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Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2010 Jan-Apr; 14(1): 13–16.
PMCID: PMC2923417

The family and work connect: A case for relationship-focused family life education

Abstract

The article presents the premises for the need to develop a relationship-focused family life education program for young adult employees. The article explores the changing trends in the Indian family unit and their impact on the workforce. The author also presents the findings from interviews with family-intervention experts and their recommendations for the contents of such a program.

Keywords: Family life education, marital and family life, marital expectations

INTRODUCTION

The effect of family on workforce is an important though often overlooked issue for work organizations, with implications for the morale, stability and productivity of the workforce.[1] Presumably men and women do not shed their family roles, relationships and experiences the moment they don their work clothes. Indeed, the logic underlying many corporations' decisions to offer employer-based family support, such as child care and flexible working schedules, may be that such benefits will enhance employees' abilities to handle family matters and in so doing will enhance their work performance, commitment and satisfaction.[2] This line of reasoning views the relationship between work and family as a reciprocal process in which work and family influence each other in a circular or feedback fashion.

Indian families are undergoing change, which in turn influences the environment in the basic unit. The family environment has been bombarded with new expectations, the media, high cost of living and a striving for better quality of life. Although not much literature is available on the aspect of how family stress has influenced the productivity of the Indian workforce, the author is of the opinion that absenteeism, alcoholism, gambling, heavy debts among employees are a reflection of bruised familial systems.

The dual-earning couple is a new prototype that reflects the increasing educational and career aspirations of women. A significant proportion of these women in the workforce comprises of wives and mothers whose employment status demands a radical change in their pattern, activities, commitments and responsibilities, requiring a reassessment of the family environment.[3] In India the work participation rate for women has increased in the recent decades. The proportion of women in the workforce in 1981 was 19.67% and it rose to 22.73% in 1991, further rising to 25.68% in 2001. On the flipside, psychosocial studies have shown that dual-earning couples in India have a poorer quality of marital life compared to single-earning couples,[46] in their study found that work-family conflict was expressed in 63% of Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) stories written by women, whereas men's stories did not reflect this conflict. Sources of stress in the lives of working women emerged from a lack of time to attend to multiple roles, presence of young children (6-12 years) in the family and additional responsibility at work in the form of promotions.[7,9] The most common outcome of stress for the working woman was found to be poor mental and physical health resulting in depression, anxiety, asthma and colitis.[911]

Rajadhyaksha[79] studied dual-career as opposed to dual-earning couples in two metropolitan cities in India and found that in a dual-career family where husbands and wives were presumably matched in terms of their career involvement, work-family role conflict and organizational role stress were not significantly different among husbands and wives. Sources of conflict and stress, however, differed along traditional lines. For instance, women experienced more conflict between their job and home roles, while men experienced more conflict between their job and spousal roles.

In the present day, the young Indian adult is exposed to an entirely new pattern of living and a new set of mores, values and standards that are being widely accepted but which stand in contrast to those which were promoted by their parents and grandparents.[12] The ambiguous values children and adolescents observe today in India, coupled with the increasing gap between aspirations and possible achievement, have led to a greater sense of 'alienation.'[13] Parents too appear ill-prepared to cope with rapid social change, having grown up in hierarchically structured and interdependent social groups that included the extended family and kinship network, as well as caste groups that provided stability and solidarity.[14]

Parents who seem modern in their child-rearing practices get anxious when their offspring breach established social codes. Inter-generation conflicts related to marriage, career choice or separate living arrangements result in the tendency to fall back on tradition.[15]

Subtle changes in family patterns, especially with regard to the use of authority within the family, as well as an increased focus on individual autonomy,[1617] are also likely to influence members' expectations with regard to marriage and their choice of a spouse. Educated middle class families are now more hesitant to make decisions for their offspring with regard to marriage, education and employment.[17] Changes have also been noticed with regard to a greater focus on the husband-wife relationship rather than the parent-child relationship. With an increased onus of responsibility falling on the individual rather than on the entire family, young Indian adults today face what Dr. Gore calls 'choice anxiety'— increased autonomy and increased choice that have led to increased anxiety.[17]

Ambiguity with regard to issues like respect for elders, role of the eldest son, love marriages, working wives, etc., is an inevitable fallout of the changes within the Indian family.[17]

Relationship-focused education for young adults in the workforce has not been on top of the agenda for India's policy makers. India's policies on family and child welfare have been focused more in terms of health care, nutrition, reproductive health, sexuality and venereal disease. However, one cannot forget that young adults of marriageable age from 'first-generation urban-educated families'[17] are facing relationship-based problems due to changing dynamics within the Indian family. These include shifts in loyalty from filial obligations to lean more towards conjugal ties and issues of power and gender role allocations. Marriage is traditionally seen as means for procreation, but there are slow changes in perception among adolescents towards viewing it as a means of companionship.[18] With couples migrating to cities for better job prospects, there is a decreased availability of the informal support provided by the extended family in the past, resulting in young couples having to develop greater problem-solving and coping skills on their own. This in turn weighs heavily on an employee's ability to focus completely on tasks at work. It is essential to bridge the gap between what their families of origin considered as an ideal or happy marriage and what they now desire from a spouse and family life.

Changing family trends and needs observed by family-intervention experts

The author conducted individual interviews with family-intervention experts in Bangalore city in order to better understand the changing family patterns that they were observing. Among the professionals, there were two clinical psychologists, two psychiatric social workers, two psychiatrists and one divorce lawyer. The key person interview (KPI) cue statements to initiate discussions with the experts were as follows [Table 1]:

Table 1
Description of key person interview participants

  1. Changes that you are seeing in the nature of problems that families are coming to you with in comparison to the nature of problems brought up a decade ago
  2. Name some culture-specific areas that need to be kept in mind while preparing the family life education program
  3. Some areas that you feel need to be essentially covered by a family life education program for single young adults.

RESULTS

It is interesting to note that among the changes noticed by family experts in relation to the aspect of family issues, is the ability to recognize issues early on in the marriage and to seek help for the same. Another important change noticed by the experts was that a larger number of young couples who were either engaged or in a relationship were now seeking professional help in order to help them make the right choice of a partner or to resolve issues that they were afraid would snowball into a larger issue post-marriage. An interesting perspective put forward by the legal expert in family law was that he was seeing an increasing number of divorces that were occurring as early as the third or sixth month of marriage, with both partners willing to go in for a divorce by mutual consent. This, he said, was in stark contrast to what he encountered some 10 years ago, when most couples would go through a long-drawn-out battle with much mud-slinging or would want to keep trying to make things work. The recognition of sexual dissatisfaction by, and the unwillingness to stay in a marriage on the part of, the female spouse was also another prominent change that experts were noticing. A long-distance relationship, with spouses staying in different cities and meeting on the weekends, was also another trend that was being noticed.

Table 2 describes the main themes that arose from the discussions with family experts.

Table 2
Themes from key person interview with family experts

Leadership and decision-making issues in the joint family largely arose due to the inability to face up to, or communicate with, authority figures within the family, thus leading to frustration and passive aggression. Talking about one's sexual needs was another cultural peculiarity that often created rifts within couples or forced couples to try and work things out.

It is also interesting to note that the family experts were able to clearly point out the need for any family life education program to be sensitive to Indian culture in terms of how it viewed the role of the joint family. Experts also pointed out the program had to be careful about how it portrayed communication within the family and had to keep in mind the factor of 'respect' that Indian families often prescribe to. The third column clearly gives the areas that these family experts felt a family life education program should cover. The experts felt that adaptability was an important skill that the new Indian spouse was quickly losing. Gender sensitivity in terms of acceptance of changing work and family roles of the female spouse by the male spouse was another important area that the experts talked about.

Discussions with these family-intervention experts brought out the following areas as possible aspects to be included in family life education program for the younger-generation workforce:

  • Gender sensitivity
  • Parenting skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Adaptability to change
  • Balancing work and the family
  • Communication skills
  • Socialization and social support
  • Money management
  • Choosing a life partner
  • Sexuality and intimacy
  • Dealing with violence and addiction

The experts definitely seemed to sense the need for some form of education or training for the young Indian adult who is either contemplating family life or is a new entrant into marriage or parenthood.

DISCUSSION

Family issues that eat into employees' ability to perform or affect his cognitive and emotional state of being need to be addressed. A promotive and preventive strategy rather than a curative one would have to be adopted for this purpose. Relationship-focused family life education programs for the target group of employees at the workplace may actually serve to fulfill this purpose, whereby employees, through group interaction and experiential learning, can be taught skills to deftly handle family-life conflicts either by themselves or through the support of mental health professionals.

Thus a mental health professional need not be there merely to diffuse a difficult situation arising out of deviance of an employee. He or she may act as a preventive agent of avoiding such deviance from arising, by tackling the problem at the root by pre-equipping the family with the necessary psychoeducation and skills.

Footnotes

Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared

REFERENCES

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Articles from Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine are provided here courtesy of Medknow Publications