The emotional burden at home and at work

There has been relatively little attention paid to the role emotional issues play at work as well as to the impact of the mental load at home.

Upset women on the phone


A US study published this week looks at the role of emotions at work and finds, unsurprisingly, that women suffer more negative emotions in relation to work than men, particularly when it comes to promotion and feeling valued at work. This is because of all the additional barriers and bias they face in the workplace as well as the emotional impact of simply growing up female. It’s not because women are excessively emotional.

The study points out that there are few studies on the emotional impact of work, which is interesting in itself because emotions play a significant role in how you approach work, your motivation, engagement and so forth.

Emotions at work are also affected by the emotional burden that people face at home and there has been relatively little investigation of that in relation, for instance, to working parents. I recall having a discussion with a dad about the ‘mental load’ of childcare. He seemed to think this was about doing a series of domestic tasks, such as putting the washing machine on.

I was talking about the mental load of thinking about everyone else, how they are, whether I need to set up playdates with so and so to build friendships, the need to talk to one of the teenagers about how they are feeling about GCSEs and so forth. The emotional burden of making sure everyone is as happy as they can be. It’s a difficult one to measure, but it plays into women’s traditional role as people pleasers and as the emotional glue that keeps the family ticking along. It’s hard to understand if you’re not used to doing it.

This week, for instance, I have spent time worrying about one daughter who has been a bit down after having Covid and whose confidence levels have fallen since she left school. I have suggested all sorts of ideas for things she could do, jobs she could get, etc, and offered practical help to get a job. Another daughter is on the usual school rollercoaster where one minute she is really happy and the next a friendship has gone sour and she is in the pits of depression. I’ve spoken to her about her confidence issues around her looks and talked her through all the various potions and treatments that Youtube has to offer and why they might be a rip-off as well as going on a mini-rant about the way women are made to feel insecure about everything about them in order to push some miracle cure and are then criticised for their interest in shopping. I’ve also apologised for said rant because I know it’s not easy to stand up against the tide of conflicting messages that wash over girls on a daily basis. I’ve helped her plan her work experience in July and do a cv pulling out all her great qualities. I’ve had words with only son about his screen time and tried to explain yet again why he needs to take breaks, suggested books he could read as well as other leisure activities and discussed his feelings about all manner of things, including his sisters.

This is just the immediate family. This stuff is much more difficult than putting on the washing machine, which takes seconds and, unless the washing machine is broken, is usually fairly straightforward.

I was talking to someone recently about their work on an employee network. Much of that is about emotional support. It’s unpaid and usually unrecognised in terms of promotion or additional time allowances. Often people who join networks want to offer that emotional support, particularly if they know the cost of not having it. It can clearly be motivating, but it can also be draining. It would be interesting to look more closely at the role of emotions at home and work and to recognise and value more those who provide the kind of emotional support that keeps us all going, particularly in the kind of hard times that we are living through.

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