Addressing Invisible Labor of Your Employees

Most organizations are reporting challenges to maintaining a fully staffed workforce. Retaining existing employees has become an even higher priority than ever. Naturally, leaders, high performers, and high potentials tend to receive the most attention when it comes to retention. This is understandable given the impact these individuals have on the organization and the cost to replace them. However, that may not be the best strategy for today’s workforce challenges. Instead, it’s important to ask who is disproportionately leaving the organization and why.

As a result of the pandemic, one in four women are currently considering leaving the workforce or taking a step back in their careers. In fact, nearly 1.8 million women dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic. Of those who have left the workforce, three major groups seem to be impacted the most: women in senior management, Black women, and working mothers. In particular, women with children under 10 years old are among the most likely to leave the workforce.

Despite advances for women in the workplace, even in households that report an equal split of household responsibilities between parents, women tend to bear a more significant invisible labor load than men. While household activities like cleaning, lawn care, laundry, cooking, and household maintenance may be divided appropriately between partners, in heterosexual relationships, females report that they shoulder the majority of the mental load for the family. This includes scheduling doctor visits, completing school registration, transportation to school, organizing play dates, getting children ready for school, helping with homework, shopping, caring for sick children, etc. The additional mental workload is exhausting. Although the list may look a bit different, the experience is largely the same for individuals who are caring for ill or elderly family members.

And while an employer cannot solve gendered expectations in the home, they can take steps to reduce burnout by being more in tune with the overall well-being of their employees:

  1. Organizations can support employees by establishing clear boundaries between work and personal lives in a way that reinforces their commitment to work-life balance. For example, in workplaces with an “always-on” culture, employees feel pressured to work late hours and prioritize workplace requests over household needs (and personal rest). Leaders should discourage sending emails after hours, as the recipient will likely feel pulled (physically and mentally) back to the office.
  2. Employers should offer flexible work arrangements where possible. For many caregivers, working remotely allows them to maximize their schedule without losing time on a commute.
  3. It is also important to encourage using paid time off for employees. Leaders should encourage team members to take time off to re-energize. It is critically important that the employee is not responsible for checking emails or responding to calls during that time off. Leaders need to ensure that each employee can disconnect and recharge truly.

Finally, it is essential to have open, honest conversations about stress in the workplace. Leaders should normalize discussions around mental health, burnout, and what each person needs to be successful. The solution for one employee may be as simple as adjusting a work schedule, but if you don’t ask, you won’t know until they turn in their resignation.