Chronic stress — that prolonged, constant feeling of stress that negatively affects your health — and burnout are not new problems impacting women in the workplace, however the pandemic has turned-up the volume. Women are declaring: the way we are working is not working.
During coaching sessions and corporate workshops, women tell us they are “more stressed than ever before”, “are so overwhelmed, by day’s end all they can do is crash into bed” and, “are averaging a C+ in life”.
How often in the last 16 months have you worked late nights to meet project deadlines? Or, taken on more work because so many of your female colleagues have left their jobs? Maybe you’ve even contemplated leaving to preserve your health, sanity and relationships.
This burnout tidalwave is not just impacting working moms – it’s impacting all women, leading to the difficult decision: well-being or career.
The numbers don’t lie
If you are a woman in leadership, you may feel like you’re barely holding on — trying to keep your team together while also grappling with the crushing realization that your female colleagues are rapidly leaving their professional roles.
But, what if there was a way to shift this state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that is robbing the US workforce of talent?
Most research puts the burden of addressing burnout on the individual or the organization.
However, solving this crisis requires a collaborative approach: individuals must understand what they need to be well and organizations must build a culture that supports individuals to be well.
Where to start
As women, we must understand what drives our stress. In our coaching practices we consistently hear: I don’t realize how stressed I am until “my partner points it out”, “I’m constantly snapping at the people I love and have no patience at work” or “I landed in the emergency room”.
Instead of waiting until a breaking point, what if you could take a more preventative approach?
If you’re thinking I have no idea how to do this, you are not alone.
Start by developing a daily check-in process: Ask yourself, on a scale of 1-5, how stressed am I feeling right now? What is making me feel this way? Then, think about how you want to feel instead. Challenge yourself to come up with 1-2 things that will help you get there.
This may sound “too easy” but when applied consistently, small changes enable sustainable transformation. Leaning into our own well-being is a critical first step; but not where we stop.
A recent Forbes article explained that well-being is not a “program,” [or] “topic,” but rather a mindset, ethos, or most successfully, a cultural orientation within the workplace.
Like other key performance indicators, a culture of well-being does not happen by accident. It takes deliberate, consistent engagement from every part of an organization–including the Board–and starts with a clear strategy.
We must build well-being into annual and long-term plans, measure and transparently share outcomes; and, make it a mandatory component of every employee’s annual and professional development plan.
While embedding well-being into strategies, systems and policies is required for lasting change, the notion that culture eats strategy for breakfast is not lost here.
We must lead differently: Create space to have honest conversations about workplace demands and their impact on physical, mental and emotional health. Prioritize workload to focus on the right work at the right time. Hire people who model well-being because when we, as leaders, take care of ourselves, we give others permission to do the same.
Undoubtedly, change takes time and the truth is no one is better situated than women to lead this work forward.
The pandemic has taught us that caring for ourselves is essential. Doing so will give us the stamina we need to usher forward systemic changes that will allow women to not only stay in the workforce, but prosper.
The consequences of this massive exodus and the ongoing burnout crisis will be felt for years to come. And, if left unaddressed, will have a catastrophic impact for women, companies and the economy.
If we choose to take on the challenge, we will create a culture that moves from inexplicably asking women to choose between our health, our family and our career; and, instead allows us to thrive in all.