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Three Penn State researchers measured the levels of cortisol, a biological marker for stress, when test subjects were both at home and at work. Both women and men had lower cortisol levels at the office.
"These low levels of cortisol may help explain a long-standing finding that has always been hard to reconcile with the idea that work is a major source of stress: People who work have better mental and physical health than their non-working peers," writes researcher Sarah Damaske, assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology and women's studies at Penn State. She also notes that, "Mothers who work full time and steadily across their twenties and thirties report better mental and physical health at age 45 than mothers who work part-time, who stay at home, or who experience repeated bouts of unemployment."
Significantly, women also described themselves as being happier at work. Also, parents of both genders had lower stress at work, although their stress levels didn't decrease as sharply as those of non-parents.
Why Are We So Stressed at Home?
"What the study doesn't measure is whether people are still doing work when they're at home, whether it's household work or work brought home from the office," writes Belinda Luscombe at Time. "For many men, the end of the workday is a time to kick back. For women who stay home, they never get to leave the office. And for women who work outside the home, they often are playing catch up with household tasks. With the blurring of roles, and the fact that the home front lags well behind the workplace in making adjustments for working women, it’s not surprising that women are more stressed at home."
Women still do more household chores than men. On average, women do 60 percent of the unpaid work that goes into a running the home, and enjoy less leisure time than men.
So What's the Solution?
"Our findings suggest that telling people to quit or cut back on work in order to resolve their work-family conflicts may not be the best long-run advice," Damaske writes. "Rather, companies should consider adopting family friendly policies that allow workers to continue getting the health benefits of employment while still being able to meet their family responsibilities."
One possibility, she says, is adopting a Results Only Work Environment. This model judges workers more on what they do and less on where they are when they do it. The aim is to boost flexibility while giving incentives for achieving goals, not logging face time, enabling workers to use their time better both at home and at work.
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