Sheryl Sandberg: The coronavirus pandemic is creating a ‘double double shift’ for women. Employers must help

May 7, 2020, 11:15 AM UTC

This op-ed is the first in a series by co-founders Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on women in the workplace.

Before the coronavirus crisis hit in the U.S., many women already worked a “double shift,” doing their jobs, then returning to a home where they were responsible for the majority of childcare and domestic work. Now, homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a “double double shift.” It’s pushing women to the breaking point.

According to recent surveys by and Survey Monkey conducted in April, one in four women say they are experiencing severe anxiety with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat. One in 10 men say the same. More than half of all women are currently struggling with sleep issues. Women, especially black women, were more likely than men to worry that they wouldn’t be able to pay for essentials in the next few months.

And 31% of women with full-time jobs and families say they have more to do than they can possibly handle. Only 13% of working men with families say the same. Our research indicates that this disparity is not because men are simply shouldering equally heavy burdens with greater ease. Instead, women are disproportionately feeling overwhelmed because they are disproportionately the ones working day and night to keep households afloat.

Consider the coronavirus-era schedule of a typical woman who works full time and has a partner and kids. She’s now spending 71 hours every week on housework and caregiving, including the new responsibilities of the pandemic, according to our survey data. That’s nearly two full-time jobs—before she starts doing her actual full-time job. Meanwhile, men in the same situation are doing 20 fewer hours of labor every week. For women of color and single moms, the demands are even greater.

Employers must work to relieve this stress. We know companies are under tremendous financial pressure during this economic downturn, but helping their teams avoid burnout and illness needs to be a priority. That is how they’ll get the best out of their employees amid all this disruption and retain those workers when the crisis is over.  

Only 40% of employees say their companies have taken steps to increase flexibility since the pandemic began, and fewer than 20% say their employer has rejiggered priorities or narrowed the scope of their work. That’s not enough. Leaders and managers should move any deadline that can be moved, take a second look at targets set before the pandemic, rethink the timing of performance reviews, and remove low-priority items from the to-do list.

At Facebook, we suspended our usual performance ratings—instead, all employees will receive bonuses as if they exceeded expectations for the first half of the year—and created an extended childcare benefit and new leave options for caregivers. We’ve also allowed managers across the company to reshuffle priorities on a case-by-case basis. Not every employer can or should follow these exact steps, but finding ways to lighten your employees’ loads can make a big difference. 

This is the time for managers to become leaders by giving their teams much-needed emotional support. Fewer than a third of employees—and fewer than a quarter of essential workers—say someone from their company checks in on their well-being these days. If employees are homeschooling kids or worrying about a parent in the hospital, their managers should know that and adjust work plans accordingly. Companies of all sizes can take a cue from the start-up playbook and hold regular “stand up” meetings—named because they’re so short, you don’t sit down for them—to let people quickly share what they’re working on, flag problems, readjust priorities on the fly, and ask for help. 

Of course, supporting workers through this pandemic can’t be the responsibility of employers alone. We need national solutions, including paid leave, a higher minimum wage, and affordable childcare. And on the home front, men need to step up. Many have taken on more responsibility at home during this crisis, but if you go from doing 20% to 30% of the housework, it’s still less than half even if it feels like a lot. Evenly sharing the increased domestic burden—splitting the double double shift—will help ensure women emerge from this period with their jobs and health intact.

Women are maxing out and burning out. Getting through this crisis means helping women get through it too. All of us—employers, managers, elected officials, and spouses—need to help lighten their loads.

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and co-founder of LeanIn.Org. Rachel Thomas is co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org.

More opinion in Fortune:

—How the U.S. should invest in public health before reopening the economy
—Coronavirus is making clear there is no solidarity in the EU
—Rep. Rosa DeLauro: We must repeal Trump’s $135 billion hidden tax giveaway
When government fails businesses, communities can step up to help them thrive
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: CEO of Canada’s biggest bank on the keys to leading through the coronavirus

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