The bustling city of Nairobi is where the demands of work and family life often collide. Employees find themselves in the midst of scenarios that unfold the intricacies of maintaining a delicate work-life balance.
Meet one dedicated marketing professional, Joakim Moturu, and his spouse, Neliah Moturu. Both are striving to provide for their family while juggling the demands of their careers. Their story serves as a reflection of the challenges faced by many working parents in an era when traditional working hours still prevail.
For this couple, the day begins in the pre-dawn hours, at 5:30 am, as they rush to prepare for their respective jobs. Joakim is often burdened with responsibilities that extend beyond 5pm. After bypassing a social joint, he sometimes does not return home until nearly 10 o’clock.
Neliah, working as a Finance Manager in an out-of-town manufacturing company, has evenings that conclude at around 8:00 pm. Although their dedication to their careers is undeniable, it unfortunately comes at a cost – limited time with their children.
One evening, as they returned home from work, they encountered their children who were eager for a family meeting. The eldest child bravely vocalised the underlying issue: “You do not have time for us. Just a few minutes ago, you were at home but still on the phone engaged in office matters. Both of you are parents in absentia whom we only see briefly over the weekends.”
Their daughter echoed similar sentiments. She complained about her parent’s inability to assist with homework and school-related tasks. The parents responded with exhaustion and cited long working hours and unfamiliarity with the new school curriculum.
This couple’s predicament is emblematic of the broader issue of work-life balance for working parents. Many parents like them are caught in a relentless cycle of balancing work responsibilities with family obligations. They are adhering to rigid, traditional working hours set by their employers.
Discontent of a Husband
A husband of a middle-level employee called Gloria Tarito in the marketing department visited Joakim and expressed concern about her work scheduling. He was frustrated that she constantly arrived home late due to her work assignments. Joakim empathised with him but emphasised the importance of employees meeting clients’ goods delivery expectations. These expectations sometimes required Gloria to work beyond traditional hours.
On that same day, another employee, Benadette Siocha, who had recently returned from maternity leave approached Joakim with a request for adjusted working hours. As she was still breastfeeding her baby, she asked for permission to report to work late and leave early. Benadette promised to complete her daily tasks to avoid pending any work. Joakim suggested that she leaves her breast milk at home. She cited frequent power outages as a concern for storing her milk.
Out of desperation, Benadette requested for a room within the company’s business premises where her childminder and child can wait. During break times, she could breastfeed her child. However, the employer did not provide such facilities for lactating employees.
Joakim, who felt frustrated by the constraints of office-based work, sought to convince the CEO to allow him to work from home. He argued that certain tasks, such as writing company reports, did not necessitate physical presence in the office. He believed that remote work would enhance productivity and create a more favourable work-life balance.
The CEO acknowledged his arguments but declined the request. Remote work was just an emergency during the pandemic. The current circumstances did not warrant employees to work from home, particularly those who regularly require face-to-face consultations.
HR Manager’s Insights
Joakim called the HR Manager, Pacifica Rochei, to seek further perspectives on work-life balance. To achieve work-life balance requires that employees allocate adequate time to fulfill work, family, and personal goals. Pacifica noted that some employees undermined this balance due to factors such as work ethic, self-discipline, and self-motivation.
She highlighted how some employees manipulated their schedules and created overtime which disrupted their work-life equilibrium. She also pointed out that employees must develop better work habits to ensure that office work does not spill over into their personal lives.
Organisations need to revisit their traditional working hours policies and consider greater flexibility, especially for employees with family responsibilities. It is important that both employers and employees work together to strike a harmonious balance that enables workers to thrive in all aspects of their lives.
The writer is HRD Consultant and Author of Transition into Retirement, [email protected]