Women and Burnout – Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“The problem is not that women don’t try. On the contrary, we’re trying all the time to do and be all the things everyone else demands from us.” – Emily Nagoski

In January 2022, McKinsey and Company published the findings of two researchers, studying working women during the pandemic. Over 65,000 people were studied. The study revealed an interesting point. As compared to men, women’s feelings of burnout had doubled since 2021. In fact, among the women surveyed, 42% felt burned out. Everyone else was just hanging on. However, their employers experienced no loss of productivity or revenue in this same time frame, although many women paid the price mentally and physically balancing work and their home lives.

            Another key finding was that women leaders stepped up and supported their colleagues more often than men leaders did, which means that women leaders were doing more in the workplace as well as their responsibilities at home, increasing the likelihood of being burned out. These feelings of burnout and overwhelm are obviously what’s behind our current Great Resignation.

            So how do companies avoid the specter of talent drain before it becomes a huge crisis? Rather than simply waiting it out and taking no action, the researchers suggest that taking a proactive approach makes the most sense. Since they found that 60% of women did an additional five hours of work each day (the equivalent of a part time job), employers are learning that some form of help is in order to keep their diversity, equity and inclusiveness balanced in the workplace.

            Supplemental support for childcare and elder care were found to be most beneficial and many companies recognized the need for this change. And since women are responsible for establishing a more enlightened employee experience with their backing and support, more progressive companies are rewarding women for supporting the well-being and mental health of their direct reports. The study showed that when women leaders stepped up and helped manage people’s workloads or simply stopped by to check up on people, burnout and resignations decreased. However, the number of participating companies is small. Only 25% of companies follow that pattern today. However, the study showed that those companies were ahead with diversity, equity and inclusion.

            After working from home for almost two years, it’s harder for companies to insist that workers return to the office. Companies that instituted flexible work hours are now most likely to maintain their workforce. Working flex hours is one way women have learned to reduce burnout. Other company initiatives such as instituting “norms” or “guardrails” around working hours also support mental health. Flex time does not mean work is 24/7. That round the clock mentality is a surefire path to burnout. People need to turn off phones and laptops after 6:00PM. Extracting oneself from electronic devices is a learned skill. If you look at your loved ones around the dinner table, they’re not expecting to see your head buried in your phone.

            In order for these anti-burnout remedies to work, managers must be trained and rewarded. The study showed that first line supervisors and managers were key in influencing how burned out their people felt. And, the researchers state, to make sure employees’ well-being is part of a manager’s job, it needs to be part of performance reviews. The study noted that women managers are far more likely to take this action than men, and it often goes unnoticed and unrewarded.

Maybe measuring the well-being of employees will do more than reduce burnout and quitting. Maybe it will bring us to the end of the command-and-control era.

“The current male-dominated model of success – which equates success with burnout, sleep deprivation, and driving yourself into the ground – isn’t working for women, and it’s not working for men, either.” – Ariana Huffington

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.

Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.

Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.