“The American workplace was set up on the assumption employees had partners who would stay home to do the unpaid work.”
The word “workaholic” implies a problematic relationship with one’s career—yet it’s often applauded in corporate culture. Despite the recent push to foster work-life balance, many people are still burdened by employers who demand greater and greater shares of workers’ time and attention.
Melinda Gates says that kind of pressure paired with responsibilities at home is especially harmful for moms. And she’s calling for it to stop.
In a new column on LinkedIn titled “We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads,” Gates argues “the American workplace was set up based on the assumption that employees had partners who would stay home to do the unpaid work of caring for family and tending to the house.”
This ignores the realities of modern-day family life, in which many women are working and doing the bulk of unpaid work at home. As a result, some moms burn out—and take their valuable skills and perspectives with them when they leave.
Yet, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction in many ways.
“In fact, most companies are asking employees to work more. The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50,” she says. “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.”
Meanwhile, Gates says policies that could help—such as more affordable child care, flexible hours or even a place for moms to pump—can feel hard to come by.
While we are seeing a rise in the number of stay at home dads, most moms are still doing double duty by shouldering the majority of the childcare and household responsibilities. A recent survey found the average mom works 98 hours a week, and according to Gates, employers are piling even more work onto plates that are already overflowing.
When work bleeds into our home time, it’s not only stressful for us, but for our kids. A study out of the University of Michigan last year found parents' who feel compelled to check the work emails after-hours experience internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with their kids.
But Gates thinks there are solutions on the horizon.
She points to diversity, mentorship programs and pro-family policies as culture-shifting changes—and this means taking some personal responsibility: While top-down corporate culture created the work-life balance problem, Gates thinks the solutions will come from the ground up.
Basically, we have to stop congratulating people for working 24/7 and start valuing work-life balance within our own teams. As Gates says, “When it comes to the future of work, it’s clear that we all have a role to play.”