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When Work Feels Like Work. Blegh.

February 1, 2011

Last Wednesday I hit the road to San Antonio for a conference. It was everything you could hope for in Texas–good margaritas, the Alamo, cowboy hats, big guys with crazy facial hair shouting at you about cheap barbecue at 10:30 in the morning. You know, the usual.

Conferences are great, mainly because my time is spent equally between seeing people I love and miss who now live in far away places (ahem, Israel) and being totally reinvigorated about my work. There is a lot of “oh yeah!” and “that makes me think of this!” and “we have data to look at that–let’s do it!” So there you are on a Sunday afternoon in some nice warm place in January feeling like nothing can stop you.

Then you eat airport food. Then the plane touches down in Minneapolis, ringing in at a whopping 11 degrees. Then you realize you have to teach the next day, and that you still have to prepare for class on Wednesday, and you’ll have to unpack (ugh, hate unpacking) and do all that laundry. And well, all of that energy  seems to fly right out of you. Even if your husband graciously has dinner waiting for you when you get back from the airport, it still doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s about to be Monday.

Anyway, all of this results in one of those Monday work days that just feels like work. You know those days? It’s like not only does your work take energy, but it’s like it takes extra effort just to be there, like you have to keep reminding yourself to focus, and you need a whole extra latte to stop yourself from surfing the internet all day.  In psychology we call this self-regulation–it takes buckets of it to get through day like that and actually accomplish something. I have a feeling school felt like this on the day this photo was taken day circa 1991 (?):

You have to know me to know that I am usually a big ham for the camera, so the above look can only mean life was a struggle that day. *

Anyway, in San Antonio, I saw this great talk about days like that, and well they’re not only bad for productivity (I mean, we all end up mentally decorating the apartments highlighted in the real estate section of the newspaper on those days. We all do that, right?), but they’re also bad for your relationships! I guess this isn’t that surprising. Essentially, the idea is that with all that energy lost at work, we have nothing left when our spouse burns the Shepherd’s Pie or forgets the wine or whatever. And then you get in a fight. And then  you end up going around the house making really exasperated sounds like “oh puh-lease” and “ugh!”

Well these researchers** went even further and looked at how extra work and feeling overworked effected couples who were parents or not. And this is where it gets interesting. For non-parents guys’ workload was associated with more relationship satisfaction for both people (women’s workload didn’t do much apparently). But they found that when couples are parents, guys’ increased workload is associated with less happiness in the marriage. And when women have more to do at work, they’re happier. Essentially, when women have extra work, it forces more equality in terms of house stuff. Now, I don’t have kids, so I can’t imagine this exact scenario, but I feel like it’s when you’re coming up the steps of your 5-flight walk-up with luggage, and your boyfriend who never helps carry stuff, all of a sudden becomes Mr. Chivalry. Somehow, when you’re carrying a load, it brings out the best in them. I like it.

*Yeah, we had to wear uniforms. I wish I still had that kilt, considering this.

**Ben Karney and colleagues at UCLA

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