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The Division of Household Labor Is Still a Problem–and Employers Can Help Fix It

Household chores can put a strain on employees–especially if they’re taking on more than their fair share.

Gender imbalance of domestic duties is (perhaps unsurprisingly) a common issue in opposite-gender dual-career relationships, recent research from McKinsey shows. More than half of women in these relationships say they take on more household labor than their partner, even if they bring in two-thirds or more of their total household income. Same-gender dual-career couples are more likely to report an equal division of household labor, no matter who brings in the majority of the household income.

This discrepancy can contribute to burnout and workplace inequity for women who spend more time on household labor, the study’s authors note, and they say that outdated gender roles aren’t the only factor that contributes to this problem. Businesses also play a role in the benefits they offer to their employees. The study’s authors note that companies that add flexible work arrangements and equitable paid leave can help lessen the imbalanced division of domestic labor.

Working mothers feel more judged when asking for flexible work arrangements and worry about the impact of such an ask on their career, when compared to working fathers. Women are also more likely to fear being seen as less committed and having to work harder to get noticed when working remotely, compared to men in similar positions, McKinsey’s research shows. The authors of this study drew data from McKinsey’s seventh annual Women in the Workplace report, published in September, which surveyed more than 65,000 people on their experience in the workplace. 

The situation can be amplified in hybrid workplaces. A different study shows that employers and managers tend to favor the employees who report to the office in person versus those who remain remote. This type of “proximity bias” is more likely to favor white male workers, according to research from by Slack’s research consortium, Future Forum.

Ultimately, if you offer flexible work arrangements to employees, don’t punish the ones who take advantage of them. And beyond just offering generous paternity and maternity leave, businesses should also consider the child care needs of employees–which can hold back top talent from the workforce. 

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