March 9, 2011 -- In today’s 24/7 global economy, a nine-to-five job is not standard anymore. From emails and texts to faxes and phone calls, it can be hard -- if not impossible -- to leave the office behind.
And women tend to feel a lot guiltier about receiving such work-related communications at home than men, according to new research in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
“Women seem to deal as well as men, but it causes more guilt,” says study researcher Paul Glavin, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University, of Toronto. Glavin and colleagues asked more than 1,000 workers how often they were contacted via calls, emails, texts, or other communication methods outside of the work place.
Women who said they were contacted frequently reported more distress than men. “In a logistical sense, women are dealing with work issues just as well as men. This is more about their reaction,” he says. Women tend to want to be everything to everybody, and when they are being pulled in different directions, they may feel guilt or resentment.
“We are seeing an increasing trend where work is spilling over to home, and as a consequence, if we are seeing women react and experience distress, we could see more accumulating health problems in the future,” he says. “Men are taking on more responsibilities in the household, but it seems that the changes that women have made in the work sphere are not matched by changes in domestic sphere.”
Draw Boundaries Between Work and Family
It’s a catch-22 for women in a lot of ways, says Louann Brizendine, MD, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and author of The Female Brain.
“Women tend to take on more flexible, home-based jobs so the boundaries blur even further. And they end up spending even more time at home doing their job,” she says.
“This study should not be taken to say that women are in any way less competent, less able, and less willing,” she says. “They just take it in more seriously when they get a contact from work.”
“Women do it and do it well, but they feel resentful and guilty if it’s taking time way from their family,” she says.
Multitasking isn’t easy when you want to give everything 150%, she says.
“If you get a [work] cell phone call when you are at a birthday party with your child, and miss a kid hurting yours, it’s not so simple to just drop it ,” she says. “It is about guilt at not being fully present when you are with your family.”
So what can a working mom do to stop the guilt? “Impose boundaries,” Brizendine says. “If it’s an email issue, put your BlackBerry down until your kids are going to bed.”
Be Realistic About Responsibilities
The new study findings also resonate with Anne Parker, a wellness counselor at Miraval Health Resort in Tucson, Ariz., who regularly counsels women on the effects of stress.
“Women tend to feel more globally responsible than men and that means they feel more responsible for what happens at work and what happens at home,” she says.
There are things women can do to cope with these emotions in a more positive way, she says.
“We need to be more realistic about our responsibilities,” she says. “Are we running up against our own expectations or are we talking about responsibilities and expectations that are real in an objective way.”
Put another way: Are you suffering from the disease to please and just trying to do it all, or does your boss really expect you to return emails during family dinner hour?
When feelings of guilt do arise, take a step back and ask yourself, “What can I deal with right now,” she suggests.
“If your children need to be fed and you have an email from work, you have a choice,” Parker says.
“There is an idea of being available all the time that amplifies the stress particularly if you are already feeling responsible.”
Log off or tune out, she says. “Set hours in which you are not available to answer emails.”
Guilt can have negative effects if it builds up over time. “If prolonged, guilt can initiate a fight or flight stress response,” she says.
If your body is poised for fight, there are increases in detrimental stress hormones. “We also tend to make bad choices to feel better with food or alcohol,” she says.