by Andi Simon, author of “Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business“
I always look forward to reading McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace research. This is the seventh year it has been collected, and the data compiles survey results from 65,000 people in 423 organizations. Of particular concern to me was the data on burnout.
As this research reveals, “The pandemic continues to take a toll on employees, and especially women. Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago, and burnout is escalating much faster among women than among men. 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. 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.”
What are the causes of burnout?
Let’s be honest. Life/work balance, or imbalance, has always been a challenge for women. The fact that the changes generated by the pandemic have amplified and accelerated this imbalance should not be surprising. McKinsey’s research points out a number of key issues which both businesses and their employees must address. This is not and has never been a one-sided problem.
Issues that we at SAMC are encountering with our own clients include:
Remote work has turned into all-the-time work. Work has become life, and all too often the expectation for a woman is that she is on-call all the time. I have several clients I am coaching who send emails late at night without even thinking about why they are doing this or who is going to read them. It just feels necessary to them to either show their bosses they are working or to show their colleagues they are not “goofing off.”
Humans hate ambiguity, and the hybrid work environment is full of it. People’s brains like things in boxes. When an organization fails to establish clear expectations for its employees, they must create their own work solutions that may or may not meet the goals of their employers. Nothing breeds emotional stress more than not knowing what the right and wrong way is to get something done.
Out of sight, out of mind is not out of touch. Women still have a difficult time being heard, seen and recognized for the jobs they are doing. When they are in the office they are at least seen. But in meetings (especially remote ones), they are often not listened to or even heard when they speak. On a typical Zoom call, the men most likely control the conversation and the women are discounted. As McKinsey’s research suggests, whether it’s an in-person or virtual meeting, women have a difficult time having their ideas appreciated by others, particularly men. Along these lines, Yale School of Management Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Victoria Brescoll found that when male executives speak up often, they are perceived to be competent, but when female executives do the same, they receive lower competency ratings. Is there any wonder that if women are barely allowed to speak in a meeting and when they do, nobody listens to them, that this would lead to frustration and burnout, if not dropout?
How to address the challenge?
There are three ways to think about this.
The first, as the McKinsey research (as well as that of others) argues, is that reducing women’s burnout is a manager’s job. You must show more empathy and be more compassionate. For example, managers should meet often to assess how their female employees are doing emotionally, the report says. Managers should also proactively find ways to help female employees legitimately go “off-the-job,” with the company’s support. Companies should create cultures where their staff, male and female, are praised and promoted for not burning out. The ways in which managers support their staff, particularly their female staff, should even become part of their performance evaluation.
The second is to create a workplace where women are highly valued regardless of where they are working. Understandably, it is a big shift for a company to adjust to a hybrid workplace, do it quickly, and do it so that women employees don’t find their careers abruptly shortchanged. It is also a large task to create a gender- and racially balanced workplace culture. If a company wants to reduce the burnout, then reduce the stress for women and men working for that company.
The third is that women must refocus on taking care of themselves. It may sound strange, but perhaps burnout and self-care are closely connected. Women have always had a difficult time balancing the responsibilities they have at home with expectations of the workplace, regardless of remote, hybrid or in-person. So what might women do to maintain healthy lives while keeping up with the fast pace of change?
Is it time to bring self-care and well-being into the workplace?
To address the rising tide of burnout, we have been working with clients on how to bring well-being into their workplace to address the needs of their staff, both male and female. What we’re seeing, even before the pandemic, is that burnout is readily present and self-care is not. But also, what we are seeing is that if we can shift the conversation from unhealthy pain to healthy response, our clients can reduce the contagion of burnout and build healthier organizations. And the mindset of burnout is indeed contagious.
To do this, it takes a dedicated focus on self-care that feels strange but is neither difficult nor unfamiliar. It just takes a new mindset. Typically, we women have been raised not to focus on ourselves—that’s selfish. Women are supposed to take care of others first. But what if women could re-think self-care, not as something self-serving or self-ish but as something essential, something they need to do before they take care of others? After all, you cannot give your attention to others if you have not paid any attention to what you need in order to find happiness and self-worth.
Ready to take some time for you?
It’s well established that as people take care of themselves, recharge and relax, they find new energy and focus, their stress decreases, and they find themselves living a happier, more fulfilled life.
1. Emotional and spiritual activities that allow you to appreciate and enjoy nature, contribute to a cause that’s important to you, meditate and reflect, spend time with your family and friends, and most importantly, not feel guilty taking a few minutes each day to pause and do something that brings you joy.
2. A gratitude diary which you add to every evening. We know that our well-being and happiness is elevated when we are grateful, express our gratitude, and share our gratitude with others.
3. Exercise. Whether you walk your dog or do yoga, work out with a trainer or putter around in your garden, it doesn’t matter. Just do it, as Nike tells us. The positive effects will amaze you.
4. Steps you are going to take to reduce your stress as much as possible. Listen to your inner feelings, motivations and thoughts. Say no to extra responsibilities when you feel overwhelmed. Remember, “no” is not a four-letter word. It is OK to say no. It is also OK to say “yes,” just make sure it’s something you really want to say yes to.
It all starts with that first step.
Adopting even one new positive habit can have a huge impact on your happiness, stress levels and feelings of burnout. But developing habits take time. When you’re overwhelmed, self-care can get forgotten and self-neglect can become the pattern. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to experience burnout. Taking some time for you, even just a few minutes a day, can truly change your life.
Andi Simon, Ph.D., author of “Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business“, is an international leader in the emerging field of corporate anthropology and founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants. She is also author of the award-winning book “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights“. A trained practitioner in Blue Ocean Strategy®, Simon has conducted over 400 workshops and speeches on the topic.