Do Women Bear the Heavier Load in Collaborative Work Environments?

Women are more likely to voluntarily assist colleagues, nurture new recruits, and take on jobs such as meeting preparation on behalf of the wider team, according to a study undertaken by the Harvard Business Review. Men are inclined to focus on achieving their own goals, while women work toward the aims of the team, with little in the way of recognition or compensation.

This can result in women feeling overworked and at risk of burnout, which raises questions around whether it is necessary to look at the impact of collaborative work on specific individuals, both in the short term and going forward. It may be important for companies to cross-examine their own policies and practices.

What affect does it have on the workplace and female colleagues?

In the study, women were tending to end up with fuller loads and not actually getting what they needed to get done because they were trying to help everybody else at the same time. This can generate issues around the opportunity and desire for promotion. If women are experiencing burnout at their current level, they may be less inclined to go after a promotion or ask for remuneration increase on the basis their workload will get worse. It’s possible this could impact conversations around too few women in high-level positions too.

On a broader level, it affects the efficiency of team projects, could impact levels of sick leave, and may be part of a wider company culture.

How should a company address the issue?

Uneven workload and its associated issues is likely to be very specific to individual workplaces and more of a problem in organisations where collaborative working is the norm. Where people are working individually, these issues are less likely to come through.

The task for management is to identify overload by being on the lookout for how projects are being divided and for colleagues who are working late or not hitting deadlines. It’s also important that colleagues who feel they are overworked recognise the issue and learn to constructively address it.

Organisations can also consider policy around working style. Working uninterrupted for an hour to 90 minutes every day without monitoring chats, emails or phone calls so that everyone has time to deal with their own workload can be implemented at management level. It is also worthwhile looking at the pros and cons of different working styles when it comes to collaborative projects and looking at how performance is reviewed.

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