How to Help Women in the Workplace Overcome Burnout

Annually celebrated on March 8, International Women's Day is a chance to celebrate achievements and discuss current issues. This year one of the key topics is the increase of stress. During the pandemic, many women took on new and expanded roles in and out of the workplace. Even though they make up more than half of the workforce, women continue to be responsible for most household tasks, including child care. With regular disruptions to schools and daycares, plus new job responsibilities as organisations seek efficiencies, many women are holding on by a thread, and a record number have left the workforce altogether.

In DDI's article, they discuss how to understand the unique impact the pandemic and the Great Resignation has made on female-identifying employees, and how to support them.

If you would like to discuss this further and find out what solutions are available to you, contact us to find out more

The Progression to Burnout

Stress can cause you to feel disheartened or frustrated, but can be improved by slowing down, problem solving, or taking a break. Burnout, however, is the feeling of chronic, unrelenting stress accompanied by intense negative feelings such as hopelessness, exhaustion, and disillusionment. Motivation dries up and obstacles may feel insurmountable.   

The pandemic and the Great Resignation have taken a toll on all employees, but women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago. Burnout is escalating much faster among women than among men, so if you have women on your team—this is good to be aware of.

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace research, one in three women say they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce in 2021, compared with one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic. Additionally, four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs—and high employee turnover in recent months suggests that many of them are following through.

Progression into job burnout can happen quickly. A team member’s reaction may change from “That’s kind of annoying/frustrating/disappointing” to “I just can’t take it anymore!”


External and Internal Burnout Triggers Women Experience

Women are more likely to experience burnout stressors or triggers, i.e., the things that really push their buttons. Triggers can be a combination of external (what’s going on around you; things happening at work) and internal factors (who you are; your personality or tendencies).

According to Dr. Geri Puleo, the most common external or workplace triggers are (listed from most-to-least common):

  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of organizational caring
  • Negative coworkers
  • Politics or sabotage
  • Lack of resources
  • Overemphasis on ROI
  • Work overload
  • Poor communication

In addition, some workplace conditions are more likely to affect women. Considering that women tend to stay in the same job much longer than men, they can have longer exposure to work-related stressors, including:

  • Gender exclusion. Women often report a high level of stress in male-dominated occupations where they have to work harder to prove an equal level of competence with their male counterparts.
  • Hostile social interactions and verbal abuse. Many women may have to interact with a boss and/or coworkers who are disrespectful toward or have a bias against women or mothers. 
  • Sexual harassment. Yes, still. Including physical, verbal, and cyber harassment.
  • Lack of emotional support. Too few bosses offer empathy and understanding, simply resigning to “I can’t relate” or even dismissing their female team members’ concerns or frustrations.
  • Pay gap. A woman’s income level (compared to her male counterpart’s) is closely linked with anxiety and depression, even in executive-level jobs.

Tips to Help Women Overcome Burnout at Work

What’s a leader to do?

Be aware of the workplace and personality-driven triggers affecting your women employees.

Here are some ways to help women avoid workplace stress and overcome burnout:

1. Be a champion for work/life balance.

Champion structural workplace policies and benefits that protect and prioritize work/life balance, such as flexible work hours, guardrails around off-hours communications, remote work options, and paid leave. These have become especially important during the pandemic when daycare or schools may be closed.

2. Combat work-related stress.

Encourage use of wellbeing or stress management programs through an Employee Assistance Program. Go the extra mile to enrich team interactions. This can be accomplished with some rapport building through informal conversation at the start of meetings (in person or virtual).

3. Set realistic performance goals.

Remind your team members that neither “above and beyond” or perfection is expected. Get the team member’s input on their performance goals and agree to what’s feasible. Give clear guidance, as ambiguity can lead to anxiety and stress; be clear about what team members need to do and how to best get it done.

4. Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Enforce policies to minimize workplace bullying and/or report any sources of gender discrimination. Cultivate inclusivity and consider diverse points of view in problem solving.

5. Offer merit-based incentives.

Show team members that they are valued by recognizing and rewarding good performance. And remember, while monetary bonuses, raises, and promotions are a great way to honor hard workers, there may be other incentives you can offer more regularly. Consider giving team members an early dismissal day, public accolades in front of executive leaders, or a company-sponsored lunch to celebrate recent success. 

6. Provide day-to-day support.

Help team members prioritize work and be mindful of assigning work evenly and fairly. Create a psychologically safe environment by encouraging team members to candidly share with you—not just facts, but feelings. Ask, “How are you?” but not as passing pleasantry. Listen and respond with empathy; show that you care.

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