private and talk about something other than work.

Once a month or so, have lunch together during a workday.

Once a month or so, go out together, but don’t tell anybody where you’re going or when you’ll be back.

(Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)

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