Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

While women continue to work through COVID-19, there’s another pandemic raging: burnout. According to McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report, 42 percent of women say they are often, or almost always, burned out at work. 

As the pandemic rages on, women’s burnout has gotten worse. In 2020, 32 percent of women said they were burnt out. This year, women are burnt out more than ever — and they’re more burnt out than their male counterparts. 

Why women are facing career-destroying burnout.

In 2021, women are facing burnout more than men because they’re taking on unpaid work. For some, this looks like unpaid diversity and inclusion efforts. Both women managers and women at the senior level took on more informal DEI work, spent more substantial time on DEI work, or were more likely to take allyship actions than their male counterparts. For other women, this simply means doing more emotional unpaid labor — checking in on their team’s wellbeing, or providing emotional support for their direct reports. 31% of women managers provided emotional support to their employees compared to 19% of male managers. For working mothers, it means doing the unpaid labor of childcare; in 2020, women spent three times as much time on child care than men. Across the board, women are doing more work for others than men, and they’re not getting compensated, or even recognized, for it. 

Women are showing up for other women, for the other people they work with, to stand as allies and to fight for representation. They’re checking in on others. They’re picking up their kids from school or helping them log on for virtual learning. They’re doing the work to help others, but in the meantime, no one is helping them. 

Feeling burnt out? Here’s how to cope.

1. Set new boundaries.

The boundaries between work and home have blurred within the past year and a half, especially as more women work from their bedrooms, living rooms or even their children’s rooms. Whether you’re working at home or in-person, setting clear, strict boundaries can help you draw the line between work and your personal life.

It can be difficult to set boundaries, especially if you’ve already been working somewhere for a while and others have gotten comfortable disrespecting your boundaries. But it’s never too late to draw or re-draw a line, especially if that boundary is critical to your mental health. Start by blocking off your calendar or silencing notifications at certain hours. When communicating your boundaries to others, be strict and don’t budge. Respond to your teammates during the hours you’ve set; they can wait for your response. Let them wait for it until you’re ready and available to answer.

2. Find flexibility, and use it to your advantage.

The key to managing work is finding flexibility that works for you. Is there a lull midday you can use as personal time to get something done for your family? Can you get certain tasks done earlier in the day, then have a few hours in the afternoon to take off? Can you set a hard 5 pm stop, then use your evening hours to finish up those last few emails? Finding flexibility means finding the times that you can make your schedule work for you. It may not always mean radically changing your hours. But even an extra half-hour break is a start to reclaiming your time.

3. Be open and honest with yourself, your teammates and your manager.

Dealing with burnout can be isolating and stressful, but that doesn’t mean you should struggle alone. If you’re feeling burned out, being open with your teammates and manager can potentially help alleviate some of that stress. If your team truly cares about you, they’ll do what they can to identify your pain points and delegate work and give you more boundaries. Being honest and transparent about what you’re going through is a great first step toward taking action — and letting others help you take that next step forward.

4. Practice self-care and self-compassion.

Maybe you’re feeling guilty for feeling burnout. Maybe you feel some sort of burnout imposter syndrome — like you don’t deserve to be burned out. But if you’re feeling burned out, it’s important to be honest with yourself and truly acknowledge how you’re feeling so you can get help. It’s okay to feel this way, regardless of how much work is on your plate or how many boundaries you’ve already put up. It’s not your fault for feeling this way, either, and that doesn’t mean this feeling has to last forever. Give yourself grace.

5. Ask for help and support.

Unfortunately, burnout can’t be fixed with face masks and a few more days of PTO. To really overcome burnout, we need large, structural change that relies on the support of our teammates, managers and companies. When we feel burned out, we need to ask for help — because if we don’t, we continue to struggle alone. 

What companies can do to support women at work and reduce burnout.

1. Invest in diversity and inclusion resources.

When companies invest in diversity and inclusion efforts, they’re not only recognizing how important these efforts are to their company; they’re showing these efforts are financially valuable and integral to their success. Because women are doing more unpaid diversity and inclusion work than their male counterparts, investing in these resources can take this unpaid burden off of women and create better, more sustainable efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

2. Don’t just make women heard. Listen to them.

It’s not just about giving women a seat at the table. It’s about welcoming them to that table, and making sure what they say and do is heard and valued.  “When women are respected and their contributions are valued, they are more likely to be happy in their jobs and to feel connected to their coworkers,” the Women in the Workplace 2021 report states. It’s not enough just to hire women. You have to do the work of respecting them and supporting their work, too.

3. Give your staff enough resources.

One of the main reasons for burnout is overwork. When employees are overworked or given too much on their plate, they have to work longer and harder just to scrape by. Companies should be attentive to their employees’ workloads and ensure that teams have enough resources to not just complete their work, but also exceed expectations. Having an extra set of hands can go a long way, especially if that means your other sets of hands are not burned out.

4. Make promotions transparent and equitable.

According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report, women continue to face the “broken rung” while trying to climb up the corporate ladder. For the sixth year in a row, women have not been promoted to manager at the same rate as men. For every 100 men promoted into management positions, only 86 women were promoted. The gap is wider for some women of color: 58 Black women and 71 Latina women were promoted for every 100 men. As a result, 62 percent of entry-level management positions are held by men.

The answer here is to make promotions more transparent and equitable. It’s not about promoting as many women to managerial positions as men. It’s about making the pathway to promotion clear and transparent, with actionable, achievable results and goals. It’s about examining bias in the review and promotion process. It’s about actively lifting up and supporting women in entry-level positions so that they cannot only get promoted, but also succeed within their new roles.

5. Make diversity efforts critical to results.

Allocating resources to diversity and inclusion efforts is important, but having these efforts become part of key results is crucial. While more than two-thirds of companies say that diversity and inclusion is important to them, less than half have tangible diversity goals into place. Folding diversity efforts into key results by measuring, tracking them and adding them to performance reviews ensures accountability.

“What gets measured gets done,” a senior HR leader from the McKinsey & Company study said. “Putting a target in place allows you to analyze the process end to end and truly assess the impact using real data and not ‘gut feel.’ We’ve really deepened our understanding of the systemic barriers in place and have been able to address them more effectively by tracking and setting numerical goals and targets.”

6. When people fail, hold them accountable.

Not everyone is going to get everything right on the first try. Maybe companies will help one woman feel less burned out, but someone else then falls into a deeper struggle. It’s important to hold people accountable and ensure that they take the correct steps to alleviate the issue.

Tracking is a great way to see when people fail, but the feedback loop is most important for figuring out why they failed and what the next steps are. Burnout is a serious workplace issue — especially for women, especially right now. We’re not going to solve everything with a few quick tweaks. We’re already failing our workforce — let’s take these failures in stride and fight our way to get everyone to succeed.

This article does not reflect the views of Fairygodboss.

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