Work experiences have always varied based on gender, and it’s looking like those differences can bleed into the home office too.
The percentage of U.S. employees logging in from the comfort of their own homes more than tripled since 2019, in what is turning into one of the most important and lasting legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work changed everything about how white-collar employees approach their jobs, and may even be helping level the playing field for women and minorities who reported feeling more comfortable and treated more fairly when working from home.
But as remote work becomes more ingrained in our culture, some women working from home are finding out that some traditional gender roles can’t be escaped just yet.
In husband-and-wife couples who both work from home at the same time, men end up doing fewer household and family tasks than when they were in the office while women with flexible schedules are discovering they have a lot more chores on their plate than they did before in addition to their regular job, new research led by The Ohio State University found.
The research, published in the Personnel Psychology journal, combines the findings of two separate studies carried out on married dual-earner couples at different stages of the pandemic. The first study was conducted in China between April and May 2020, while the second was done in South Korea between June and August 2021.
The studies surveyed more than 230 couples, some with children and some without, over two-week periods on their remote work experiences and how their habits changed, finding significant differences in how remote work changed people’s home lives depending on their gender.
“There are still some gendered differences in how they manage their job and family responsibilities,” she added.
The study concluded that when men had flexible work schedules and worked from home at least some of the time, wives who also worked from home found themselves handling significantly more household chores and tasks than before. Additionally, wives were more likely to report feeling guilty about not working on household chores or spending time with their families than their husbands.
The study found the burden of unclear boundaries between work and home life tends to fall on women’s shoulders more often, which could lead to more frequent instances of “inter-role conflict, psychological withdrawal from work and feelings of guilt concerning work for their employer.”
Amplified gender differences
The study supports other findings throughout the pandemic that while women may be more likely to want to work from home than men, their experiences are rarely the same as remote work has compounded some traditional gender roles.
A Yale-led 2020 study found that women with children who worked remotely were more likely to experience symptoms of burnout and depression including anxiety and loneliness than fathers who also worked from home.
The study found that mothers who worked from home ended up spending significantly more time on housework and family duties, in what amounted to a “disproportionate” amount of extra work compared to fathers. Researchers also concluded that women were more than three times more likely than men to be their child’s main caregiver during the pandemic.
In the early days of the pandemic and remote working, women routinely had worse working-from-home experiences than men. A June 2020 study by McKinsey found that while 79% of men reported positive remote work experiences, only 37% of women could say the same.
Despite the inequalities, many women still say they prefer working from home nearly three years after remote work disrupted traditional schedules. Nine in 10 women reported wanting to work primarily remotely in an October 2022 report by McKinsey, with many saying they experience fewer microaggressions and feel psychologically safer at home. The preference for remote work was especially salient for women of color, LGBT women, or women with disabilities.
Clearly defined hybrid schedules and role-sharing when partners work from home together could help resolve tensions, as remote work is unlikely to become a passing trend according to The Ohio State University’s Hu.
“COVID-19 forever changed how we work. Remote working is going to become much more of a norm,” she said. “These findings suggest that husbands could help remote working wives when they have more flexible work schedules and do more family tasks when their wives have more rigid work schedules.”
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