Research Shows Men Benefit More from Work-Life Accommodations than Women
Women may make up half of the workforce, but they put in far longer days on average than men do. And the hours women log often go unpaid. Women continue to perform the majority of “second-shift” work — housework, errands, and child-rearing — than their male counterparts, despite strides toward equality.
Perhaps there’s no better example of this phenomenon than in the arena of flexible work arrangements. Although many employers implemented such benefits in an attempt to appeal to women, a recent study indicates men benefit more from them than women do.
While the study’s originator claims the disparity exists because men place a greater premium on leisure time, it’s more likely that a patriarchal society designed around male needs makes the so-called stronger sex lazier, leaving women to pick up their slack.
How Prevalent is the Problem of Second-Shift Labor?
The New York Times recently described emotional labor as work someone performs to fulfill expectations, but that goes unnoticed. Recently, the term entered the mainstream to define tasks women often perform without receiving thanks for doing so, such as housework and even writing out Christmas cards. Some writers take umbrage with using the term in this manner. They say the concept truly refers to managing your emotions in the workplace, like keeping a smile on your face when dealing with an irate customer.
Perhaps semantically, the term “second-shift labor” makes more sense. But regardless of the chosen terminology, the fact remains women do far more of the housework than men do. The exhaustion from all this additional off-the-clock work often hinders a woman’s career growth.
In trying to answer the question of why so few women occupy the corner suite, companies look to factors such as child-rearing responsibilities that do fall primarily upon female shoulders. In an attempt to level the playing field, many workplaces have instituted flexible work arrangements. Some such accommodations allow staff to choose the hours they begin and end their days. Others allow telecommuting on a part- or full-time basis. Still more combine traits of both organizational structures.
However, to date, such measures fail to elevate more women to the level of top management. Why? The answer may lie in the additional burdens women face after clocking out for the day.
In one study, women in senior management stated they are seven times more likely to do more than half the housework than their male counterparts. This arrangement hardly proves compatible with top management positions, which often require long hours and copious overtime. Women who do manage to do it all do so at the risk of their physical and emotional health.
Another study in the U.K. found women perform 60% more unpaid work than men do. Considering housework alone creates trillions of hours of unpaid labor annually, that’s a significant investment of time — time women cannot use for exercising, preparing healthful meals or even taking a much-needed vacation.
Second-shift labor destroys female productivity in the workplace, especially as increasing competition causes many staff members to pass on taking needed breaks at the office. For example, in the U.S., 38% of all workers state they feel discouraged from taking so much as a lunch break at work. This belief contradicts the findings of productivity studies, all of which confirm taking regular breaks boosts overall performance.
Women run themselves ragged every day. And while employers may design flexible work accommodations to help women succeed, sometimes such policies cause females more stress than they relieve.
When Flexible Work Arrangements Result in More Stress for Women
Professor Hideo Noda points out in his study that men “demonstrate a higher elasticity, especially for personal and leisure time. This suggests that the time devoted to leisure and personal care is more important to men than it is to women.” With all due respect to the good professor, such a supposition flies in the face of both reality and basic common sense.
When men enjoy flexible working accommodations, they tend to take advantage of such arrangements more often than women do. It likely isn’t due to women needing flextime less. Rather, the difference stems from societal expectations of men and women.
Consider this: Nearly 80% of men report they feel comfortable asking for flex time working arrangements. And they’re likely to be approved for it more often than women, even though females may need such accommodations more.
A U.K. study performed using transcripts of conversations employees had with their managers regarding flexible work arrangement revealed 70% of male requests for such accommodations got the stamp of approval. In comparison, managers approved only 57% of female requests for such arrangements. The same managers ranked the same male colleagues as more likable and more committed to their jobs.
When men take flex time, they do increase their involvement with their children and households. They’re also more likely to use the additional time to exercise or take care of personal needs such as visiting a physician. Women, on the contrary, often use the extra hours to shuttle the kids to school and soccer practice, prep and clean up after family meals and tidy the home. This use of time deprives them of any restorative properties of flexible work accommodations and increases their stress levels.
These habits prove exhausting. As anyone who ever worked in customer service can aver, pleasing others takes a lot of work. It’s not that people want to be disagreeable — most possess a genuine desire to help others. But doing so when the emotion is not authentic can lead to insomnia and other health problems. And when a woman feels “on” 24/7, inevitably, her energy levels and physical performance will suffer, as will her mental outlook.
What Women Can Do to Ease Their Burdens
Sadly, the patriarchy likely won’t dissipate anytime soon, so what can women do to protect their health and sanity and find better work-life balance? One method involves letting go of perfection. Often, women grow frustrated with what they consider the lackluster efforts of the men in their life to complete chores. Exasperated, they feel compelled to do everything themselves.
Learning to let go means allowing partners and children to complete their share of chores imperfectly. Offer guidance gently, but resist the urge to take over or repeat their efforts.
Women also benefit from caring for their health through exercise, which provides both physical and mental improvements. Research indicates cardiovascular exercises like walking ease symptoms of mild to moderate depression as well as medication does.
Finally, women benefit from finding female-friendly employers who suggest taking breaks and refrain from judging women for taking advantage of flexible arrangements. They can seek out female mentors and advice on achieving a better work-life balance.
Women Can Benefit From Flex Time as Much as Men
Despite what the recent study found, men require no more time for personal care and recreation than women do. If anything, the female gender seriously needs a break. By addressing societal factors leading to the increased unpaid work burden on women, we can create a more equitable and healthy society for all.