4 Steps to Dr. Domestic Bliss

4 Steps to Dr. Domestic Bliss (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the WFH)

To share or not to share (the load). That is not a question in 2020, surely? Or is it…

Evidently, against the wider work-from-home backdrop, this is a question to ponder. Certain individuals are seeing their share of domestic duties disproportionately skyrocket: read women leaders and women workers. Disparate or different duties would make sense given that individuals across the entire spectrum have found themselves taking on roles previously alien to them. However, scores of anecdotes are starting to pour in, showing a pattern that this uptake of new responsibilities is largely “disproportionate” towards white-collared women. This trend, using corporate-speak, is an ingredient for burn-out and strain over the long haul – and let’s be honest, we are still running fairly blind as to the length of this work-from-home haul. So, what do we do?

For the moment, let us set aside the deep-rooted reasons for this to happen disproportionately, social forces and systemic mindsets and so on. Let us instead explore another path. Is there a way to think about home roles as we would in an organization structure? Placed in the home context, this mental model could reveal gaps in an unsustainable distribution that may well be causing disproportionate strain in some quarters. Let’s give it some consultative flair, shall we? We could call it domestic role distribution modelling. Ah, yes, there we go!

Let the strategic meeting commence. (Oh shoot, do we need a note-taker then?!)

Step 1: Any organization leader worth their salt knows to begin with the Why. What is the purpose of this effort to think through roles at the homestead?

  • Achieve the goals of running a home: provide daily sustenance to inhabitants, be clean, be safe, be sane.
  • Figure methods to achieve goals with efficiency/efficacy in mind (how is it getting done? Is it getting done in the “best” manner possible? By the right person?)
  • Figure methods to achieve goals with humane experience in mind (is positivity? Are effects of disproportionate on mental health considered?)

Debrief: We want to ensure that the needs of the Role align with the needs of the Self. Addressing the Self right up-front is effective as a long-term approach to addressing the Why. This takes us to the next step: mapping functional roles at home.

Step 2: Framing a view of role distribution means that we must begin with listing the functional roles that exist, or at least the roles that matter to this home.

A functional org-structure. This, in turn, implies we are clear what outcomes this home would like to enjoy. This is where we cross-reference the Why? This is what we might get.

No alt text provided for this image

Debrief: Has your home model captured all roles? Are the oft-forgotten mental support roles acknowledged? We each have an instinctual or empirical (experienced) sense of how much time and value each role contributes. Note these for the next step. 

Step 3: Last but one step! We now come to assigning names to the roles and sub-roles.

This truly is the pièce de résistance, the devil in the detail, the proof-in-the-pudding, …cue in all other colorfully instructive phrases!

In a home context, a single person wearing multiple hats at once is a given. It could even mimic an early stage start-up where roles may shift weekly. Some humans thrive on non-structure, others work best with fixed roles. The trick is to hit a go-between note that works for key home contributors. A role/chore wheel (less fixed) or a role/chore timetable (more fixed) can be fun ways to encourage what we may call “job rotation” between all hats (except the bread-winning one, obviously). Or at the very least, “cross-skilling” for a future state. Hey, will the full-stack home-workers please stand up?

….and much like the ground reality around “full-stack” status in the IT arena, the truth is that what every home contributor likely has is a T-model of skills: one in-depth skill where we absolutely kill it, and that critical horizontal sampling of other interconnected skills. What better way than cross-skilling to “future proof” the long-term sanity and mental health of all earning members of a household!

Debrief: “Right fit” is happily too vague. Have you instead found a comfortable mix of right fit of skill/capability vs. right fit of like/interest in a specific domestic task? Moreover, are we not demonstrating solidarity for our “homies” when we job-rotate, for the simple reason that variety is the spice of life, particularly a self-isolated one?

Step 4: Finish line. This is all well and good, but who needs the additional task of tracking all of this, you ask?

Why, nothing so easy in the home context! It is well documented that a sense of ownership takes care of accountability and motivation. In this case, simply being seen, heard and involved in Step 3 creates a sense of ownership.

Pro tip: Just as at the workplace, reports suggest that it is a good idea to involve a sample of individuals who are typically seen as too bottom-of-the-rung to be involved. Turns out, this creates a cadre of advocates and allies for the role distribution model you have collectively devised. This at-home base relates to involving all household members who have reached the age of reason. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid. 😉

Connecting to the widest Why.

The dispassionate nature of the org structure lens helps us to become conscious of the choices we make in role distribution. It can take half an hour or take half a week to arrive at an honest appraisal of our home model – but do it! Anchoring the conversation to the lives of women leaders helps us isolate the underlying issue at hand. Ceteris paribus, i.e. all other things being equal, is there an invisible social hand that bends distribution of home roles towards a certain group disproportionately? And therefore rendering it unsustainable when it comes to mental well-being? We may then further ask, “How am I contributing towards or away from this?”

Some of you reading are thinking: I got this, we got this. Sorted. The world needs to hear from you, to hear about models that are working.

Tell us about your stories – yes, YOU!

Have you found a schedule or domestic role distribution model that works for the long haul for all your “housemates”? How did you get there? What are the challenges of attaining domestic role distribution nirvana in the times of covid19?

Author: Karishma Sushilkumar