Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
Anja van den Berg
Although there have been hundreds of studies investigating the links between stress at work and the risk of heart attacks and strokes, little research has been done into whether running a home and family has a similar effect.
It turns out that looking after your home is more stressful than being at work. A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine suggest it’s not the workload itself, but the stress about how to cope with both the workload and the household that causes imminent damage due to prolonged tension and high blood pressure.
The research report cites the strongest link to high blood pressure was being worried about how to get domestic chores – such as cleaning, cooking and shopping – done in time. Next came car maintenance and repair, paying the bills and keeping on top of the household budget.
The results showed that those taking on most of the responsibility at home, primarily women, were at greater risk of high blood pressure and related health problems. They were also less likely to advance their careers and sign up for professional development opportunities.
“Both genders play a role in creating this predicament,” says Rebecca Shambaugh, president of a global leadership development organisation and founder of Women in Leadership and Learning. “A recent study from the University of Michigan shows that, in heterosexual married couples, husbands are actually adding seven weekly hours of housework to their wives’ plates.
“But women’s failure to recognise their own limits in the work-life juggle is one of the behaviours that can hold women back from achieving their professional goals.”
Even being a breadwinner doesn’t exempt women from household chores. A 2015 study from McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that “women in senior management are seven times more likely than men at the same level to say they do more than half of the housework.” Women who earn more than their husbands actually end up doing more housework than their spouses.
When women try to be all things to all people and put themselves last, no one wins, Shambaugh says. “If you’re in this situation, figure out what you want the most – a more helpful partner, a hired hand, or simply a break from the grind – and begin by asking for it without feeling guilty.”
Tell your partner what specific actions would make the biggest difference to you, steps that would be real game changers if your spouse were to start doing these things regularly. “Commit to finding out what matters most to both of you,” Shambaugh says, “and see if you can find common ground to get these needs met.”
It’s important to negotiate for fair, not even, Shambaugh continues. While your sense of justice may push for a perfect divide between household tasks so that each spouse takes on exactly half of the burden, a study conducted by Norwegian researchers showed that couples who split housework 50/50 were more likely to divorce. “The lesson is that your partner might interpret insisting on a perfect division of labour as keeping score.” As an alternative, seek fair – but not necessarily even – task distribution so you both feel that you are putting equal effort into the home.
Shambaugh, R. 2017. “Are Chore Wars at Home Holding You Back at Work?”. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/01/are-chore-wars-at-home-holding-you-back-at-work
Alleyne, R. 2011. “Why the stress of household chores is bad for your heart”. The Telegraph, https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-time-consuming-activities-that-stall-womens-careers
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