The Invisible Burdens We Keep: Emotional Labor and Work-Life Balance for Women

| Kate Gigax

women work-life balance burden emotional laborIf you are a regular Wireboard reader, you already know that we think work-life balance is more about counterbalancing the various areas of the busy lives we lead.  That counterbalancing act looks different for everyone, and lately I have been enjoying the unique brand of challenge that women face when it comes to work-life balance.

 

That begs the question of "What about balance is unique to women?"

 

We are more likely to carry a heftier load due to the additional—and often invisible—roles we assume at home and at work that make the notion of balance even more elusive. 


A recent viral Facebook post describes the load mothers, specifically, carry: “I am the keeper,” the blogger, Cameron Poynter, writes. “I am the keeper of schedules. Of practices, games, and lessons. Of projects, parties, and dinners.” She highlights the intangibles that “keepers” maintain, as well: “I am the keeper of the peace. The mediator of fights, the arbiter of disputes, the facilitator of language, the handler of differing personalities. I am the keeper of worry. Theirs and my own.”  

 

Sound familiar? Poynter is not the first to name it, she simply strummed the pain in such a relatable way that the post was shared nearly 100,000 times.


Being a “keeper” is not linked to motherhood or the home, but rather to gender roles. For example, being a keeper in the workplace involves taking on emotional laborwhich could include anything from tending to relational dynamics to remembering details about people’s lives. Dating back to 1977, Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter noted in her book Men and Women of the Corporation that women are the caretakers of “office housework” in the corporate world. Women at all levels of an organization are more likely to plan celebrations, clean up after meetings, and take notes. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant recently noted in a New York Times article, while women are expected to do more of this work, they don’t get credit for it and suffer backlash when they refuse to do it.


Sound familiar?  You might be corporate “keeper” if this strums your pain…


I am the keeper.  

I am the keeper of details and dynamics. Of who should not sit with whom at the board meeting.  

I am the keeper of who has an ailing parent or a child going off to college. Of who should be nominated for the award and who should be put on probation.

I am the keeper of the document to maintain version control, the taker of notes at the meeting, and the one who captures the group’s ideas on a flip chart.  

I am the keeper of solutions. Of mea culpas for missteps and top cover for my team.

I am the reason why food appears and often the only one who thinks to clean it up as everyone files out of the room.

I am the orderer of dinner when we work late, the organizer of farewell happy hours, and the bearer of bagels when the weeks are long.  

I am the caller for help from facilities when a light is out.

 

Not because it is in my job description. No, these things are things that others could do, but they don’t. Or they don’t know how. Or somehow it’s just easier to do it when I see it than explain it to someone who will steal more of my time asking me questions about how to handle it.  You see, my office door is always open even when it should be closed so I can go home.

 

I am the coach, the mender, the mentor, the teacher, the fixer, the do-er, the one who will always roll up her sleeves so balls don’t drop. And rarely is there a “thank you” or a bonus or even acknowledgement.

There isn’t one because I’m not even sure if anyone knows these invisible things I do. And sometimes it makes me resentful.

 

So, to all of you who are keepers of organizations, I see you.

I know the weight of the things you keep. We are doing ourselves a disservice. These invisible burdens we keep are not ours to own.

It’s time to share the burden, to reclaim those hours, to release resentment and prioritize self-care before caring for others.


Stay tuned for my next post on sharing the burdens keepers keep in order to free up time and energy.

 

busy person's guide to work-life balance