‘Kinkeeping’ is the invisible workload that women take on—and it’s affecting the mental health, performance, commitment and bandwidth of employees, experts say

January 6, 2023, 5:05 PM UTC
Stressed and frustrated mother with two small children
The term 'kinkeeping' has exploded on TikTok

In 1985, Carolyn Rosenthal coined the term “kinkeeping” to describe the invisible work women do that often goes without credit. It encapsulates the physical and emotional unpaid labor that women shoulder, from conducting household chores to remembering relatives’ birthdays.  

And it turns out the word is still just as relevant today.

The phenomenon has gone viral on TikTok after a content creator learned about kinkeeping in her women and gender studies classes. 

TikToker @thought_dumpy likened the concept to a theatre production in which the backstage crew who do the work behind the scenes, don’t get the same recognition or praise as the on-stage actors. 

The video has been viewed over 7 million times and the hashtag #kinkeeping has become equally popular, with women sharing their own experiences of taking on under-appreciated roles. 

In fact, the collective global experience of working from home might have made the juggle even worse for women. 

Research has shown that men fare far better from remote working than women. A study by the Ohio State University found that in husband and wife couples, women are more likely to use their flexible schedules to take on household chores – and feel guilty if they don’t.

Meanwhile, a Yale-led 2020 study found that women who worked remotely and had children were more likely to experience symptoms of burnout and depression, including anxiety and loneliness, than fathers who also worked from home. 

How employers can support ‘kinkeepers’

Sadly but unsurprisingly, taking on the lion’s share of household responsibilities has a huge impact on women’s abilities to excel and progress in their actual job. 

Leadership coach, Debbie Danon says that she sees how disruptive being the kinkeeper of the family is in her clients “all the time”. 

“Some senior women regularly talk to me about intrusive thoughts at work about kids’ birthday parties, or feeling shame around failure to hold together work and home life,” she said.

“And if it’s affecting your people’s mental health – it’s affecting their performance, commitment and bandwidth.”

Despite its lack of salary, these disruptive everyday tasks are crucial to a functioning society. 

“Women’s essential role in historically building society is incontestable, however modern economic measurement of value excludes these most important tasks which have largely fallen on women,” stresses Dr Anino Emuwam, founder and managing director of the strategy and financial advisory firm Avandis Consulting. 

First, she says that society and businesses have a role to play in acknowledging that these largely unremunerated contributions that “have fallen into the informal space” add value.  

“By organizations recognizing this and taking action so that men can become equal contributors in caregiving, this will lessen the burden for women even as single parents,” she adds.

There are a myriad of measures businesses could take to help ease the burden on women including normalizing paternal leave and understanding that flexible working disadvantages some, rather than assuming it’s an even playing field.

But one simple action that people in positions of power can take today, is to start addressing this imbalance in their own homes. 

Danon says: “Whatever your gender or sexual orientation. Have a good hard look at how your household runs and who does what.

“Recognising we’ve been benefitting from someone else’s invisible labor can be uncomfortable. But honest conversations are the only way to dispel resentment and enable fairer reallocations of work,” she adds.

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