Employee Well-Being Report: How We Can Address Burnout Among Women
Our latest Employee Well-Being Report revealed that, almost any way you look at it, women feel a heavier burden from their workload than men.
- Overall, women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 20% more frequently than men.
- In smaller organizations (those with up to 1,000 employees), women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 28% more frequently than men.
- At the leadership levels (manager and higher), women cited experiencing overwhelming workload 41% more frequently than men.
This data provides a window into just one of the many factors that are contributing to women feeling burned out at work and ultimately leaving their jobs. To better understand burnout among women at work—and what to do about it—we turned to three experts: Burnout specialist and holistic career coach Rachel Montañez, RedThread Research co-founder and Principal Analyst Stacia Sherman Garr, and Glint People Science Head of Strategic Development Amy Lavoie.
Here’s what they had to say.
‘We need all hands on deck’
Rachel is a career coach in private practice and in partnership with Fortune 500 companies, and she works mostly with women in the middle to senior stages of their careers. One theme she has observed: There’s a crisis of confidence among women in the workplace.
“I work with incredibly high-achieving women,” she says. “Work takes up a lot of time, and it’s hard for them to find the time to build themselves up, to develop themselves—to do anything.”
In Rachel’s eyes, the solution comes at both the individual and the organizational levels.
“I feel that in order to effectively approach burnout among women,” she says, “we need all hands on deck.”
Managers should know their employees’ full stories
When it comes to actively addressing acute burnout among women in the workplace, Rachel says organizations that encourage full, humane relationships between manager and employee are at an advantage.
“How do you address burnout if you don’t have a complete person’s story?” she says. “It’s incredibly important for both the employee and the manager because both will feel like they actually know what’s going on.”
But there’s so much more organizations can do to prevent burnout, Rachel says, and that’s where organizational change comes in.
Approach burnout holistically, and make the workplace more equitable
There’s only so much burnout intervention can do if an organization isn’t set up in an equitable way. For instance, Rachel outlines how microaggressions, workload, the pay gap, lack of recognition, and systemic barriers to career advancement disproportionately impact Black women in the workplace.
In addition to systemic work organizations should be doing to create a culture of belonging, close wage gaps, and broaden how it designs its work, Rachel says we would all benefit from a full employee lifecycle burnout prevention strategy. For instance, what if an organization had a better understanding of a person’s work habits and burnout triggers before even hiring them?
“We need to be clear on the end goal of beating burnout,” she says. “Yes, it’s for business success—but it’s also so that we can help people propel in their career and keep them engaged.”
‘It’s about tone, expectations, the ability to push back’
Stacia says organizations that are seeing high burnout levels among their employees—and especially among the women in their workforce—would be well advised to take a second look at their culture and values.
She sees a parallel between the obstacles women in the workforce faced in the late 1980s and today’s narrative in which many are quick to say women are leaving the workforce due to demands as mothers. But, like then, there’s more to today’s story, she says.
“It’s easy to say that women are simply dropping out of the workforce because they have to care for their children,” Stacia says. “But that seems like an overly simplistic analysis. It may be that the constraints and expectations of many jobs are not allowing women to work as they need to during these times. Yet, many women are making it work. We need to understand what those women—and their organizations—are doing differently.”
Establish trust and psychological safety
The pandemic has clearly separated organizations that trust their employees from those that don’t. When distrust is part of company culture, employees (and especially women) often feel they need to work even harder, be more accessible, and be hyper aware of organizational politics, Stacia says.
An outgrowth of this environment is that employees don’t feel the sense of psychological safety they would need to be honest about the full picture of their lives or suggest ways to rejigger work in a setup that’s more sustainable.
“It’s about tone, expectations, the ability to push back,” Stacia says. In her wide-ranging research, the organizations that have focused on agility, responsiveness, preparedness, and employee centricity during the pandemic have far outperformed those that have acted from a place of fear or distrust.
Amy dug further into the Employee Well-Being Report’s data insights to zero in on how connection factors into how women feel about work. Turns out, during the first six months of the pandemic, women tended to feel more disconnected from colleagues and less supported by both their manager.
“We know that relationships matter at work,” Amy says. “It could be that, for women, relationships are a more critical component of employee engagement. So when it’s more difficult to make and maintain connections—for instance, during an extended work-from-home period amidst a pandemic—it could be that women feel that deficiency more intensely.”
Connection in the workplace can come in many different forms, Amy says. But perhaps the most important connection at work is between employee and manager. According to Glint’s State of the Manager report, employees who recommend their manager are 2.3 times more likely to be engaged.
“It cannot be overstated: Managers play a huge role in helping prevent burnout for women in the workplace,” Amy says. “In the best-case scenario, managers are their employees’ No. 1 advocate.”
But Amy, herself a manager, says informally supporting well-being for women is not enough. The first few months of the pandemic, her team was reporting extremely low well-being scores in their Glint pulse, despite her regularly asking, “How can I help?”
“We as women are often more reluctant to ask for what we need because we worry we will be seen as less committed,” she says. “If our male counterparts can keep up, but we can’t, the fear is that we might be asking for too much or we will miss opportunities to have an impact.”
Amy recommends managers:
- suggest things the team or individual employees can stop doing
- formalize breaks and boundaries
- create space for meaningful connections
She tried this herself and took a more formal position: she blocked every Friday as a “Well-Being Day” for the entire team. The team could spend it however they wanted, but the formal “away” signal on their calendar and shared commitment across the team gave them a meeting-free day to take care of their needs. As a result, her team’s well-being survey scores improved by 17 points in a three-month period. Additionally, prioritization scores improved by 22 points, and productivity surged.
“This forced us to not work less, but work smarter,” Amy says. “We started thinking critically about every meeting, every project. And no one had to worry about asking for an exception because we were all doing it together.”
The team has shared that it has been transformational for them.
“Whether we spend the day on deep work, covering home schooling, or taking care of our health, the team has shared that they find themselves so much more energized and focused on Monday mornings,” she says.
Since organizations and industries structure work differently, this approach doesn’t work for every team. But Amy challenges managers to think bigger and more creatively about focus and boundaries.
“So many of today’s work norms, like eight-hour days and five-day weeks, are not backed by the science of productivity, engagement, or health,” Amy says. She hopes managers and leaders use the disruption of the pandemic to rethink what it looks like to do great work.
Amy also suggests creating norms that help everyone invest in their well-being, not just the person who has demands outside of the workplace.
“Women, especially those from underrepresented groups, manage a disproportionate amount of responsibilities in the home, are more frequently asked to take on thankless tasks at work, and have fewer examples of leaders who are like them,” Amy says. “This leads to a constant feeling like we can’t keep up. Let’s not add to that by asking women to figure out the solutions to burnout as well.”
Learn more about how Glint’s People Success Platform can help you prevent burnout among your employees.