Women hit by ‘triple burden’ during lockdown — and this is how to cope

05 May 2021 - 07:00
Women who had to take time off or reduce their work responsibilities to provide support at home in the form of unpaid labour are less likely to be promoted or receive better job opportunities, says corporate wellness expert Ina van der Watt. Stock photo.
Women who had to take time off or reduce their work responsibilities to provide support at home in the form of unpaid labour are less likely to be promoted or receive better job opportunities, says corporate wellness expert Ina van der Watt. Stock photo.
Image: Marcos Calvo Mesa/123rf.com

Women have borne the brunt of the lockdown at home, taking on additional responsibilities and burdens as primary caretakers over and above existing work commitments.

This is according to one of the country’s leading corporate wellness experts who looked at what working mothers, and women in general, sacrificed over the past year.

“This included assisting children with home schooling, increased meal planning and execution and looking after relatives in need of care,” said Ina van der Watt, managing director of Universal Corporate Wellness.

Highlighting a significant gender disparity in the number of calls received over the past year at the counselling helpline run by Universal Corporate Wellness, Van der Watt said 38.5% calls were made by males, while almost double that amount, 61.5%, came from female service users.

The helpline provides counselling to many corporate clients and medical scheme members 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The top three difficulties our callers were experiencing included interpersonal relationship issues, adjustment difficulties and bereavement and loss. This disparity in the data is significant and may indicate the additional responsibilities carried by women made it particularly difficult for them to cope with the family being at home all day, alongside doing their own paid work,” said Van der Watt.

Van der Watt said the knock-on effect of this on women’s careers is yet to be seen.

She said women who had to take time off or reduce their work responsibilities to provide support at home in the form of unpaid labour are less likely to be promoted or receive better job opportunities.

“The effects of added household labour during lockdown are not simply temporary. They can have lifelong consequences for a woman’s career and future earnings potential.

“Furthermore, what we usually refer to as the ‘double burden’ women carry of both a remunerated role in the workplace as well as unpaid labour at home, might be better termed as a triple burden as women also carry the weight of the mental load,” she said.

Van der Watt likens mental load to project management in that it involves anticipating and planning for the needs of the household, scheduling, creating lists and reminding other family members about their tasks.

“This is the work that cannot be seen but requires additional mental energy and without which the household would operate in disorder. The considerable effort required to manage mental load, unpaid household labour and paid work can take its toll on the individual experiencing that level of pressure,” she said.

Van der Watt advised working women in such situations to take steps to protect their mental and physical health.

“Women in modern society have come a long way, yet there is much further to go. In the meantime, we must take care of ourselves our health, as well as our families and careers, depend on it.

“The past year has put a spotlight on the additional burdens women continue to shoulder, over and above their breadwinning contributions. It is important this societal legacy is addressed if we are to move forward on a more equitable footing.”

She offered these 12 tips for coping:

Personal

  • Get your lifestyle basics in check by eating healthily, exercising for 150 minutes spread over the week and getting between seven and nine hours sleep every night.
  • Share the load have an open and honest conversation with your partner about dividing the household tasks and the planning of them. 
  • Engage in one or two hobbies you love and remain socially connected, even if remotely.

Family

  • Keep communication lines open with your partner and your children. Encourage everyone to express how they feel in a calm manner and work together as a team to support one another. Maintain the family connection with a weekly game night or other fun activity.
  • Plan and take holidays during the year. If finances are a challenge, explore more affordable options to what you may have done in the past.
  • Manage social media. A family social media schedule and content guidelines can help to avoid stressful online interactions and overuse of screens.

Work

  • If working from home, create a dedicated workspace and set boundaries around your space and work hours so you can focus.
  • Create a daily routine including scheduled breaks. You will achieve more with focused work hours and a refreshed mind.
  • Touch base with work colleagues and managers for support when you need it. You will come off stronger by getting a job done well with a little help than by scraping through on your own.

General

  • Build in slack. Adding an extra 15 minutes to your morning routine, for example, to accommodate life’s little surprises can help you to start your day on time and unflustered.
  • Set realistic expectations. This applies to yourself as well as others. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.
  • Recognise stress triggers. When you feel stress coming on, try to practice mindfulness with a breathing exercise to help you regain focus.

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