COLUMBUS, Ohio — The COVID-19 pandemic forced countless couples all over the world to work from home together. Now, researchers from The Ohio State University report that these recent remote experiences likely varied widely between men and women. According to two related assessments of working couples in China and South Korea, scientists found that husbands may benefit a bit more from remote work than their wives.
While the study did find that both husbands and wives tended to complete more family-related tasks while working from home, when both partners in a relationship worked from home, the men usually completed fewer family tasks. Alternatively, wives did not complete fewer family tasks when their husbands joined them at home.
Additionally, despite wives in both projects reporting more guilt about failing to get to more housework and spending time with their family while working from home, those same trends were only seen among men in one study.
“We found that men and women don’t have the same experience working from home,” says lead study author Jasmine Hu, a professor of management at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, in a university release. “There are still some gendered differences in how they manage their job and family responsibilities.”
Both studies took place during the coronavirus pandemic. The first encompassed 172 married dual-earner couples in mainland China with at least one child. That study was put together near the beginning of the pandemic in April and May 2020. The second experiment took place in South Korea from June to August 2021. That study featured 60 dual-earner couples, some with children and some without.
When home-work boundaries blur, conflict appears
Across both projects, all participants completed two surveys on a daily basis for 14 consecutive workdays. Husbands and wives noted their work-from-home status, as well as the amount of work and family tasks they finished each day.
The couples also looked at various additional measures, such as levels of work-family conflict and family-work conflict, how much guilt they felt toward their families and their work, and their psychological withdrawal from work and family.
These findings revealed that when husbands have flexible work schedules, their wives complete significantly more work tasks when working from home than in the offices. When wives have inflexible work arrangements, however, husbands completed significantly more family tasks when working from home.
“These findings suggest that husbands could help remote working wives when they have more flexible work schedules and do more family tasks when their wives have more rigid work schedules,” Prof. Hu adds.
All in all, study authors believe these findings suggest that when the boundaries between work and family time blur, dual-earning couples can encounter conflict.
While both husbands and wives working from home engaged in more home and family tasks, this also appeared to promote increased feelings of inter-role conflict, psychological withdrawal from work, and feelings of guilt concerning their professional work.
“Managers should form realistic expectations about how much work their remote working employees can effectively handle and show more understanding of the home working situations of dual-earner couples,” Prof. Hu notes.
Remote work is here to stay
Prof. Hu adds that these findings indicate husbands with flexibility in their work schedules can give their wives more support to complete their own remote work tasks.
“Organizations and managers should give their male employees more flexibility when possible so they and their families can better adapt to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she comments.
While many of the work-from-home policies this study investigated were put into place because of the pandemic, Prof. Hu argues that day-to-day working life for millions will not go back to pre-pandemic ways.
“COVID-19 forever changed how we work. Remote working is going to become much more of a norm,” she continues. “People have really gotten used to the benefit of working from home and many won’t want to go back to the office full time.”
Prof. Hu believes hybrid work is the best possible future for working couples.
“This will allow employees to have the flexibility they get from working at home, while also having the opportunity to interact more with colleagues at the office, which can increase collaboration and inspire creativity and innovation,” the study author concludes.
The study is published in the journal Personnel Psychology.