While working mothers often take on a major portion of housework and child care, that burden has grown exponentially since the pandemic began. Moms are three times as likely as dads to shoulder the lion's share of the family workload, according to Lean In's 2020 Women in the Workplace report.
Lean In also reveals that mothers are twice as likely as fathers to worry that their performance will be viewed negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities. As a result, three in ten working moms think about downshifting their careers or quitting altogether.
Some companies are trying to be responsive to these increasing stresses and demands on female workers. For example, Facebook and Twitter have announced that they will allow employees to work from home permanently and other companies have tried to offer more flexible work arrangements.
But many women are discovering that working from home or having flexible work arrangements doesn't automatically solve the work/life conundrum because women often face a larger domestic burden when the amount of time they spend at home increases.
For mothers, there is the added stress of trying to work productively while supervising children who are quarantined at home or attending school virtually during the pandemic.
Despite the challenges, working from home or having a flexible schedule is still a desirable option for many women. But in order to make it work professionally and personally, it's important to set parameters with your employer:
- Set a schedule. If you say you're going to end work at 5 p.m. each day, then do it. If you start to fudge on those hours, before you know it, later hours will become the expectation. It's also important to set times during your day — such as lunchtime — to spend time with your family and attend to their needs. Ask a trusted work colleague or a family member to hold you accountable and make sure you stick to your schedule.
- Communicate often. It's a good idea to send texts, Slack messages or emails to others about when you'll be offline, especially if they're expecting input from you on a project or have an upcoming deadline. Make sure any internal office calendar records your schedule and upcoming work commitments, such as Zoom meetings.
- Be dependable. Set a few office hours each day when you'll be available via phone or Zoom so that it's easy for colleagues or the boss to reach you. This will help ensure that you're not getting calls or emails at odd hours because colleagues can't find you during the day.
- Mark your territory. Having a dedicated work space is critical if you are going to draw a line between your work and home life. Using a laptop on your bed, for example, provides the temptation to edit a report or check email before going to sleep. Instead, set up a work space that you can "shut down" at the end of your day and don't "enter" until the next day begins. This is possible, even in a small space.
- Embrace your work mojo. Everyone has something that gets them in the zone for work. Whether it's exercising early in the morning, doing your hair and makeup, dressing professionally, or listening to certain music or podcasts, these rituals are important to maintain, even when you are working from home. The same goes for the end of the day — embrace the rituals that signal your day is done, such as taking your dog for a walk or doing yoga.
Even before Covid-19 reared its head, women were trying to juggle the demands of their work and home life, and that burden has only increased with the pandemic. It's more important than ever that women learn to set boundaries to find a healthy balance in their lives.