Of all the posts I’ve written in the last few years, one of my favorites is Resentful? Overworked? Face these painful facts about shared work.
The fact is, shared work is a very common source of argument and resentment among people—in couples, in group houses, at work, in families. Anyplace where people have to divide work.
I thought of the challenge of shared work when I was watching the movie Enough Said. (You know, the one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini.)
There are seven rules of shared work, and the movie highlights three of them:
1. Work done by other people seems easy.
2. When you’re doing a job that benefits other people, it’s easy to assume that they feel conscious of the fact that you’re doing this work—that they should feel grateful, and that they should and do feel guilty about not helping you.
3. If you want someone else to do a task, DON’T DO IT YOURSELF.
Eva is a massage therapist who goes to people’s homes. When she visits the home of one particular client, she has to lug her heavy massage table up a set of steep outdoor stairs to get to his front door.
Here’s where the shared work problem arises (I’m paraphrasing the movie from memory here):
Eva tells a friend, “He’s such a jerk! He sees me carry this heavy table and doesn’t help. Each time this happens, he probably feels more and more aware of the fact that he’s being so inconsiderate, but still, he doesn’t help. The more times I carry it alone, the more he’s in debt to me for what I’m doing, single-handed.”
But what’s the client thinking? Probably…nothing.
Probably, the more times Eva carries the table upstairs, the less likely the client is to think about the hassle. He doesn’t realize how heavy the table is, because he’s never carried it. This job is in her territory; it likely never crosses his mind to lend a hand.
And indeed, when Eva finally stops on the stairs and asks for help, he rushes to help her and exclaims, “Wow, this is heavy!”
Understanding the dynamics behind shared work—and, more important, the work that isn’t being shared—can help us figure out how to handle any conflicts more readily.
Have you faced a problem with shared work, the way Eva did? Now I’m trying to remember what happened in that episode of The Office when no one would clean out the microwave…