How working women can manage work-life balance during COVID-19

Prioritizing your roles can help you decide how best to manage your time.

By APA Committee on Women in Psychology

Workplaces often place a disproportionate burden on female workers. That includes workloads as well as emotional and relational labor within the workplace. Historically, women have also been responsible for the majority of work at home. In the 1960s, White women began entering the workforce. It is important to acknowledge that women of color, particularly Black and Latina women, working in the homes of White families allowed White women to enter the workforce.

Currently, women of all racial backgrounds are in the workforce. However, this has increased responsibilities for women—both working professionally and still largely carrying the burden of work in the home. These dual responsibilities can increase stress, compromise physical and emotional health, and lead to burnout and lower work productivity.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased disparities and stress among women as well. Women of color, in particular, are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus due to many working in essential positions such as in healthcare. In addition, women may be homeschooling children, caregiving for parents or loved ones, and/or having to find childcare. Moreover, there is a significant financial impact for women who are unable to work due to their increased responsibilities.

Even prior to the pandemic, there were pay inequities and discrimination among women in the workplace and especially women of color. Amid these challenges, women of color are experiencing significant race-related stress due to the continued killings of unarmed Black individuals. As such, it is critical that employers carefully reflect on ways in which women are disproportionately overburdened and how this extra work limits their advancement opportunities as well as their overall wellbeing. Employers should make efforts to transform the workplace structures and policies to better support women’s contributions.

Working women are encouraged to recognize that the perfect balance between work and home life is an unattainable myth. Instead, consider work among the multiple life roles that you manage along with other roles. Each role may require more effort/time than others across the course of the year and throughout your life. Seek help from others in your work and life environments to share the load. Prioritizing your roles can help you decide how best to manage your time across your various roles and responsibilities.

Action items for a healthy work-life balance

Each will depend on your personal situation, context, and preferences.

Adapt your attitude

Acknowledge your feelings—positive, negative, and neutral—they are all valid and need to be expressed.Lower your expectations—“perfection” does not exist, and it is okay if you are not as productive as you think you should be. Be okay with just doing your best with the resources you have.Practice self-compassion (e.g., “I made a mistake, but I’m human, and making mistakes is okay”).

Engage in self-care

Establish boundaries so that you are not taking on extra burdens.Prioritize a relaxation or self-care activity as you are able—taking care of yourself will help you function best in your roles.Participate in teletherapy if desired and available.

Become more organized

Create a structured but flexible schedule.Establish dedicated spaces for certain activities (i.e., work space, play space).Simplify your task list into what is the highest priority, allowing for flexibility.Delegate some tasks to others with clear expectations, as applicable.

Stay connected

Evaluate who you want to invest your energy in and what formats of connection (e.g., Facetime, social media) are most rewarding for you.Have a weekly check-in meeting with a friend or family member who is experiencing similar challenges at home.

If you have children, involve them in your planning

Create a structured but flexible schedule and allow your children to make choices about that structure so they have buy-in.Have children Facetime family members and play games like Charades, Pictionary, etc.Set them up with a task like a jigsaw puzzle and set a timer for them—if they do not bother you until the timer goes off, then they get a small reward (ideally a toy or a sticker rather than food).Give them 2–3 task options and let them choose which one they want to do. This gives them some autonomy.