When Priya* (37) started working from home since the start of the pandemic, she noticed a sudden shift in the distribution of household chores between her and her husband. Citing examples, the team lead for a Bengaluru-based edtech company said that when she used to go to work, the job of putting the laundry out to dry and taking care of their three dogs was divided between themselves. “The minute I started working from home, it was assumed that since I’m home, I will have the time to manage the bulk of domestic responsibilities,” she adds.
Like Priya, scores of people have been forced to work from home since the outbreak of Covid-19. While many have revelled in the shorter commute, enjoying more time with family and casual clothing options, the situation hasn’t been the same across genders. A recent report by Pink Ladder, an organisation focusing on career growth for women, revealed that four out of 10 working women in India were facing anxiety and stress issues linked to the work-from-home situation.
The survey which covered over 250+ female professionals from various industries across Tier-I and Tier-II Indian cities shed light on the delicate balancing act that women who are working from home are forced to do. It noted that 50 percent of respondents reported motivational challenges while nearly three-fourths of the women shared that the time spent on each task had increased exponentially.
Several reports have revealed that while women were doing the majority of unpaid household chores at home, the lockdown has inevitably increased their workload due to the unavailability of household help. With more people at home during the day, the number of chores and time spent also shot up accordingly. Even among people in the same income groups and weekly work hours, stark differences were observed during the lockdown where women spend more time on household chores than men.
Disproportionate burden on women
Women were also tasked with the majority of child-rearing duties including ensuring that children attend online classes and keep up with their education and socialising needs, leaving working mothers with very little time for themselves. Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Sadaf Vidha recalls how a client was particularly frustrated with her husband due to his lack of attention to their child’s schoolwork, leading her to take it up herself despite being preoccupied.
Amidst a surge in responsibilities, the Pink Ladder report pointed out that one of the major challenges women faced was managers not respecting timings. Many have said that the new normal has blurred boundaries between workspace and home. 40 percent of the respondents also reported an increase in anxiety and stress. The study also said that women were becoming victims of the ‘double burden syndrome’, juggling both personal and professional commitments.
“It’s become hard for people to differentiate work from home and rest because the number of tasks is unending. But when laptops used to be at the office, there was scope to still switch off even if certain things were remaining,” remarked Vidha. The lack of separation has led to overworking and burnout while not impacting the overall productivity, she explained. She added that for women, who are mostly raised from an early age to worry about household tasks, the pressure is amplified to take up more of it even when their professional work doesn’t allow for it.
The work never ends
The absence of a physical workplace has also taken away a crucial support system that women often leaned on as working professionals. At home, they are often seen as mothers and wives before they are viewed as workers who have their own schedules and work to complete.
Priya shared that she felt the need to have a conversation with her husband when he started slipping into patterns of assuming that she would be free to supervise tasks like repairs simply because she was at home, which would often clash with her work commitments.
Vidha pointed out that women also often fall into a cycle where they would rather do the work themselves rather than have to keep reminding other male members of the family to take up their load. “They end up doing a lot more physical tasks including their own work. As a result, they end up feeling frustrated because their concerns are not being understood at home,” she says.
Working from home has not only caused disruptions in family dynamics but has also adversely impacted the physical and mental well-being of employees.
Along with worries over the pandemic and the health of loved ones, Vidha also points to ‘anticipatory anxiety’ that people may be experiencing now. “It leads to a lot of exhaustion, and your brain gets tired of thinking of these scenarios,” she says.
A spike in anxiety and stress has also been linked to poor communication between colleagues and an overall drop in productivity. If organisations wish to see an uptick in performance, they need to address the immediate concerns raised by women.
The report called for more empathy for the various roles that a woman juggles during work from home. It also highlighted the need for sensitivity programmes for male colleagues to be more supportive within their families and at the workplace. The women also emphasised that they require more support from both their employers and families in order to be able to enjoy better work-life balance and get some time to decompress.
(Name changed upon request)