While pop culture is full of stories of couples fighting over chores, most business leaders think these battles have nothing to do with work. Yet, who does what at home profoundly affects who can do what at work. Understanding that link is vital to fostering a work environment where everyone can thrive.

In order to better understand dynamics at home, Families and Work Institute embarked on a study sponsored by PwC called Modern Families, to examine the ways in which dual-earner same-sex and different-sex couples divide family responsibilities, how they came to those arrangements, and how that affects their satisfaction with the way they share their lives. Highlights from the study include:Many current workplace norms, from the corporate ladder model of career progression, to the ideal worker who is always available and can drop everything at a moment’s notice, are predicated on assumptions about family life that reflect a bygone era, when most middle class families had one breadwinner, and he did little, if anything, at home.  Today, dual-income couples are the norm, men want to be more involved at home, and same-sex marriage is just one way family is being redefined.

  • Different-sex couples generally divide chores in ways that align with traditional gender and power roles. (Women, lower earners and those with fewer work hours tended to take primary responsibility for cooking, cleaning and laundry.)
  • Same-sex couples, however, tend to divide chores based on personal preference and the strengths that each brings to the relationship.
  • Same-sex couples are also more likely to share routine child care (74% vs. 38%).
  • Men and women in both types of couples were less satisfied with the division of household responsibilities if they held back on discussing it when they moved in together.
  • Women in different-sex couples were the most likely to stay silent about how to share those responsibilities when they moved in with their male mate, and therefore were the least satisfied with their arrangements.

While Modern Families did not ask about career satisfaction, a large-scale study of the graduates of the Harvard Business School found that women who expected to share child care and breadwinning responsibilities when they started out, but whose expectations were not met later on, were less likely to be satisfied with their careers.

These findings should serve as a cautionary tale to Millennials entering the workplace, and to those businesses trying to attract them. While Millennials say they are eager for new models of how to construct their lives both on and off the job, they are also still susceptible to the pull of traditional gender norms.

Employers who want to stand out to what will be the largest cohort in the workplace within a few years should take a close look at their current assumptions about what is going on at home – and showcase employees all along the leadership pipeline who are role modeling new ways of living in today’s world. Doing so could go a long way to creating new norms both at work and at home that work for everyone.

Anne Weisberg is the Senior Vice President for Strategy at the Families and Work Institute. She is a recognized thought leader who has designed innovative practices to build effective, inclusive work environments.