Work-life balance eroding
Getting up every morning these days, I often feel like falling asleep again, but with nightmares. The unrelenting daily rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths is wearing us all down. Some days I try to avoid social media, telling myself that maybe the less I know, the less I'll worry.
On Thursday morning, I saw news that Melbourne, which has already endured one of the world's longest and toughest lockdowns, was heading back into enforced isolation for seven days after another Covid outbreak. Taiwan, meanwhile, is now in the grip of its first major Covid surge after almost 18 months of nearly unblemished success keeping the virus at bay.
In Japan, the government was hoping to lift its state of emergency last Friday. Instead, it has extended it until June 20. Only 5% of the population has been vaccinated, and a huge majority now believe the Tokyo Olympics in July should be scrapped. Even the Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Games, joined the chorus in an editorial last week.
Everyone is worried about Covid, but the pandemic has hit women particularly hard. This point was reinforced in a report I read by the consultancy Deloitte Global. Women @ Work: A Global Outlook, showed that 77% of respondents say their workload has increased since the pandemic began, and that has led to deep dissatisfaction.
Increased responsibilities, the report says, are having a devastating impact on working women, with 51% of those surveyed less optimistic about their career prospects. Additionally, respondents reported a 35-point drop in mental health and a 29-point drop in motivation at work compared to before the pandemic.
"Women are also taking on more responsibilities of managing household and caregiving tasks: 59% say they're spending more time on domestic tasks; 35% are spending more time caring for children; and 24% cite more time caring for dependents other than children," the report noted.
On this point, I count myself lucky because I have no children and live in a tiny condo in Bangkok, so I have less housework than the majority of my peers.
Sadly, the survey results suggest that many women's wellbeing has suffered significantly: Only one-third consider their mental wellbeing today to be "good" or "extremely good", compared with 68% prior to the pandemic.
Women are now worried about the impact of their mental health on their careers -- 29% of those who said their career isn't progressing as fast as they would like "point to poor mental health as a major contributing factor", the report points out.
Employers, meanwhile, have been failing to adequately support their workforce, in the view of respondents. Only 22% of women believe their employers have helped them "establish clear boundaries between work and personal time".
Most women feel they have to be "always on" at work, and 63% feel their employers are evaluating them based on the amount of time they spend online versus the quality of their work.
While my boss is not so demanding, I can relate to the sentiments expressed because my own work-life balance is gone. While working from home saves me time normally spent travelling between home and office, I can't separate work from my personal life, and I think this is the case for many women.
An annual study by the US-based mobile access technology company Kisi released last week indicated that Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are among the most stressed cities while Helsinki, Oslo and Zurich top the table for promoting the most holistic work-life balance.
I'm not surprised by Bangkok's showing. Along with Hong Kong and Singapore, Thailand's capital has the most overworked populations (20-30%) in the study, while in Japan 26.3% of men overwork compared to 8.3% of women.
"While every city in the index suffered from economic, social and structural changes, some have been able to navigate these challenges better due to pre-existing frameworks as well as newly created support systems for their citizens," said Kisi.
There are several actions organisations can take now to address this critical issue. They include prioritising work-life balance and flexible working options that extend beyond workplace policies. Creating a more inclusive and trusting culture where women feel they are better supported would help also.
While this has undoubtedly been a challenging time for women, empowering us to succeed in life outside of work should also enable success at work, where fulfilling development opportunities that build skills and expertise should be the priority.
Acting Asia Focus Editor
Acting Asia Focus Editor