Women are “maxing out and burning out” because of COVID-19, says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

women overworked covid-19

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Source: TED Talks.

Facebook chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg says the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a “double-double shift” for women, and it is pushing most to the breaking point.

In an op-ed for Fortune, co-authored by her fellow LeanIn.org co-founder Rachel Thomas, Sandberg writes that before the pandemic hit in the US, women were already working a “double shift”. They were doing their paid jobs, then returning home where they were often responsible for all the childcare and domestic work.

Now, amid the crisis of the pandemic, with homeschooling and caring for elderly relatives on the cards, women are disproportionately the ones working day and night to keep their families and households afloat.

According to survey data from LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey, if you consider the schedule of a typical woman who works full-time and has a partner and children, she’s now spending “71 hours every week on housework and caregiving, including the new responsibilities of the pandemic”.

Sandberg and Thomas say this equates to nearly two full-time jobs — before she starts doing her actual full-time job.

Men in the same situation, on the other hand, are doing 20 fewer hours of labour every week.

The demand is so high on women, that one in four say they are experiencing severe anxiety with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat. One in 10 men say the same.

Astonishingly, the survey data indicates that 31% of women with full-time jobs and families say they have more to do than they can possibly handle. Notably, 13% of working men with families say the same.

For Sandberg and Thomas, it means that men need step up on the home front. Splitting the “double double shift” will help ensure women recover from the pandemic with their jobs and mental and physical health intact.

And it’s also key that employers work to relieve some of this stress on women during the pandemic.

According to the survey data, only 40% of employees say their companies or employers have taken steps to increase flexibility since the pandemic began. Less than 20% say their employer has “rejiggered priorities or narrowed the scope of their work”.

“Leaders and managers should move any deadline that can be moved, take a second look at targets set before the pandemic, rethink the timing of performance reviews, and remove low-priority items from the to-do list,” Sandberg and Thomas write.

The LeanIn.org co-founders also say that it’s time managers become leaders, by giving their teams emotional wellbeing support.

“If employees are homeschooling kids or worrying about a parent in the hospital, their managers should know that and adjust work plans accordingly.”

Holding regular “stand up” meetings, to let employees quickly share what they’re working on, flag problems, readjust priorities on the fly and ask for help, is one tip offered by Sandberg and Thomas.

Of course, solutions at a government level are vital too. In the US, things such as increasing the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid leave and affordable childcare should be priorities.

As Sandberg and Thomas write, “women are maxing out and burning out”.

“All of us — employers, managers, elected officials, and spouses — need to help lighten their loads.”

This piece was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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