“But…you should’ve asked! I would’ve helped!”. That’s the main phrase in one of Emma Clit’s illustrations about house chores and mental workload. A strip showing the reality of many families where a partner in a couple is in charge of managing everything, while the other waits for tasks to be assigned in order to carry them out.
The attitude of the latter often occurs within a collaboration context —that person gives a hand at home. But for distribution to become equitable, “pitching in” won’t suffice: it’s essential to be co-responsible.
What is co-responsibility, anyway? It’s the equitable distribution of tasks and responsibilities, including management, in order to allocate both partners’ time fairly. It’s the centrepiece in the construction of a more egalitarian and enriching society for every individual.
The Second Shift: when co-responsibility is only apparent
25 years ago, Berkeley’s sociologist Arlie Hochschild wanted to know about the way families were confronting the irruption of women into the labour world. In her book The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home, she described how women had to deal simultaneously with work and family, and how household responsibilities became a second work shift after finishing their office hours.
When she summed up the amount of time these women devoted to their job, child care and house chores, the sociologist realized that mothers work a month more per year than their spouses on average.
Shared responsibilities: becoming responsible, not just an assistant
Times have evolved, and the concept of co-responsibility is not a novelty anymore. In many cases, both partners in a couple are professionals and part of the family at the same time. Each one takes charge of certain house chores, based on a 50-50 premise. But this is not always true, since most usually one of the two tends to assume the strategic part of organizational issues and decision making —that’s when the scale unbalances.
That’s what Hochschild called emotional labour: an added, invisible load that takes place both in private and professional contexts. It revolves around the idea that, in spite of an equitable distribution of tasks, there’s always one of the partners assuming the strategic duties and checking on the operational and emotional management of the household and the family.
Writing the shopping list, being aware of when vaccinations are due, arranging dinner for tonight, coordinating the schedules of the whole family or being attentive to everyone’s feelings… All these chores require constant monitoring, and make the load heavier on those compelled to deal with them on their own.
Neither distribution nor responsibilities are equitable anymore. That’s what co-responsibility is about; it means to be responsible for a task not only when it’s expected to be accomplished, but during all the planning it entails.
Co-responsibility means teamwork
Within the organizational sphere, co-responsibility is understood as the accountability of a group of people regarding a common goal —a specific project or an economic objective. It entails a commitment on the part of employees towards the company and vice versa. It’s the essential ingredient for proper teamwork —if everybody is responsible for the duties they’re assigned to, nobody will be investing extra energy and time on managing others’ work.
It’s one of the positive consequences of co-responsibility at the workplace. It allows employees to focus on their tasks or projects and be more efficient, because they don’t have to keep an eye on their family or their team since they’re dealing with their corresponding assignments.
In fact, according to a study conducted by Procter & Gamble, a good strategy in order to promote co-responsibility within the family is to visualize the household as a company with diverse departments (cleaning, education, food); each one of them must be led by a person in charge of coordinating the people and duties involved, just as a project manager would do.
A family is an organization that must accomplish tasks and meet certain goals. Considering house chores as workload becomes of great help when reflecting upon how to be more productive and optimize talent. Ultimately, co-responsibility is the way we have to achieve fairer, more efficient results.