Wednesday | 08 April | 2020
Anja van den Berg
COVID-19 has given working from home a brand new meaning. Now, work is home.
With no clear division of labour between paid work and housework, dual-career couples are facing a host of new and unfamiliar challenges.
How can both partners work productively under the same roof? Who gets to use the home office, and when? How can we avoid falling into the trap of overwork and burnout that is prevalent among home workers?
How can we deal with each other’s mildly annoying habits that, when lived with 24/7, suddenly become bones of contention?
And, for those who are also working parents, how do we keep the kids occupied and home-schooled, with no friends, grandparents or paid childcare givers to help?
Jennifer Petriglieri, professor of organisational behaviour, weighs in these topics. Petriglieri is also the author of Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work.
Research — for which she has interviewed more than 100 couples — shows that the couples who survive crises with their relationship (and careers) intact are those who discuss and agree on certain principles as the crisis begins.
Petriglieri refers to this as the couple’s crisis contract and recommends that they agree on the following topics:
- Decide what matters most during this crisis period.
The easy answer for all of us is the health and safety of our loved ones. But beyond this, Petriglieri advises that you identify your three top goals for this time. Imagine yourself looking back a few months from now. What are the measures you will use to measure whether you spent your time wisely?
For example, there might be a specific work project you want to see through to completion. Maybe you need to take care of your elderly parent. Do you want to use the time at home to map out your next career transition or is your kids’ education top of mind?
Understanding and sharing these goals is vital because it is the best guide to how to divide up your time.
- Agree on your parenting principles during COVID-19 lockdown.
These are extraordinary times for working parents, and the principles we usually stick to will need to adapt. Do you need to loosen screen-time agreements? How involved in home-schooling do you want and need to be? What are the aspects of your children’s lives that are most important to you? Time in the garden, reading time, sports, study? How will you talk about the crisis and contain your children’s anxieties?
If you and your partner are on the same page and can communicate these adjusted principles clearly to your children, it will make keeping the boundaries (and peace) at home that much easier.
- Be honest about anxieties and what you will need from each other.
We are all craving support, but support can take many different forms. What do you need from your partner to help you stick to your crisis contract? Would you need emotional or practical support? Do you need to know that you’ll have 15 minutes of undivided attention every evening to check-in and debrief the day? Do you need your partner to share some of the tasks for which you usually take full responsibility?
You and your partner will likely need different things from each other. Adapting to your partner’s needs demonstrates the goodwill and love we’ll all need to make it through these times. Now is the time to share your concerns and needs openly and honestly.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/03/how-dual-career-couples-can-work-through-the-coronavirus-crisis
Couples That Work: How Dual-Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work https://www.amazon.com/Couples-That-Work-Dual-Career-Thrive/dp/163369724X
* All information was correct at the time of publication.