Did You See the Movie “Enough Said”? And Some Thoughts on Shared Work.

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…

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  • Sarah Frumento

    I saw the movie too and thought it how powerful it was when she had asked for help. If only we would remember to ask for help sooner, so much resentment could be prevented.

  • Mary

    The main thing I remember from The Office episode is how Ryan excused himself from cleaning by saying “Oh, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to clean a microwave, I’d just make a mess of it.”

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh I love that show so much.

      • Xavi

        As an MT now in private practice who used to do house calls I could completely relate to that
        scene where Eva carries the table up the stairs. I didn’t feel resentment towards my clients at all. Mostly I thought they just had no idea how heavy and awkward the table was to carry.
        Occasionally someone would offer to help but not often. This definitely bears out the “work other people do is easy”.
        The Office microwave scenario is more common in the suite of offices I’m in now. The job I find myself doing constantly ( it seems ) is replacing the empty toilet tissue roll.
        People really seem oblivious to that job!

        • gretchenrubin

          I think I must do a separate post on the microwave scene. So brilliant.
          Which gives me a delightful excuse to watch The Office!

  • Melissa

    I haven’t seen either show but my feelings with shared work is that is important to follow a job right through and not rely on someone else to get it finished. If it is your turn to do the dinner, do the whole job from shopping for ingredients, making the food and cleaning it all up including the dishes. If you do the washing, then also fold, iron and put away the clean clothes. That way you are not imposing your own time schedule on another nor are they able to sabotage your part done job by not finishing it.
    I also feel as a mother and wife, that there is no problem doing all the jobs you would have to do for yourself if it was just you alone in the house. I would have to make my bed, clean my basin and toilet, cook and clean up meals, do the washing and clean my house anyway, why resent doing all of that. Focus on getting others to do the extra jobs that you wouldn’t have had to do had they not been living with you, such as kids tidying up their toys and making their own beds, and husbands ironing their own shirts.
    In fact husbands can lighten the load, often doing the nasty jobs like lawn mowing, rubbish bins and home maintenance and gardening that you would have had to do if you lived alone.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      As a person who lived solo for many years (I now have my Mom with me, but she is only able to do small things) and learned that if I wanted something done, I had to either do it, hire it done, or live with it as is. The luxury of sharing anything of the household and car maintenance duties . . . wow.

      • shannon

        Indeed. I lived on my own for the first time in my life starting at age 38. I think as a person who prefers a neat home, it has taught me so much about what goes into that – including how much of the mess here is my fault, compared to how much I THOUGHT my partner contributed to before we separated. Living alone is definitely eye-opening.

  • Sarah Kerner

    I think I need to watch that movie! This post reminds me of the office refrigerator at my work. (I swear, I work at a strange intersection of The Office and Parks and Rec!) Oh, the absurdity!

  • Anonymous

    I’m married to someone with ADHD, so that person can literally not see things that are undone. My spouse is supposedly in charge of washing dishes, but things that need to be hand washed can sit on the counter for weeks, and dishes in the drainer can also pile up untouched. In addition, I consider wiping the counter and sink as chores related to dish washing, but my spouse apparently does not. I came home from a recent vacation with friends and got very frustrated with the state of our kitchen sink and counter area, so I cleaned it very thoroughly and am now making sure it stays that way. My spouse doesn’t care about it, but I do, so I did this as a gift to myself. At any rate, while I am aware that my spouse does do some things, like shoveling, and that I need to be careful about not discounting that work, when you have ADHD in the family, a whole new set of issues complicates shared work.

  • Shannon

    The story about the massage therapist reminds me of a conversation I once ended up in. I was on a web forum and asked advice about complaining about the way my groceries were bagged at the local Whole Foods, when a very good friend of mine was the manager at the Whole Foods (the bagging was often terrible there – cashiers would put a six pack of beer on top of my strawberries, those kinds of mistakes that are just complete carelessness). I got good advice on how to place a complaint when it’s your friend you are complaining to, but then something unexpected happened – someone on the forum angrily said “I bet you’re one of those people that doesn’t even help the cashier pack your groceries, aren’t you?”
    A small number of people on the forum (maybe 2 or 3) who had worked in grocery stores before had a major chip on their shoulders about people who don’t help with the grocery bagging. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the forums were a little stunned and surprised by this reaction. Someone finally said “why do you expect someone to bag their own groceries? That’s your job. You are getting paid to be there, while as a customer I am paying to shop there. Those of us who have never helped aren’t being jerks, we just never even considered that this was anything other than your job.”
    So it seems to me that not only does the massage therapist in this story fail to apply these three rules, but it’s also completely possible that even if someone sees that the massage table is heavy, they don’t think about helping because this is her job. It’s not wrong to ask for help, but arguably, it may be wrong-minded to EXPECT help from someone who is your customer.

    • gretchenrubin

      What an excellent example.

      I would almost think I SHOULDN’T do it – feels like interfering with what someone else is doing, in their own way.

      Also, I’m reminded me of a comment someone posted a while back. As a favor to the people in her office, she sorted the mail, and got increasingly irked when no one else pitched in.
      She finally said something, and everyone said, “But we thought that was part of your job!” Because she was doing it, they assumed that it was part of her job description.
      So what exactly is covered by a person’s “job” may be very ambiguous, and even the most well-meaning people may make a mistake.
      Terrific illustration!

      • Agnes

        I would actually be worried that if too many people bagged their own groceries, the bagger would be out of a job! At the really cheapo places, you have to bag your own.

  • Cynthia

    Such a great movie!

  • BKF

    There’s a cultural angle too. When I first came to the US, a male friend took me to the grocery store and when we reached my place, he asked me if I needed help carrying the heavy bags upsatirs. I did but I said, “No, no,” and was stunned when he said, “Okay, see you tomorrow (at work),” and left. In my country, you were expected to demur but the other person would have insisted on helping you! (Same goes for food, you refuse second helpings but you are urged to have them anyway.) I quickly learnt that Americans mean what they say. 🙂

    Some of the people I work with ARE territorial, though, and resent it if you start “helping” them even with good intentions.

  • Kelvin Tan Tuan Wei

    To me whose love language is Words of Affirmation, this is one of my pet peeves about the many people I get closer to, who are more into Acts of Service.

  • I haven’t seen the move yet, but the post got me thinking of how many times I have been in a situation where I didn’t get the help I needed because I didn’t think I should have to ask for it. I assumed the other person could see that I needed some assistance, and the fact that they didn’t offer meant that they didn’t care to give any. This also extended to other situations, such as expecting others to automatically know that I was hurt or upset by something they did.
    I have gotten so much better at speaking up and not expecting other people to read my mind. Looking forward to seeing the movie.

  • Msconduct

    I’m a psychologist, and I read about a study a while back in which participants in tasks shared with another person were asked to estimate what percentage of the task they personally had completed. In each pair, both participants felt they had done more than the other!