McKinsey & Company’s annual Women in the Workplace report is the largest study of its kind. The 2021 report was just released, and while highlighting the expected struggles of underrepresentation, intersectional experiences, and burnout, the following quote from a woman VP stood out: “I definitely think emotional labor is being taken for granted. We’re so focused on revenue as opposed to the skills required to manage teams remotely in a COVID world. I don’t think those skills and emotional labor are being formally recognized or that there’s any strong awareness around it.”
Breaking down emotional labor
Much like the struggle to recognize the economic contributions of childcare for stay-at-home parents, there could be a similar gap in the working world. The definition of emotional labor being used here is that of unpaid, invisible work. While invisible, this work is an important part of problem-solving in the workplace.
Consider those who take on extra mentoring and counseling of employees in the workplace — surely that is work, albeit unpaid? According to the report, 31% of women managers provided emotional support to their direct reports, compared to just 19% of male managers.
As the pandemic continued, new support needs emerged. Managers were suddenly expected to support anxiety, uncertainty, depression, grief, and a whole host of other wellbeing conditions. By and large, women stepped up to the plate more than men.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion also came into the spotlight. The report found that senior-level women leaders were twice as likely as senior-level male leaders to take on this important work. In many companies, this work is in addition to their actual job — and there is no formal recognition for these efforts. What’s more disconcerting, is that the report states that while 87% of companies think this work is critical, only 25% say this work is substantively recognized.
Being the voice for many people
According to the report, 42% of women say they are often burned out, compared to 32% a year ago. Burnout is partially caused by workload and environment — and now women are in an environment where they are carrying not only their emotional burden from the last year, but that of their employees. They take on the active role of being a champion for their team to help their voices be heard. That’s a lot of work.
Leveling the emotional labor workload
Just as important parts of the employee experience such as company culture and inclusion are the job of all employees, so should sharing the emotional labor workload. Companies can do this in a few ways. For example, how about updating manager performance standards? Is it feasible to add a section around mentoring, listening, and empathy training?
Teams can also have a conversation about what constitutes emotional labor at work. Often, what looks like resistance to change is just a lack of clarity. Clearly identify for managers the type of actions and behaviors they can take to share the emotional labor load and check in on their colleagues.
Wellbeing at work is the job of all, not just a select few.