News - 04.11.2021

Let’s do the third shift together!

VR is currently launching a campaign on the concept of the third shift and the mental strain that comes with it. But what is the third shift, and why is VR shining a spotlight on it? You can imagine that the third shift is like being a kind of manager or foreman of the home, that’s to say, being the person who oversees and manages the division of labour within the home. Who makes sure that everything goes smoothly in everyday life. Studies show that women are mostly on the third shift alone, and the burden of being on duty 24 hours a day is very stressful mentally. Because the third shift never ends, from the time you go to work (the first shift) and until you get home and the housework takes over (the second shift), the third shift is running around the clock.

The third shift in my home

Personally, I had paid little attention to this and considered the division of labour in my home sufficiently equal to define me and my wife as equals. Then a few months ago, the VR gender equality committee started working on a project about the third shift and I first heard this concept. The third shift? This immediately caught my attention, and I didn’t know then that this would completely change the way I approach the tasks at home. That is because my wife Guðbjörg has taken care of this completely. She books the ballroom dancing for our daughter, with everything that comes with it, and our son’s e-sports. She constantly reminds me to pick them up and drive them places, as though I would just forget if I didn’t get constant reminders! Guðbjörg organises all family vacations and trips, communicates with other parents and never confuses the names of our children’s friends. She thinks ahead 6 to 12 months, while I think ahead 6 to 12 days, which is probably the reason why I never manage to surprise her or plan anything, because she’s done it ages ago!

The division of labour between us on the first and second shift is equal, and if one of us falls behind, the other makes up for it, but this was not the case with the third shift. We have talked a lot about how we can improve and balance this invisible strain created by the third shift, a strain that is worth sharing equally, just as everything else we do. This was a bit difficult at first for Guðbjörg, the “planning guru”, who had a hard time putting important family matters in the hands of the “it’ll be fine” guy. But we’re getting there. Although I am not allowed to plan the summer holidays and she is not allowed to plan construction at home, and we’re both still in the design role in these tasks. But hopefully that’ll change too. However, I no longer get constant reminders of what to do, how and when. Whether the kids have definitely gone to school in the morning when she arrives at work at 7, or who and what to pick up or get sent a shopping list of what to buy and what not – I figure it out on my own more. It’s surprisingly easy to get involved in these matters, but of course this involves more strain. Now, for example, I’m in more contact with other parents, and I’m more or less clear about what their children’s names are.

Why are we talking about this?

People may be wondering why a trade union is engaging in issues that are not directly related to the labour market, but rather to people’s homes. It’s very easy to answer that: in order for women and men to be equal, we must look beyond the labour market, because it is not an isolated entity. Numerous studies show that strain on women due to domestic work and responsibilities in the home and family affects employment and career advancement, causes stress and even leads to burnout. This is a societal issue that affects us all.

VR has long fought for gender equality in the labour market and will continue to do so until full equality is achieved. The organisation has a gender equality committee that is very active and effective, and the advertising campaign that is now being launched is the result of excellent work within the committee.

Let’s do the third shift together!

It is possible to do the third shift together and share the mental burden and only natural that people who are cohabiting or married share the responsibilities that come with home life. In Guðbjörg’s and my case, I had to get more involved in these tasks and she also had to trust me to do so and let me in. The most important thing is that we are aware of the third shift and the stress that comes with it. We try our best to remind each other if we forget and balance each other out. 

I encourage VR members to check out our website, vr.is, which contains more detailed definitions of the shift concepts, as well as all kinds of information about the third shift and the mental burden.

Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson,
President of VR.