Why Women are Burning Out, Quitting, and Love Staying Home

Women and Burnout

“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

McKinsey Study of 65,000 people

In January 2022, McKinsey and Company published the findings of two researchers, studying working women during the pandemic. Over 65,000 people participated in the research. The study revealed an interesting point. As compared to men, women’s feelings of burnout 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, because women didn’t slow their pace, in fact, most women actually took on more work. As a result, many women paid the price mentally and physically trying to balance work and home life.

            Another key finding was that often, the extra work women took on had to do with caring and concern for coworkers. Women leaders stepped up and supported their colleagues more often than men leaders did, which means that women leaders expended more energy in the workplace as well as met their responsibilities at home. These feelings of burnout and overwhelm easily translate into the current Great Resignation.

The Threat of Talent Drain

            So how do companies avoid the threat of talent drain before it becomes a huge crisis? Rather than simply waiting it out and taking no action, the researchers suggest that 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 for women 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 empathetic employee experience by showing backing and support, more progressive companies are rewarding women for encouraging 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. Furthermore, the study showed that those companies were ahead with diversity, equity and inclusion.

Flexible Work Hours

            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.

Training and Rewards

            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

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s 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. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.