Raise your hand if you can relate: waking up every morning is a struggle, the Sunday scaries have become a daily ritual and you can’t remember the last time you felt excited about work.
If this sounds like you, it’s possible that you’re experiencing burnout – and you’re not the only one.
In the context of the global pandemic, burnout is on the rise and disproportionately affecting women. According to McKinsey’s newest Women in the Workplace report, women are more burned out than they were a year ago, and the burnout gap between women and men has nearly doubled. The research also found that women are more affected by burnout, exhaustion and stress than men, across all levels of seniority.
With the pandemic’s challenges to contend with and uncertainty around returning to the office, changing travel restrictions, school closures and the invisible labour of childcare and at home that has disproportionately fallen to women, it’s no surprise that burnout is getting worse.
Endemic burnout comes at a high cost – women being pushed out of the workforce altogether. “One in three women says that they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year, compared with one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic,” according to the report.
LinkedIn’s recent Workforce Confidence Index found that 74% of American women surveyed reported work-related stress, compared to only 61% of men. “Women and men cited similar factors as their leading cause of job-related stress in their lives – but the intensity levels were almost always higher for women,” the report states.
“Women senior leaders do more to help their employees navigate work-life challenges, relative to their male peers."
Alexis Krivkovich, co-author of the Women in the Workplace report
Beyond the many consequences to mental health including anxiety, depression, vital exhaustion and trouble sleeping, burnout also takes a toll physiologically. In women, burnout has been linked to inflammatory responses and oxidative stress, according to a study by Sweden’s National Institute for Psychosocial Factors and Health.
Both McKinsey’s and LinkedIn’s research also found that despite suffering from burnout at higher rates, women are fighting against burnout more than men. And that’s not all they’re doing.
In a recent episode of , authors of the Women in the Workplace report Alexis Krivkovich and Lareina Yee discussed the research findings and its impacts.
“Women leaders are really stepping in, in this moment, to be the type of leaders that companies say they most need and most value. That role that they’re playing is really instrumental, frankly, to keeping a lot of companies going,” said Alexis.
“Women senior leaders do more to help their employees navigate work-life challenges, relative to their male peers. Similarly, they spend that additional time helping manage workloads, and they’re 60% more likely to be focusing on emotional support,” she said.
This support from women managers leads to happier employees – and thus, better employee retention and lower risk of attrition.
“But it explains a lot of this sensation that we hear regarding burnout and fatigue because they’re disproportionately doing this additional work in the office context, and we already know, because we’ve measured it in the past, that they’re disproportionately doing it at home too,” Alexis explained.
Employers cannot afford to ignore the burnout crisis any longer, or else they risk an even more dire talent crisis, with women taking with them their skills of leadership and emotional support that is helping the business to succeed.
“I think a lot of companies, unconsciously or consciously, are just letting it wait out: ‘Let’s just see what it’s like when we return to office. Let’s see what it’s like in a couple of months.’ You know, ‘Let’s see what it’s like when we have another vaccine rollout.’
That’s not the right mindset here,” said Lareina.
“You face a potential talent crisis, because as women—and as your workforce overall have been reflecting, you don’t know if they’re going to make a move, and if they were to make a move and you were to lose half of your women senior leaders, that would take you back decades,” she said.
So with burnout so widespread and detrimental to our health and our workplaces, what can be done to overcome it?
“The path forward is clear. Companies need to take bold steps to address burnout. They need to recognize and reward the women leaders who are driving progress. And they need to do the deep cultural work required to create a workplace where all women feel valued,” states the Women in the Workplace report.
Lareina said: “What can leaders do first? They can acknowledge where we are. Second, they can think about what is the professional progression for these talented women. Third, they can start actually forming the work routines for a return to office, not waiting for the physical workspace but actually starting to live into it today.”
“Instead of having completely unchecked boundaries, start to put those in, start to put in the talent-management processes, the manager support, and the actual individual experience. And if you need to start asking different questions of your workforce in your pulse, do so,” she advised.
“We see the companies that are outperforming year over year on diversity goals. The companies that are outpacing their peers are leaning forward on things like childcare, elder-care supplements, thinking about flexibility, reimagining the roles. And, in particular, focusing more on the outputs and less on the inputs,” added Alexis.
“The second thing they’re doing is they’re actually rewarding that extra work that women are doing in the workplace. [Women] show up as leaders who care for employees and their well-being — they disproportionately are holding the responsibility for DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion]. Only 25% of companies reward that in their performance reviews,” she said.
With the impacts of burnout as severe and far reaching as they are, leaders who act proactively to the burnout crisis, lead with empathy and support their staff well will not only reap the rewards of a more successful workplace – but a happier and healthier one too.