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You may have heard of women shouldering the ‘mental load’ in terms of household chores but did you know it can also affect your work life?
Think about all the invisible work that’s not officially on your job description. The mental load is essentially unrecognized responsibilities that you take on because….well, if you don’t who will?
This could be anything from taking notes at meetings and organizing birthday cards & gifts, to formatting reports and keeping the shared kitchen tidy.
Women are seen to be the ‘best’ people for this extra work because they have this role at home or they volunteer for it. Once it’s something that you ‘do’ however, it can be incredibly difficult to stop doing it. Being responsible for remembering certain things can be exhausting.
It can start affecting your mental and physical health. For instance, if you’re sick you may feel you can’t take the day off because the office might fall apart if you’re not there. Likewise you may feel you can’t take a holiday because no one will pick up the slack when you’re away.
The Unrecognized Manager
It’s little wonder that many women consider themselves the CEO of their household. With all the remembering, planning, organizing, scheduling and negotiation that goes on, if it were a ‘real job’ it would be bringing in the big bucks.
But being a CEO of your household doesn’t come with a paycheck to match. It’s unpaid work to coordinate kids, pets, meals, shopping, and appointments on a daily basis to make sure everyone gets where they need to be, and is washed, fed and clothed.
In an ideal world the running of the household would be divided equally. But more often than not the mental load falls to women, as they’re deemed to be ‘best at’, ‘more suited’ or even ‘more interested’ in domestic chores than men.
Men are surprised when their partner gets snappy or stressed out, because they only had to ‘ask for help’. This article illustrates how asking for help doesn’t relieve women of their mental load because they’re still the designated manager that has to remember that things have to be done in the first place.
For many women, the mental load can also be something they struggle with at work. It’s easy to let scope creep happen on your job description. Before you know it you’re the one keeping the coffee pot full, booking meeting rooms, or organizing team outings.
So What’s the Answer?
While your invisible work may appear to keep the office running smoothly, it isn’t work that you can add to your CV. It’s not something that will help you get promoted. And it isn’t helping your productivity.
Becoming more aware of your mental load both at home and at work is the first step. If you’re increasingly tired, grumpy and stressed out then take a look at why you’re feeling that way. Ask yourself:
- Am I taking on lots of extra chores and tasks that I don’t really want to do?
- Do I feel resentful of my partner, boss, colleagues?
- Do I feel like things will fall apart if I don’t do a certain chore or task?
It could be that you enjoy a particular chore or task. Some people love ironing, for example, but hate cooking. You might like taking meeting notes, but hate having to water the office plants.
By identifying exactly what you like doing and what you don’t, it gives you more leverage for the next step – lightening your mental load.
How to Lighten the Mental Load
Ultimately the goal is for you to become more productive, re-energized and less stressed at home and at work.
One approach is to simply stop doing the things you don’t want to do. This can have mixed results, as one woman found out. Another is to be more vocal about chores and tasks that you feel need to be shared in the household and at work.
Setting up a roster for recurring tasks can help to build awareness and make the work visible. People may just not be aware that you do so much, or think that you like doing it.
It may take time to shift attitudes and create more of an equal footing, so you need to stay strong and not slip back into old habits! By shrinking your mental to-do list, and relegating some of the work you do to others, you’ll give yourself more time to focus on your own goals.
For further reading check out some more ways you can make space to think, create and thrive!
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