Resentful? Overworked? Face These Painful Facts about Shared Work.
When I hear people complain about the fact that other people aren’t doing their share—about a spouse who isn’t pulling weight at home, or a colleague at work, or a sibling in a family—I want to launch into a disquisition about shared work.
From what I’ve observed, people have a very incorrect understanding about how shared work actually gets divvied up.
Take note of these somewhat-painful facts about shared work:
Fact 1: Work done by other people sounds easy.
How hard can it be to take care of a newborn who sleeps twenty hours a day? How hard can it be to keep track of your billable hours? To travel for one night for business? To get a four-year-old ready for school? To return a few phone calls? To fill out some forms?
Of course, something like “perform open-heart surgery” sounds difficult, but to a very great degree, daily work by other people sounds easy—certainly easier that what we have to do.
This fact leads us to under-estimate how onerous a particular task is, when someone else does it, and that makes it easy to assume that we don’t need to help or provide support. Or even be grateful. For that reason, we don’t feel very obligated to share the burden. After all, how hard is it to change a light-bulb?
Fact 2: Others feel grateful or guilty
When you’re doing a job that benefits other people, it’s easy to assume that they feel conscious of the fact that you’re doing this work—that they should feel grateful, and that they should and do feel guilty about not helping you.
But no! Often, the more reliably you perform a task, the less likely it is for someone to notice that you’re doing it, and to feel grateful, and to feel any impulse to help or to take a turn.
You think, “I’ve been making the first pot of coffee for this office for three months! When is someone going to do it?” In fact, the longer you make that coffee, the less likely it is that someone will do it.
If one person on a tandem bike is pedalling hard, the other person can take it easy. If you’re reliably doing a task, others will relax. They aren’t silently feeling more and more guilty for letting you shoulder the burden; they probably don’t even think about it. And after all, how hard is it to make a pot of coffee? (see Fact #1). Also, they begin to view this as your job (after all, you’ve been doing it reliably for all this time, in fact, you probably enjoy this job!), it’s not their job, so they don’t feel any burden to help.
Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are, and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.
Fact 3: Hard to avoid “unconscious overclaiming.”
In unconscious overclaiming, we unconsciously overestimate our contributions relative to others. This makes sense because we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. Also, we tend to do the work that we value. I think holiday cards are important; my husband thinks that keeping the air-conditioning working is important.
Studies showed that when spouses estimated what percentage of housework each performed, the percentages added up to more than 120 percent. When business-school students estimated how much they’d contributed to a team effort, the total was 139 percent.