“Getting pushed around in the train early Monday morning, is just the perfect way to wake up,” said 23-year-old Alison, sarcasm writ large on her face. An American working in Mumbai, Alison’s commute to office takes about an hour. Conversations about the inconveniences associated with commuting have become as common as talking about the weather. The increasing amount of traffic, and inadequate public transport do not bode well for women who work long hours and also have a family to take care of.
According to IBM’s 2011 Commuter Pain Index, 70 per cent of respondents in New Delhi said traffic was “a key inhibitor to work or school performance”. The study also pinned Bangalore as the sixth most painful city to drive in in the world.
Long commutes pose health risks for both women and men. For women, long commutes and the lack of public toilets means that they often end up holding off going to the bathroom for long periods of time, which could cause bladder and kidney infections. According to a report from the U.K’s Office of National Statistics, a commute of over half an hour to work causes anxiety, lower life satisfaction, risk of depression, and of course lack of sleep.
Travelling long distances alone at late hours also brings up safety issues for women. Lack of adequate infrastructure and transportation combined with company policies and cultures that do not take health and family issues seriously, makes for a hellish weekday for a lot of working women.
Though many companies, especially the multinationals are instituting flexi-work hour policies, there is still a long way to go, especially in the unorganised sector.
There are many stories of women whose organisations do not make it easy for them to have a family. A married friend, who asked not be named, lives in Lokhandwala, while her office is in the Lower Parel area in Mumbai, which is over an hour away with traffic. Her job requires her to arrive at office by 6 in the morning, and for the first few weeks after she joined no pick up service had been arranged. She often stays back till later than 6 in the evening. “My boss doesn’t understand that I have family obligations,” she said, saying that she was exhausted. “It would be impossible to think of starting a family while at this job.”
It’s no surprise that there are hardly any women at leadership levels in the company.
Living close to work versus the commute can turn out to be a tradeoff because of high rents. “My commute was around four hours a day and it made it difficult to do anything other than work and commute. However, now that I live closer to work, I miss the money I saved by commuting,” says 26 year old Veda, who lives on her own.
Many try and use their commute productively. Subha who works at Raincraft in Bangalore says she uses her return journey to catch up with friends. “It helps to reach home in a good mood and not filled with road rage!” “In the mornings I would immerse myself in work calls or emails as it helps to clear things off the plate and free time during the work day.”
Sapna, who works at Infosys, says she is lucky that she lives ten minutes away from her job. “Otherwise it would be unbearable,” she says.
Of course some companies do acknowledge the problems of the commute on work-life balance. When Penguin, a publishing company that was based in South Delhi, where most of its women employees lived, moved to Gurugram, it instituted flexi hours. Employees were given the option of coming in as early as 8 am in order to leave at 4 pm and avoid traffic.
Future Group has also given its employees similar options. The office, which is based in Vikhroli, allows its employees to come in at any time between 830 am and 1030 am. Lots of other multinational and public companies have tried to adopt similar policies.
Even small and private companies think about work-life balance for their employees. A lawyer who works at a private finance company says that her office is also quite flexible. She arrives to office after dropping her 11 year old daughter to the bus station, and leaves work at 5:30 so she can spend time with her 6 year old son and her daughter. A company secretary for a family business, who travels to Nariman Point everyday from Thane, she says her boss allows her to come into office as late as 11:30, and always arranges for her travel back home if she has to stay back late.