With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down offices and industries far and wide, work from home (WFH) became the new normal in 2020. As most companies opted for this option, the Labour Ministry on 1 January, 2021 published its draft standing orders on work from home for the services sector under the new Industrial Relations Code. This would mean WFH would be considered as an efficient work culture in its draft standing order for the service sector. Essentially standing orders are employment contracts that set code of conduct for employees in establishments with over 300 workers. Companies must have a standing order approved by the state or central government.
Many people are of the opinion that formalising WFH will motivate women in re-entering the workforce especially as second-career women. Second-career refers to women professionals who took a hiatus from their career in order to focus on household or other responsibilities and are looking to join the workforce post hiatus.
The female labour force participation in India reflects substantial numbers in women dropouts from the workforce especially in mid-career stages. The lack of women talent leads to a large talent deficit and fewer women end up in higher leadership roles.
The new standing order would help thousands of women across the country to re-join the workforce. It is definitely a positive step in the direction of enhancing female labour participation and work space equality. The WFH situation benefits both employers and employees. While the employee has flexibility to work in their own time and space, there’s an added advantage of increased attention to personal life. With ample support from the organization, attrition rates can be significantly reduced.
WFH also provides women to re-join post-maternity. Child bearing and rearing is one of the main reasons’ women quit their jobs. Formalising WFH gives them the opportunity to rejuvenate their paused careers. However, the work culture must inculcate a practice of providing equal importance to personal and professional space. Women always have to choose between their careers and taking a hiatus to start a family.
The work-from-home model opened up an array of opportunities for women without compromising their domestic commitments. This move will inspire many women to enter the workforce or the corporate world from the comforts of their home. Although the WFH model is a step in the right direction for women, it needs to be a cautious step. Women will face the risk of burnout if they are not given flexible working hours given the fact that they have to manage kids, workload and the household.
Several corporate firms have started hiring more second career women in the past few years. However, India continues to have more than 7 million such women seeking employment. The main reasons why women find it difficult to re-join is the lack of strong networks and the skill gap between them and men. Lack of support from home is also another reason. Focusing on tackling these issues can help reverse the trend and bring more second career women into the workforce.