Connecting and disconnecting and work-life balance
EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech at the “Remote Work: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities" conference on the future of work, organised by the 2021 Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 9 March 2021. The speech opened up the panel on “Connecting and disconnecting and work-life balance”.
The European Parliament has called for the “right to disconnect” from work. This is a good thing: smartphones offer the temptation to keep email exchanges going well into the night. That is not good for work-life balance or mental health.
Yet there’s another kind of work that’s done at home. The type of work that does not contribute to career progression, nor to workers’ pension pots. The type of work from which you can’t just disconnect.
I am of course talking about the work of raising children, of taking care of ageing parents, of cooking three meals a day. This work is not paid and you won’t find it in countries’ balance sheets, but it has economic value. Those children being raised are future taxpayers. The ageing parents would otherwise be taken care of by the state.
Globally, the value of this invisible part of the economy is worth about 9 trillion euros.
And it’s a part of the economy that’s mainly powered by women. across the EU, a spectacular 79 % of women do housework every day, compared to 34 % of men.
Teleworking during Covid-19 made the situation worse, with women putting in even more hours into their unpaid jobs. Online schooling was work mainly done by mothers.
When homes become workplaces, unpaid work also eats into the time you’re trying to reserve for paid work. Our latest findings show that during Covid, mothers have had to deal with interruptions by children more often than fathers.
We have to bear these realities in mind when we talk about a move towards more flexible forms of work, including increasing the use of telework.
The home and the workplace are not separate spaces. During the pandemic, that quite literally became the case. But it’s also true in so called ‘normal times’. The gender pay gap, women’s lower pensions…it’s all linked to the fact that women shoulder the majority of unpaid tasks. What happens in the home affects what happens in the workplace – how much you earn, how much time you can give to you job….and of course whether you are able to work at all.
As our working lives move increasingly into the home through remote working, it is therefore critical to balance out unpaid care and housework. Otherwise, inequality between women and men will only widen.
The first change we need is in the home. Women and men should share care tasks equally. To achieve this, countries should roll out awareness raising campaigns to end gender stereotypes around who provides care. They should also earmark parental leave for fathers.
Second, it is important that people have access to affordable, professional care services. The need for these will only get bigger as Europe ages.
Last, caring needs to stop being a professional and financial sacrifice. To do this, countries could make part-time and other flexible forms of work used by carers more secure through proper eligibility for social security. If both partners in a couple work part-time, the state could top up their salaries to ensure no one has to sacrifice their career to provide care.
For those who have worked remotely during the pandemic, the virus melted the physical separation between the home and the workplace. Children popped up on Zoom calls and people spoke openly about struggling to fulfil their caring obligations.
I hope this new, more muddled reality prompts us to recognise the fact that the home and the workplace have always been interlinked. And I hope this recognition will come with action to better protect those who provide care. After all, every one of us will require care at some point in our lives, and many of us will also become carers.
Only through recognising the importance of care work will women and men be able to benefit equally in the workplaces of the future.