An Economist Calls For Homeowner Celebration Over High Inflation

Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, recently posted something on Twitter that stirred the collective pot:

“Lemme ask one of those tone deaf economist questions that annoy almost everyone. Today, many families learned that the amount they owe on their mortgage has declined—in real terms—by 9.1% over the past year. Why do we hear so little about this? Why don’t we see folks celebrating?”

Some other economists agreed with him, at least in terms of how people think of economics. Many non-economists quickly came in to explain their thought processes—that the points, while technically correct, were out of context and touch.

Essentially, the critics made two points as accurately as Wolfers and company related the technicalities. People are set upon from all quarters, not just housing. And the U.S. is becoming a country, not of poverty, but entrenched poorness. That is, in the sense of “small in worth” or “less than adequate” by the Merriam-Webster definition.

It is true that as inflation increases, the monetary value of a loan with terms that established lower interest rates decreases in favor of the borrower, at least while inflation is running hot. If the total remaining on the mortgage, including interest and principal, is $X, then over the last year it’s now 9.1% less expensive because the value of the dollars is falling. The mortgage likely has no inflation escalation rider.

Now, that mortgage only remains 9.1% less expensive if there is no deflation. You do get a savings even if inflation drops to a lower rate, because the value of what a dollar can buy continues to drop. As it does pretty much every year anyway. This is one of the advantages of owning a home. The amount you own drops because there is some degree of inflation in virtually every year, as, unless you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (a bad idea in the long run that might make sense in specific circumstances in the immediate future), you’ll locked in at the level of cheaper dollars.

There’s nothing new with that and it’s how a lot of people build wealth over time. Then they, in theory, pass that property down to their children, who now have greater wealth that, in theory, can get passed down in turn, and so on. The growth of wealth becomes a multi-generational process. The longer you’re around, the greater an advantage you have.

There are two other ways you build value as a homeowner. One is, on the whole, there will be some appreciation in value over time. That comes without additional payments. The other is one of those “you get a benefit because you’re not doing something else that would cost more” kind of financial planning arguments. If you don’t own, you’re a renter and the amount you pay climbs each year. If you do own, then there’s an annual additional amount you don’t have to pay, which is a savings.

That doesn’t mean that homeowners don’t pay more every year because there’s more to owning a house than the payment. Taxes, utilities, maintenance and repair, upgrades, and so on see regularly rising costs. Still, this remains a case that things could be much worse, and you are ahead in some significant ways.

So, why aren’t people dancing in the street? The first reason the critics note is that housing, while a significant cost, isn’t the only place where people are hit. For many years, important areas of living have endured significantly higher increases than income in real terms after inflation. Healthcare, childcare, education, energy (both electric and heating and cooling), all drive up everyday expenses. They leave pay increases in the dusty plains of personal financial ledgers. Personal savings rates are dropping; credit card debt has again reached new heights.

One reason you don’t see conga lines in the street is because people are anxious about the economy and their position in it. Consumer sentiment is up a touch from June, as the newest University of Michigan polling shows, but that’s still down massively from a year earlier. If a patient is in bed with a serious illness and a doctor tells them that they don’t have an additional one, they might be glad to hear it and yet not be in a position to leap to their feet.

The second criticism is even stronger, in a social sense. If housing ownership is at about 65% in the country, should people clap for joy as they see a third of the country having to struggle much harder? When many who are not in a position to own homes are their children or nieces and nephews or kids of friends or younger people they work with? You can be thankful that you weren’t part of a massive traffic accident and yet reluctant to outwardly rejoice so as not to rub others’ noses in the dirt.

My credits include Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Magazine, Zenger News, NBC News, CBS Moneywatch, Technology Review, The Fiscal Times, and…

Source: An Economist Calls For Homeowner Celebration Over High Inflation

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Could a Stronger Euro Bring Relief To Global Markets

This is generally regarded as the global “risk-free” rate. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that every other asset in the world is priced with reference to this slab of US government debt. But a close runner up is the US dollar.

A strong US dollar sucks money out of risk assets

The US dollar is one of the most important prices in the world. It’s the global reserve currency – everyone needs US dollars. As a result, when the price of US dollars goes up, you can view it as monetary policy getting tighter around the world (that’s an oversimplification, but it’s quite a useful one).

This is at least one reason markets have struggled in recent months; the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, has been ahead of other economies in terms of raising interest rates, while the US economy has also looked relatively resilient. The US dollar is also a “safe haven” asset, which means that it benefits when investors are feeling jittery.

As a result of all this, the dollar has shot up in value against other major currencies. And risk assets don’t like that one tiny bit. As my colleague Dominic pointed out earlier this month, “if the US dollar keeps rising from here, it’s going to hurt”.

The good news is that after a burst higher, the dollar is now a little lower than it was when Dominic wrote that piece. One key reason for that is the European Central Bank (ECB) – we’ll explain why in a minute. First, what’s the ECB done?

Well, yesterday, ECB chief Christine Lagarde came out with a blog post in which she – unusually for a central banker – was really quite clear about what the central bank will be doing over the next couple of quarters.

To summarise, she said that the ECB will stop printing money soon, it will start raising interest rates in July, and by the start of October rates will be back to 0% (ie, out of negative territory).

That’s quite an emphatic change for the ECB. As Marcus Ashworth says on Bloomberg, “I struggle to recall any central banker, certainly not one from the ECB, ever having been this definitive about the monetary policy outlook.”

There are probably two reasons for it. One is that the ECB has been lagging somewhat. Inflation has taken off in the eurozone too, but unlike the US, the economy has looked weaker so it’s been a tougher juggling act. But now it looks as though the hawks (for want of a better word) have won.

The second reason is that the euro was threatening to hit parity with the US dollar. In pure market terms, parity is just another number, no more or less significant than 1.01 or 0.99. But of course, it’s not actually just another number; it’s a big scary round number and one that grabs headlines. It’s probably best avoided if possible.

Part of a central bank’s role is to act as the guardian of the currency. That’s even more important in the eurozone than elsewhere because the euro is young and the lack of full political union between all of its member countries means there are still serious fault lines that could threaten its existence.

This risk has retreated greatly. During the sovereign bond crisis of the 2010s, the ECB, under Mario Draghi, effectively won the right to print money to suppress national bond yields – and thus underwrite the solvency of individual eurozone nations – where necessary.

But it’s better not to get to the point where markets decide to test your resolve on that front.

Why a stronger euro might be good news for markets

So why is this good news from a strong dollar front? Because the euro is the “other” global reserve currency. It’s miles behind the dollar in terms of being stockpiled by central banks around the world, but it is the biggest component in the “DXY” index which measures the dollar’s strength against a basket of rival currencies. It is probably the most widely-watched barometer of dollar strength.

As a result, when the euro bounces against the dollar, DXY tends to fall. And what with this being quite a hawkish turn for the ECB, the euro rallied from falling as low as $1.03-ish last Friday, to heading above $1.07 now.

Meanwhile, on top of that, it helped that one of the monetary policy setters at the Fed – Raphael Bostic, the head of the Federal Reserve bank of Atlanta – said that it might make sense for the Fed to pause for breath in September on interest-rate rises.

That’s hardly a wildly dovish statement (it implies half-point increases in both June and July), but with the market currently sweating that Fed boss Jerome Powell hopes to inherit the mantle of inflation destroyer from Paul Volcker, any sign that the central bank might relent is welcome to investors.

A weaker dollar would be good news for investors, as it implies that the rush for safe havens will ease and investors will start seeking risk again.

That doesn’t mean it’ll happen. However, one feasible scenario in which this might continue is one in which inflation ebbs (even while remaining high) and other central bank policies start to converge with that of the Fed.

That’s certainly possible over the coming months. Does that mean you should be piling in as if everything is back to the tech bubble days? Not at all; the environment has changed and the winners over the next phase will differ from those of the last. But it does imply that the “crash-y” behaviour we’ve seen since the start of this year might be due a breather. Fingers crossed.

By: John Stepek

Source: Could a stronger euro bring relief to global markets? | MoneyWeek

Further reading:

The Remote Work Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet

It’s hard to track all the ways this pandemic has upended “normal” life, but surely one of the most significant changes has been how and where, and even when, we work.

You might call the last year or so a remote work revolution, but that’s not quite right. For one thing, remote work wasn’t an option for most of the country. But even for the fortunate people who were able to work from home, what they were doing wasn’t really working. It’s more like a panicked compromise forged under the chaos of a national emergency.

But as we inch our way toward the other side of this pandemic — or at least the closest we’ll get to the other side of it — we have an opportunity to rethink our broken relationship to work. The pandemic was an inflection point, and what happens or doesn’t happen next is up to us.

This is the case that Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen make in their new book, called Out of Office, and it’s the best thing I’ve read so far on this topic. In truth, the book isn’t really about remote work — it’s about work. And not just what it has meant and could mean, but also why the status quo isn’t sustainable, for anyone.

I reached out to Petersen and Warzel for the latest episode of Vox Conversations. We talk about the world they hope we build, a world in which our jobs don’t trump everything else in our lives, where we think differently about our own labor and the ways we advocate for others, and where, in their words, “We don’t work from home because work is what matters most. We work from home to free ourselves to focus on what actually does.”

Sean Illing

It’s fair to say we’ve done a very bad job in this country of imposing boundaries around work and life. When you two look around the world, do you see better models of work-life balance?

Charlie Warzel

I’ll let Annie talk a little bit about the boundaries thing, because she came up with a really great framework for this. The one thing I’ll say is that yes, a lot of the erosion of any work-life balance is, it’s so thoroughly embedded in American culture that it’s not just that we have a hard time maintaining it or we don’t do a particularly good job of educating people about it; it’s that we value and celebrate the opposite of it. We value and celebrate the complete destruction of it.

People set expectations about when to work and how much to work and when to be in touch. And if you violate those standards or those expectations, it’s not seen as something to have a conversation with your boss about and say, like, “Hey, you’re really not sticking to the plan here.” It’s celebrated. And it’s like, “Well, why can’t you be a little more like so-and-so? They work on Sundays.” Even though the expectation is you’re not in the office, you’re not working those days.

Anne Helen Petersen

I’d say that I’ve been thinking a lot about how the American work ethic is a fetishism of work, the process of work, and not of the worker. The worker is kind of collateral damage in that understanding. And within that framework, within that understanding, it can’t be contingent upon the individual to try to change that. An individual cannot protect themselves from this larger ideological force, which is that better work is always more work.

And so the thing that I’ve thought a lot about is that instead of using this language of boundaries, because boundaries are the responsibility of the individual, they are always violated. And when they are violated, it is your fault as an individual for not maintaining them. Instead, we could think of guardrails. Out here in the West where we live, you have these guardrails on the mountain passes, which are maintained by the government, by a larger entity. And they are there to protect everyone. We all pay into them through taxes to protect everyone.

And I’m not saying that federally mandated work hours, or understanding of what good work is, has to look like that. That does not necessarily have to be the solution. In the book there’s some interesting case studies in other countries, where they have attempted to mandate no email after certain work hours and that sort of thing. And they failed, because they haven’t been robust enough to grapple with the realities of global capitalism. If you say, in France, you cannot email after 5 pm, there will be corporations, global corporations, that are always figuring out exceptions to this. People will just violate it.

So at least for the time being, until labor legislation catches up to the current reality of work — which I think is a major and an important goal moving forward — companies, if they do say that they want to value work-life balance, or say that they want their workers to not burn out, to be sustainable, they have to maintain standards of what good work looks like; these guardrails.

And so that looks like, “In our company, we do not correspond after 8 pm.” If you are a person who really does good work at night and that’s how you have arranged your flexible work schedule, great. But you do not send that email. You delay send, which is not a hard thing. You delay send that message, that email, whatever it is, until the morning, until standard working hours. And most importantly, if you violate that standard, that guardrail, it becomes something that is actually a problem, not a low-key way to garner praise.

Sean Illing

We have a vision of work in this country as the primary source of identity and status and, as you put in the book, “the primary organizing factor in our lives.” You argue that we have to overturn that. What does work look like, once it’s been decentered in the way you two think it should be?

Charlie Warzel

So there’s this really interesting company called Gumroad. And it’s a platform for creators, essentially. And they went through this whole reorganization and had to change the way that their company works. And now they don’t have any employees except for the founder. Everyone’s a contractor. And what’s fascinating is the ethos of the company is “You don’t owe us anything but the work. You come in and you do this thing. We are not going to be friends. We’re not going to talk.” It’s extremely transactional, in a way that’s almost kind of cold and in that calculated tech way.

I’m not saying this is a sustainable model for pretty much anyone or the way the company should be run, but what’s so refreshing about it is this idea of being transactional with your company. You do a job for us, we give you money or some kind of benefits. And we get the labor that we paid for in return. There’s not going to be any of this extraneous guilt or commitment or whatever.

And I think that it’s too extreme, but there’s something about the transactional nature of that that is really refreshing and very helpful. And I think far less toxic than the “we are a family” ethos. Because families, as we all know, have their own problems and have their own toxic relationships that develop. And again, things like guilt. And I think that the way that we work has sort of adapted and had a lot of that kind of stuff glommed onto it.

I think that a decentered working relationship is not completely cold, and there can be some personal relationship qualities to it. But at the end of the day, it’s a transaction. You are doing a job for some people, and the transaction comes to an end at some point, and you’ve fulfilled what you need to do for that amount of time.

So a decentered environment means that we’re not telling people that they have to labor in this job and also get all of their social interactions out of their job. That you don’t have to be friends with everyone in your company. And it really demarcates your life outside of work from your life inside it. And that allows you then, once you have more of a clear boundary and clear expectations, you can devote more time to what’s outside of it. And you can have a clearer sense of who you are and what you value when you’re not this person.

Anne Helen Petersen

I’ll just say that the greatest trick that offices ever pulled was convincing office workers that they’re not workers. That they aren’t labor. And instead that they’re doing what they love or following a vocation, a calling. And thus that exploitation is not something to be worried about, or to fight back against, or to understand as unacceptable.

I think there are so many conditions that office workers, and I will say nonprofit workers in particular, have come to find acceptable, because they do not think of themselves as labor. And one hope that I have, moving forward, is that office workers should think of ourselves as labor. We should think of ourselves in solidarity with so many other types of labor as well, because it’s good for other laborers who don’t have the privileges of remote work or of being able to labor at the same salaries, but it’s also good for preventing our own exploitation. 

Sean Illing

This raises the question of what will rise up to fill the void in a world in which work has been decentered. And you have a whole chapter in the book on community, namely the absence of it. And I guess, for me, it’s very hard to imagine a world in which professional identity isn’t the main identity, if we don’t have sources of connection and meaning and solidarity in our communities. That’s a long way of saying that work feels like the only natural ground for identity in a hyper-individualistic society like ours.

Charlie Warzel

I don’t know. I think the thing that we always guard against in this book is being too pie-in-the-sky and understanding that a lot of these things are super entrenched in our culture. But it becomes a self-defeating mindset when you say, “Well, this is how we are.” I do think there’s a huge power in pulling people away for a second, from the way that they did things, and the realization that comes of that.

So using ourselves as an example, using myself as an example, I knew that I worked too much when I lived in New York and was working for BuzzFeed. I knew that work was the central motivating axis that most of my life completely revolved around. But when I left, when we left and moved to Montana, a month or two in, it became incredibly clear to me just how dominating that was. The fact that I had actually pushed a lot of my relationships out to make room for my work relationships, and then extending those after hours. The people who I worked with — I mean, it’s no coincidence Annie and I met at work.

But our entire lives revolved around that. We went out almost every other night with people, and were we talking about work? Sort of, yes, no. But those are technically billable hours. And I didn’t realize how one-dimensional my life had become. I basically stopped doing things like hobbies. I certainly didn’t interact with my community. Work took up everything.

And then once I was removed from that situation for a little bit, it seemed almost ridiculous. It was like, “How did I not realize this was happening?” And I’m not going to say that I’m some community organization paragon. I still need to work on a lot of this stuff, but the clarity that you get from extricating yourself from that situation, from just trying to decenter work a little bit, I think is super powerful.

Anne Helen Petersen

Most adults that I know that are about my age, so mid- to late 30s, early 40s, find it really, really hard to conceive of taking regular time for anything in their life that isn’t their job or parenting. Even carving out an hour a day, or an hour a week, for something like a hobby — or even more importantly, a commitment to something that is not related to your kid. So not soccer practice, but volunteering at any sort of organization that, again, is not related to parenting. It just feels inconceivable.

I think that we should look at that very seriously, and think about the fact that if the only things that we say are valuable in our lives, through our actions, through the time allocated, are our jobs and our immediate families, we are not investing in our communities. We don’t value the people around us. And you see that reflected in avoidant choices.

This is not an ideology without consequences, but my hope is this is also — we have gone through cycles. There is very good scholarship on this sort of ricocheting back between an individualist ethos and a collectivist ethos, even in the United States, which is so individualistic. There was a peak of collectivist activity [and] ideology first in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and then it declined a bit. And then it went back up leading into World War II and in the postwar period.

And it wasn’t just like, “Oh yeah, let’s rally together around the war.” It was, “We want to be part of things. We want to hang out with other people.” And some of that affinity and joining was of things like the Klan, which are obviously not good sorts of community involvement. But then a lot of it too was just civic organizations broadly. Volunteer organizations, things like the Elks Club, being part of churches. Whatever you think about religious organizations or being religious in your own life, it allowed people to connect with people who weren’t their own immediate families or the people that they worked with.

Charlie Warzel

It’s made me think a little about our community involvement now and how tethered it is to work. A lot of people’s only volunteering happens because, like, JPMorgan has a “let’s go do a Habitat for Humanity day,” or a lot of people only do service when they’re in school, in order to earn hours so that it can look good on a college transcript or something like that. It’s all attached to this kind of individualist achievement or being good at your job or checking this box.

And it creates this attitude of service and community involvement to benefit just you. And I think Annie’s right, this is not without consequence. We see it reflected in our politics. We see it reflected in our culture in a really big way, and will working from home change that? No, but will decentering work in our lives potentially change that? Maybe. It’s certainly worth exploring, I think.

Sean Illing

Maybe one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it reminded us how much life alone, really truly alone, sucks. And I was glad to see you write about worker solidarity in this book. One worry that I have is that a world of remote work, a world where workers are more separated and cut off, might create even more barriers to labor organization. And I’m curious if there are templates or models for organizing in a world where remote work is more the norm.

Charlie Warzel

All of this stuff is relatively new. Again, some of the organizing we’ve seen in some of the tech companies like Google are templates to some degree for that. There’s a danger to it, obviously — in-person organization work and recruiting into that allows you to have sort of conversations that aren’t totally documented, or they can’t be immediately scooped up by management. Those things are obviously super helpful, and if there’s no gathering place, etc., then that can be hard.

But at the same time, part of the reason why we are able to work from anywhere is due to a lot of technological advancements, and a lot of those technological advancements also give people a megaphone and the ability to easily create widely shareable content, to be loud and in people’s faces. So I think that you’ve seen a lot of labor movements recently leveraging those tools to put a lot of pressure on people, on management. And I think that is generally good. And a lot of these technological tools are great for gathering a bunch of people in a room or in an app somewhere. So there’s always going to be this push and pull between surveillance and the ability to organize.

Anne Helen Petersen

I think sometimes we get bogged down in these particulars of, like, “Oh, it’s going to be harder because we don’t have as strong of ties with individuals,” when the real barrier to organizing is anti-labor legislation. It is the actual policy that is in place.

And more importantly — something that you hear labor advocates talk about a lot — the current labor laws have not been updated in any meaningful way to address the fissuring of the economy, the way that most people work today, the way that work seeps into the corners of our lives, but also just the freelancification of work as well.

So those, I think, are the much larger goals that we need to be talking about and advocating for, instead of being more concerned about, like, “Oh, if I’m not going to lunch in person every day with the person next to me, it’s going to be harder to unionize.” It’s going to be harder to unionize when it’s so easy to union bust. That’s the larger conversation, I think.

Source: The remote work revolution hasn’t happened yet – Vox

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Why Women Are More Burned Out Than Men

Statistics show that stress and burnout are affecting more women than men en masse. Why – and what happens next?

When Jia, a Manhattan-based consultant, read Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In in 2014, she resolved to follow the advice espoused by the chief operating officer of Facebook.

“I’d just graduated from an Ivy League business school, was super pumped up and loved the idea of leaning in,” says Jia, whose last name is being withheld to protect her professional reputation. “Learning to self-promote felt so empowering, and I was 100% ready to prove that I was the woman who could have it all: be a high-powered career woman and a great mother.”

But today, the 38-year-old strikes a different tone. For years, she says, she feels like she’s been overlooked for promotions and pay rises at work on account of her gender, particularly after becoming a mother in 2018. Since then, she’s picked up the brunt of childcare responsibilities because her husband, who is a banker, has tended to travel more frequently for work. That, she adds, has given her a misguided reputation among her colleagues and managers – the majority of whom are male – for not being professionally driven.

Then when Covid-19 hit, it was as if all the factors already holding her back were supercharged. When her daughter’s day care closed in March 2020, Jia became the default caregiver while trying to stay afloat at work. “I was extremely unmotivated because I felt like I was spending all hours of the day trying not to fall off an accelerating treadmill,” she explains. “But at the same time, I felt like I was being trusted less and less to be able to do a good job. I could feel my career slipping through my fingers and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.”

In early 2021, Jia’s therapist told her she was suffering from burnout. Jia says she’d never struggled with her mental health before. “But now I’m just trying to get through each week while staying sane,” she says.

Jia’s story is symptomatic of a deeply ingrained imbalance in society that the pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated. For multiple reasons, women, particularly mothers, are still more likely than men to manage a more complex set of responsibilities on a daily basis – an often-unpredictable combination of unpaid domestic chores and paid professional work.

I could feel my career slipping through my fingers and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it – Jia

Though the mental strain of mastering this balancing act has been apparent for decades, Covid-19 has cast a particularly harsh light on the problem. Statistics show that stress and burnout are affecting more women than men, and particularly more working mothers than working fathers. This could have multiple impacts for the post-pandemic world of work, making it important that both companies and wider society find ways to reduce this imbalance.

Unequal demands

Recent data looking specifically at burnout in women is concerning. According to a survey by LinkedIn of almost 5,000 Americans, 74% of women said they were very or somewhat stressed for work-related reasons, compared with just 61% of employed male respondents.

A separate analysis from workplace-culture consultancy a Great Place to Work and health-care start-up Maven found that mothers in paid employment are 23% more likely to experience burnout than fathers in paid employment. An estimated 2.35 million working mothers in the US have suffered from burnout since the start of the pandemic, specifically “due to unequal demands of home and work”, the analysis showed.

Women tend to be dealing with a more complex set of work and personal responsibilities, leading to stress (Credit: Getty)

Experts generally agree that there’s no single reason women burn out, but they widely acknowledge that the way societal structures and gender norms intersect plays a significant role. Workplace inequalities, for example, are inextricably linked to traditional gender roles.

In the US, women still earn an average of about 82 cents for each dollar earned by a man, and the gap across many countries in Europe is similar. Jia’s firm does not publish its gender pay-gap data, but she suspects that it’s significant. Moreover, she thinks many of her male peers earn more than her, something that causes her a huge amount of stress.

“The idea that I might be underselling myself is extremely frustrating, but I also don’t want to make myself unpopular by asking for more money when I’m already pushing the boundaries by asking my company to make accommodations for me having to care for my daughter,” she says. “It’s a constant internal battle.”

Research links lower incomes to higher stress levels and worse mental health in general. But several studies have also shown more specifically that incidences of burnout among women are greater because of differences in job conditions and the impact of gender on progression.

In 2018, researchers from University of Montreal published a study tracking 2,026 workers over the course of four years. The academics concluded that women were more vulnerable to burnout than men because women were less likely to be promoted than men, and therefore more likely to be in positions with less authority which can lead to increased stress and frustration. The researchers also found that women were more likely to head single-parent families, experience child-related strains, invest time in domestic tasks and have lower self-esteem – all things that can exacerbate burnout.

Nancy Beauregard, a professor at University of Montreal and one of the authors of that study, said that reflecting on her work back in 2018, it’s clear that Covid-19 has amplified the existing inequalities and imbalances that her team demonstrated through their research. “In terms of [the] sustainable development of the human capital of the workforce,” she says, “we’re not heading in a good direction.”

A pandemic catalyst

Brian Kropp, chief of human resources research at Gartner, a global research and advisory firm headquartered in Connecticut, US, agrees that while many of the factors fueling women’s burnout were in play before the pandemic, Covid-19 notably exacerbated some as it forced us to dramatically overhaul our living and working routines.

When the pandemic hit, many women found that their domestic responsibilities surged – making juggling work even harder (Credit: Getty)

Structures supporting parents’ and carers’ lives closed down, and in most cases, this excess burden fell on women. One study, conducted by academics from Harvard University, Harvard Business School and London Business School, evaluated survey responses from 30,000 individuals around the world and found that women – especially mothers – had spent significantly more time on childcare and chores during Covid-19 than they did pre-pandemic, and that this was directly linked to lower wellbeing. Many women had already set themselves up as the default caregiver within their households, and the pandemic obliterated the support systems that had previously allowed them to balance paid employment and domestic work.

That’s exactly what Sarah experienced in March 2020, when schools across New York first closed. “Initially the message was that schools would stay closed until the end of April, so that was my target: ‘Get to that point and you’ll be fine’,” recalls the Brooklyn-based 40-year-old. Now, more than 18 months into the pandemic, her two sons, aged 6 and 9, are only just reacquainting themselves with in-person learning, and Sarah’s life has changed dramatically.

In April 2020, for the first time ever, she started suffering from anxiety. The pressures of home-schooling her children while working as marketing executive for a large technology company overwhelmed her. She couldn’t sleep, worried constantly and felt depressed. Worst of all, she felt like whatever she did was inadequate because she didn’t have enough time to do anything well.

Six months into the pandemic, it was clear something had to change. Sarah’s husband, a lawyer, was earning much more than her, and had done so since they got married in 2008. So, in August 2020 the couple jointly decided that Sarah would leave her job to become a stay-at-home mother. “Before this, I never really knew what being burned out meant,” she says. “Now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Sarah’s experience is emblematic of a much broader trend. In September last year, just as the pandemic was gaining pace, more than 860,000 women dropped out of the US workforce, compared with just over 200,000 men. One estimate put the number of mothers who had quit the US workforce between February and September last year at 900,000, and the number of fathers at 300,000.

As women lost crucial social lifelines during lockdown which may have been emotional and physical outlets for stress, it’s clear that the abrupt avalanche of extra domestic responsibilities pushed many who were already busily juggling home and work life further than they could go.

‘What’s the cost?’

One of the greatest concerns workplace experts harbour is that poor mental health among women in the workplace could discourage future generations from setting ambitious professional goals, particularly if they want to start a family. That could exacerbate the gender inequalities that already exist in terms of pay and seniority in the labour market.

Data indicate that this is indeed a legitimate concern; statistics collected by CNBC and polling company SurveyMonkey earlier this year showed that the number of women describing themselves as “very ambitious” in terms of their careers declined significantly during the pandemic. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that over the first 12 weeks of the pandemic, the percentage of mothers between the ages of 25 and 44 not working due to Covid-19-related childcare issues grew by 4.8 percentage points, compared to no increase for men in the same age group.

In terms of [the] sustainable development of the human capital of the workforce, we’re not heading in a good direction – Nancy Beauregard

Equally, there are concerns about how new ways of working such as hybrid could impact on workplace gender equality. Research shows that women are more likely than men to work from home in a post-pandemic world, but there’s evidence that people who work from home are less likely to get promoted than those who have more face-time with managers. “Women are saying, I’m working just as hard and doing just as much, but because I’m working from home, I’m less likely to get promoted,” says Kropp. “That’s extremely demotivating.”

Dean Nicholson, head of adult therapy at London-based behavioural health clinic The Soke, suggests that perceptions of fairness – or otherwise – could impact on women’s workplace participation. “When the balance of justice is skewed against us in the workplace, then it’s invariably going to lead to negative feelings, not just towards the organisation, but in the way that we feel about ourselves and the value of our contribution, as well as where we’re positioned on a hierarchy of worth.”

To prevent an exodus of female talent, says Kropp, organisations must appreciate that old workplaces practices are no longer fit for purpose. Managers need to fundamentally rethink how companies must be structured in order to promote fairness and equality of opportunity, he says. That means pay equality and equal opportunities for promotion, as well as creating a culture of transparency where everyone – mothers, fathers and employees who are not parents – feels valued and can reach their professional potential while also accommodating what’s going on at home.

Steve Hatfield, global future of work leader for Deloitte, notes that mothers, especially those in senior leadership roles, are extremely important role models. “The ripple effect of what they’re seen to be experiencing right now has the potential to be truly profound on newer employees, and so it’s up to organisations to prove that they can accommodate and cater to the needs of all employees,” he says.

As such, Hephzi Pemberton, founder of the Equality Group, a London-based consultancy that focuses on inclusion and diversity in the finance and technology industry, emphasises the need for managers to be trained formally and to understand that the initiative to create a workplace that’s fit for purpose must come from the employer rather than the employee. “That’s absolutely critical to avoid the risk of burnout,” she says.

But Jia, who says she’s now on the brink of quitting her job, insists that notable changes need to happen in the home as well as the workplace. “What’s become abundantly clear to me through the pandemic is that we all have a role to play in understanding the imbalances that are created when stereotypical gender roles are blindly adhered to,” she says. “Yes, of course it sometimes makes sense for a woman to be the default caregiver or to take a step back from paid work, but we need to appreciate at what cost. This is 2021. Sometimes I wonder if we’re in the 1950s.”

By Josie Cox

Source: Why women are more burned out than men – BBC Worklife

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Work-Life Balance: What Really Makes Us Happy Might Surprise You

Finding the right work-life balance is by no means a new issue in our society. But the tension between the two has been heightened by the pandemic, with workers increasingly dwelling over the nature of their work, its meaning and purpose, and how these affect their quality of life.

Studies suggest people are leaving or planning to leave their employers in record numbers in 2021 – a “great resignation” that appears to have been precipitated by these reflections. But if we’re all reconsidering where and how work slots into our lives, what should we be aiming at?

It’s easy to believe that if only we didn’t need to work, or we could work far fewer hours, we’d be happier, living a life of hedonic experiences in all their healthy and unhealthy forms. But this fails to explain why some retirees pick up freelance jobs and some lottery winners go straight back to work.

Striking the perfect work-life balance, if there is such a thing, isn’t necessarily about tinkering with when, where and how we work – it’s a question of why we work. And that means understanding sources of happiness that might not be so obvious to us, but which have crept into view over the course of the pandemic.

Attempts to find a better work-life balance are well merited. Work is consistently and positively related to our wellbeing and constitutes a large part of our identity. Ask yourself who you are, and very soon you’ll resort to describing what you do for work.

Our jobs can provide us with a sense of competence, which contributes to wellbeing. Researchers have demonstrated not only that labour leads to validation but that, when these feelings are threatened, we’re particularly drawn to activities that require effort – often some form of work – because these demonstrate our ability to shape our environment, confirming our identities as competent individuals.

Work even seems to makes us happier in circumstances when we’d rather opt for leisure. This was demonstrated by a series of clever experiments in which participants had the option to be idle (waiting in a room for 15 minutes for an experiment to start) or to be busy (walking for 15 minutes to another venue to participate in an experiment). Very few participants chose to be busy, unless they were forced to make the walk, or given a reason to (being told there was chocolate at the other venue).

Yet the researchers found that those who’d spent 15 minutes walking ended up significantly happier than those who’d spent 15 minutes waiting – no matter whether they’d had a choice or a chocolate or neither. In other words, busyness contributes to happiness even when you think you’d prefer to be idle. Animals seem to get this instinctively: in experiments, most would rather work for food than get it for free.

Eudaimonic happiness

The idea that work, or putting effort into tasks, contributes to our general wellbeing is closely related to the psychological concept of eudaimonic happiness. This is the sort of happiness that we derive from optimal functioning and realizing our potential. Research has shown that work and effort is central to eudaimonic happiness, explaining that satisfaction and pride you feel on completing a gruelling task.

On the other side of the work-life balance stands hedonistic happiness, which is defined as the presence of positive feelings such as cheerfulness and the relative scarcity of negative feelings such as sadness or anger. We know that hedonic happiness offers empirical mental and physical health benefits, and that leisure is a great way to pursue hedonic happiness.

But even in the realm of leisure, our unconscious orientation towards busyness lurks in the background. A recent study has suggested that there really is such a thing as too much free time – and that our subjective wellbeing actually begins to drop if we have more than five hours of it in a day. Whiling away effortless days on the beach doesn’t seem to be the key to long-term happiness.

This might explain why some people prefer to expend significant effort during their leisure time. Researchers have likened this to compiling an experiential CV, sampling unique but potentially unpleasant or even painful experiences – at the extremes, this might be spending a night in an ice hotel, or joining an endurance desert race.

People who take part in these forms of “leisure” typically talk about fulfilling personal goals, making progress and accumulating accomplishments – all features of eudaimonic happiness, not the hedonism we associate with leisure.

The real balance

This orientation sits well with a new concept in the field of wellbeing studies: that a rich and diverse experiential happiness is the third component of a “good life”, in addition to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness.

Across nine countries and tens of thousands of participants, researchers recently found that most people (over 50% in each country) would still prefer a happy life typified by hedonic happiness. But around a quarter prefer a meaningful life embodied by eudaimonic happiness, and a small but nevertheless significant amount of people (about 10-15% in each country) choose to pursue a rich and diverse experiential life.

Given these different approaches to life, perhaps the key to long-lasting wellbeing is to consider which lifestyle suits you best: hedonic, eudaimonic or experiential. Rather than pitching work against life, the real balance to strike post-pandemic is between these three sources of happiness.

By: Lis Ku , Senior Lecturer in Psychology, De Montfort University

Source: Work-life balance: what really makes us happy might surprise you

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