You’re writing emails, on hold with the insurance company that wrongly billed you and checking homework with dinner in the crockpot. Meanwhile you’re peppered with relentless questions from your family about where you put their things when you were cleaning and what time their doctors' appointments are.
That’s called the mental load — all that mental list-making and planning you do to manage your life and that of those who depend on you. It’s the running commentary in your mind, the constant talking to yourself, the racing how-am-I-going-to-get-all-of-this-done thoughts and all the “invisible work” you’re doing to manage all the work you’ve got to do. As a woman, the mental load can be rather hefty; society still puts the bulk of the burden of home chores on us, so we’re expected to be super-humans who could work full time and handle all the housework on our own. It’s not right — and it’s not always this way for all women — but it’s certainly a reality for a lot of working women.
Some workplaces do offer perks and benefits that can lighten the mental load of working mothers, however. Here are five things bosses who lighten employees’ mental loads do. Does yours?
1. Allow Families to Visit
By allowing mothers to bring their children to work, even just on specific days or for specific events, it allows them time to cater to both work and their families. It also allows them to save on childcare costs, which, on average, rack up to $11,666 per year (or $972 a month) in the United States, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
2. Offer Paid Sick Time
Women live in a world where being sick is too often perceived as a weakness, and we’re therefore expected to “grow a pair,” “like a man” and “power through” a day’s work, even if we’re under the weather. Working mothers with heavy mental loads can be quite prone to sicknesses, given that they’re likely sleeping less and stressed out more.
The U.S. is among the minority of developed countries that does not mandate sick leave at the federal level, unlike so many European countries. In France, for example, sick leave is linked to social security. But, for millions of Americans, skipping work means losing a day’s pay. Bosses who allow for sick days take the brunt off the bank account a little bit.
3. Actually Allow Lunch Breaks
In 2012, employees in Hong Kong’s financial district protested because their 90-minute lunch breaks would be shortened to just one hour. In America, an hour lunch break is virtually unheard of. Research shows that only one in five people steps away for a midday meal, and most workers are simply eating at their desks.
A study by CareerBuilder found that women executives are the worst about taking their breaks. More than half of women polled said they brought their lunch from home, compared to 36 percent among their male manager counterparts. Perhaps it’s because women have to work harder to prove their worth. And a lot of women feel that skipping lunch makes them look more productive.
There are no federal laws mandating lunch breaks; it’s instead regulated on a state-by-state basis. So bosses who allow their employees to actually take lunch breaks without penalties not only help their employees by allowing them to take much-needed breaks, but also benefit their companies by preventing burn out.
4. Give Paternity Leave
Most American fathers don’t receive any pay during the period after their child is born. New parents rely on federal law (called the Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA) to protect their job for up to 12 weeks after a birth or adoption, so new fathers are entitled to return to their positions after a period of absence without penalty in pay or position. But the FMLA does not guarantee any pay during this 12 week period and it does not apply to everyone.
Offering only maternity leave suggests that women are to be the primary caretakers of their children. Yes, women need parental leave perhaps more so than men some would argue, because of the physical stress of pregnancy and child birth on their bodies, but both parents should share childcare duties. Employers who offer paternity leave help alleviate some of the mental load for working mothers who might otherwise be asked to take care of their children largely alone.
5. Offer Flexible Work Options
A report from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce, found that 3.9 million U.S. employees who make up 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce work from home at least half of the time. Telecommuting has become so popular that there’s actually been a 115 percent percent increase between 2005 to 2015.
Forty percent more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options in 2017 than in 2010, which means that women with already serious mental loads could have a lot more freedom and time to balance work and personal/family obligations. Working mothers who can work remotely can often spend less time commuting and more time with their families, and they might spend a heck of a lot less time mentally preparing for their days ahead.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.