Are you “Always on?” The struggle women face




How often have you felt like you were “always on” since you started working from home? We are “Zoomed out” and the pressure is mounting to find some sanity between work, personal life and the screens in front of us !

COVID-19 has forced companies to have their employees who are not at the front lines work from home. Flexible work that was once inconceivable for many organizations has suddenly became a reality and businesses have been forced to adapt and we now know it can be done!

While this flexible work option has many benefits, it is not without its challenges, especially for women. Women already had a double burden between work and home, and it has just been amplified many fold. Hardly a day passes by when women don’t have to juggle work, care for children, and manage household chores.. Then there is the added burden of lack of access to childcare and the pressures of homeschooling.

The reality is that with competing demands, a lot of women are finding it hard to bring their whole selves to work. The lines between work, home life and children are getting more blurred, and according to the “Women in the Workplace 2020” study by McKinsey & Lean In, women do 20 hours more of housework than men, which is equivalent to a half time job and this is in addition to a full-time job.

As women we know about an “always on” culture and the guilt and conflict that it can create.

Yet despite attempts to keep it all together, women are judged negatively by employers due to family commitments. Mental health issues, burnout, the addition of childcare and homeschooling responsibilities are creating inordinate stress!

It is no surprise that as many as two million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether because of the challenges created by Covid-19, according to the McKinsey report.

The study adds that the pandemic and its aftermath could push a lot of women out of work. Women are struggling at work, are anxious over looming layoffs and are worried about an external environment riddled with instability.

The anxiety over layoffs is impacting women more and today the unemployment rate for women is 16.2% compared to 13.5% for men. In past recessions, women’s work remained steady and men’s declined. The fear of layoffs and unstable work environments are disproportionately impacting women of color.

We are now at an inflection point and the modest gains we’ve made with women in leadership positions (SVP up from 23% to 28% between 2015 and 2020 and C Suite from 17-21%- McKinsey Report) will vanish if we do not address the situation with a sense of immediacy and intentionality!

We will be set back by at least a decade unless organizations take a proactive look at the situation with a sense of urgency and ACT NOW.

So what can companies do?

  • Be flexible, adaptable and accommodating while designing work from home policies for all employees including women.

  • Communicate with authenticity- instead of hiding facts, keep employees informed about the financial performance of the company. Keep communications simple, focused and clear.

  • Be ready to calibrate expectations depending on the reality of the situation.

  • Analyze the performance management process and fine tune it with a sensitivity to external realities.

  • Be empathetic to the needs of the employee.

  • Provide genuine holistic resources to support the wellbeing of employees.

  • If you are in a leadership position, be a role model by switching off at the right time and do not be “always on”

  • Allow employees to decompress by giving them time off based on their convenience instead of declaring a company-wide mental health day off.

  • Be mindful of the timings and duration of meetings especially around homeschool classes, as parents need to supervise children.

  • Check in often and begin your meetings with genuineness and care- the dashboards can wait!

  • Always be mindful of the triple burden for women- home, child care and work.