Working from home (WFH) has been one of the lasting changes that leaped forward during the pandemic. Largely considered to be an overdue and welcome evolution, allowing for less money, time and stress spent on commuting, it's been predominantly hailed as a triumph. However, that's not to say WFH is without its challenges. Data is emerging to suggest that for women it does raise some questions.
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The ‘she-cession’ caused by working from home
The research that's raising conversation around the world largely focuses on (but is not limited to) working mothers in heterosexual relationships. It has described the work from home phenomena as having the potential for a ‘she-cession’ as more men choose to return to office working post-pandemic.
A study from the Office of National Statistics "found that women were more likely to work from home than men because it gave them more time to work with fewer distractions." Another, more specifically focused on working parents, found that "60% of mothers want to work remotely from three to five days a week, compared with 50% of fathers."
There's a lot to unpack in that information and those statistics. For working mothers there are often different motivations for working from home than there are for women without children, for example. Bloomberg published an interesting article by Anne Helen Petersen, which raised questions about how that impacts the division of labour at home as well as women's careers - more on that in a moment.
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Why do more women want to work from home than men?
However, on this platform it is the wider conversation about how women feel in the workplace, how that's driven them to want to work from home more that is of interest, and how working from home is impacting women's wellbeing both generally and specifically as they head into menopause.
First up, citing multiple surveys together to look at why women have been so keen to take up working from home, writer Anne Helen Petersen noted the following:
"Women love the reduced or nonexistent commuting times; they love spending less time on their physical appearance and less money on their wardrobe. Hard-charging working mothers love that they can arrange their days to volunteer for their kids’ bake sale between Zoom meetings, dissolving that invisible line with the stay-at-home crowd. Women of colour love not being exhausted from working in close physical proximity with White people and their microaggressions. I can’t tell you the number of women who’ve told me what a relief it is to avoid going through pregnancy and postpartum in the often very masculine space of the physical office. Women like making their own lunches without others’ commentaries on them. They like being able to use their own bathrooms."
That's not a reassuring big picture to paint of the working world for women. Working from home because it makes work and life better is a great thing; working from home because we want to escape a toxic workplace is another thing entirely. Of course, lots of women will not have experienced these things, but the idea that these points are mentioned at all is worrying.
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How do women now feel about work and working from home?
Moving onto the work from home world of today, Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2022 survey does not paint quite the utopian image one might have predicted:
- 53% of the 5,000 women surveyed reported higher levels of stress than a year ago
- 46% felt burned out
- 33% had taken time off to deal with their mental health
- Among women looking for a new job, 40% cited burnout as their main reason.
In particular, the research referenced by Petersen notes how, with a crumbling social care structure and rising cost of living (and childcare), working from home has left a vacuum where many women become a one-woman safety net - picking up the slack where before an infrastructure of friends, family and institutions around them would have been non-negotiable. This particularly relates to working mothers but can also apply to anyone with a relative who needs caring for.
Of course, this data cannot be entirely put down to working from home. The vast majority of reporting certainly places the option for working from home firmly in the positive category. Other factors in the world are definitely influencing stressful working environments, however, data is the way we can improve things so WFH is certainly part of the picture.
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Working from home for menopausal women
For women in menopause these findings certainly raise questions, and given how they have been largely absent from the articles written on the topic to date, we suspect their challenge is somewhat hidden. As women enter and go through menopause lots of changes are often occurring in life:
- Many have children who are growing up and leaving home, which is an emotional time.
- Many have ageing or ailing parents who need care and support.
- Then there are the unwanted consequences of menopause and how it impacts women themselves: brain fog, anxiety, depression, hot flushes, fatigue and so forth.
In lots of ways working from home is extremely helpful for women as they go through menopause. Indeed flexible working and the option to work from home is a recommended strategy for employers seeking to support women in menopause. It can allow women to manage things like hot flushes or frequent bathroom breaks in the privacy of their own home, without fear of embarrassment as they perspire through their clothing, for example. They can use the commuting time to sleep longer or practice meditation or yoga to help ease anxiety. They can take short breaks if they're becoming overwhelmed or developing headaches.
However, working from home isn't a cure all. It can enhance the pressure to become a sole carer and it can exacerbate feelings of depression and isolation - it's a fine line.
Dr. Martin Kinsella, a doctor and hormone expert, told YOU magazine:
"the downsides of working from home when going through the menopause are less support from employers and colleagues, as well as feelings of isolation." She continued: "in general having the knowledge that you can go into work alongside colleagues and talk openly about the menopause and how it’s impacting you is far more beneficial than trying to work from home. The most important point is that women are empowered to make the decision that is right for them."
As with so many things, the answer to supporting menopausal women in the workplace is a potent combination of communication, conversation and empowering women to take charge of their own wellbeing.