Office Housework? Someone Has to Do It

Is office housework—pitching in on tasks, sweeping spills, cleaning the coffee pot—a widespread burden? And do women workers do it because they feel they have to?

The topic evoked strong feelings, from resentment to bemusement, in a survey from the Watermark Lead On Conference for Women.

More than half the all-female respondents help colleagues with work—edit a report, babysit a project, answer someone else’s phone  or handle the technology during someone’s PowerPoint presentation—the survey found. The same percent of women also help with printers, fixing paper jams, replacing cartridges or refilling paper.

They plan office parties and take notes at meetings (56%); train new hires (52%); mentor younger coworkers (44%) and even help keep the kitchen clean (47%). Other notable office housework tasks include helping with everything meeting-related (scheduling, reserving the room, setting the agenda, ordering food and cleaning afterward), serving on committees and basically acting as “a hotel concierge/help desk” fielding requests for restaurant recommendations, office equipment and building repairs and technology problem-solving.

A number of women reported doing more actual housework than the survey specified, including sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, defrosting the freezer, descaling the coffeepot, running the dishwasher, throwing out trash – and even cleaning toilets.

Why do they do it? Answers included:

  • “I’m the kind of person who helps when she can” (70%)
  • “I want to be a team player” (66%)
  • “It’s a way to develop friendships and good relationships (40%)
  • “Karma – what goes around comes around” (33%)
  • “I’m the boss and want to set a good example (25%)
  • “I have a hard time saying ‘no’ (22%)
  • “My boss expects it (16%)

In other words, the survey said, “most women do not do office housework because they feel obligated to.” Respondents added that these tasks typically take little time in their workday. More than 75% said that these tasks take up less than 10% of their day, with almost 44% saying they take up less than 5% of their day.

Almost three-quarters (72%) said they don’t regularly have to stay late or work on weekends because of the extra work. For the 28% who do put in longer hours, office housework can be an issue.

About half of respondents (52%) said a few men in their office pitch in; more than a third (38%) reported that none do and 10% said most men do.  More than three-quarters of respondents agreed that “any expectations around office housework are in men’s favor.”