Women Leaders Bear the Brunt of ‘Office Housework’. Here’s Why You Should Compensate Them for It.

Office housework is essential to a company’s success and well-being, but the work itself often goes unpaid and unrecognized. Here’s how to make the work visible—and reward the employees who perform it.
Women Leaders Bear the Brunt of ‘Office Housework’. Here’s Why You Should Compensate Them for It.
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Unloading the dishwasher. Folding laundry. Leading your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. 

All in a day’s (house)work, right? For many leaders, office housework is taking up more and more of their time on the job. But that work isn’t necessarily helping them gain a promotion or even see an increase in their year-end pay. 

And there’s an obvious demographic that takes on the majority of office housework—namely, women. 

That’s what a recent joint study between Lean In and McKinsey & Company called Women in the Workplace found. The report, now in its seventh annual publication, is the largest and most comprehensive study of women in corporate America. 

In particular, the study found that women senior leaders are 60% more likely than male leaders to provide emotional support to their teams and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work-life challenges. 

The problem is: Women aren’t being compensated, rewarded, or recognized for this important, but often invisible work. And it’s leading to organizational problems, like employee burnout and attrition. 

So, what can HR professionals do to right the ship? What advice can they give their leadership teams to heighten the visibility of office housework—and retain the employees who perform these essential tasks?

Here’s our take. 

What Is Office Housework?

Office housework is the work employees—especially women—do that is often outside the scope of their job description, but has been deemed necessary for the overall well-being of a team or company. Office housework often goes unrecognized—and unseen—because it can be emotional in nature and isn’t tied to company goals or key performance indicators (KPIs). 

As such, employees are not typically compensated for this work, even though it may require a large portion of their time. 

Here are some examples of office housework: 

  • Executing initiatives that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace 
  • Practicing allyship 
  • Providing emotional support to team members or colleagues 
  • Helping employees navigate work-life challenges, such as balancing their workload, determining flexible work arrangements, adapting to hybrid work schedules, and so on 

Leaders, especially women leaders who’ve been socialized to take on this kind of work, are now burning out from these additional responsibilities. Without compensation, recognition, or rewards, many are left wondering why they’re doing the work—and some are resigning over it. 

Read more: How to Attract and Retain Your Millennial Talent (When 33% Are Thinking of Quitting)

How Can Companies Retain Employees Who Perform Office Housework?

Given the importance—and the implications—of office housework, here are three ways companies can make this essential work more visible, and show your appreciation to the employees who perform it.  

1. Tie office housework to performance reviews

According to the Women in the Workplace report, 86% of company leaders surveyed said that office housework is “very or extremely” critical, but only 25% said they formally recognize it in performance reviews.  

That’s a huge gap in what companies say is important work—and what they actually measure. 

The fix? Align what you say is important in your culture with how you measure performance. As in, when you’re outlining KPIs for the quarter or year with your employees, document office housework. Then, when it comes to appraising employee performance, review those initiatives, same as you would other performance metrics. 

2. Recognize employees for their contributions

It’s simple: Employees who feel their work is appreciated are more likely to stay. When you recognize employees, you strengthen their relationship with your organization—and ultimately, boost retention. 

Also, remember that the most impactful types of recognition aren’t necessarily what’s fun or flashy. How you give recognition, as well as what you say, should be personal and genuine to the employee. 

Each individual likes to be recognized in different ways. Some may prefer being recognized in a meeting in front of their peers. Others may prefer to be recognized just by you, not in front of other employees. Get to know each individual on your team, and take the time to recognize them in ways that are most meaningful to them.

Supplemental reading: What Awards Shows Get Right About Recognizing Top Talent: 5 Lessons for HR

3. Reward employees for all the work they perform

In other words, put your money where your mouth is. You’ve told employees office housework is essential by putting it on their performance reviews and you’ve recognized them for it through your formal employee recognition program. But, they also deserve to be rewarded for their time and contributions. 

How you compensate them is up to you, but here are a few ideas: 

  • Increase their base pay during your annual performance review process 
  • Award performance-based bonuses 
  • Create an employee incentive plan to reward employees who hit quarterly office housework KPIs
  • Introduce a gift card program as part of your recognition program (and empower managers and peers to award this monetary benefit) 

Office Housework Is Everyone’s Job

… but we know HR leaders, especially women HR leaders, take on a lot of it. 

At Eddy, we help busy HR professionals by taking administrative tasks off your plate, so you can focus on taking care of your employees. 

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