Feeling Guilty at Work? You're Most Likely a Woman.

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May 22, 2024 at 1:9AM UTC

Maybe it’s that you didn’t complete a project the way you wanted to. Maybe you missed a number while presenting to the company. Maybe you put your mental health before your work or took an extra few days when you weren’t really sick.

You’re feeling guilty at work—and it’s most likely that you’re a woman.

According to recent research from the Wall Street Journal, women at work are more worried than their male counterparts about “appearing incompetent and burdening other people with their requests.” These concerns increase women’s feelings of guilt at work.

Guilt at work doesn’t just affect women internally. It can have a detrimental effect on work relationships and performance, too.

Women’s feelings of guilt at work can make them more hesitant to ask for extensions on work projects, say Ashley Whillans and Grant Donnelly of the Wall Street Journal. According to a study of professional women from earlier this year, women also feel guilty for putting their health over their work—which can lead to burnout and worse performance in the long run.

If you’re feeling guilty at work, here’s what to do.

1. Make your boundaries clear.

Deadlines are only one part of our busy lives. If your work deadlines are overwhelming you and you’re feeling guilty about it, it’s important to speak up and be clear about your boundaries. Be clear in your conversation with your manager and explain how your boundaries will help you perform better at work. This may also open their eyes to how they’re overstepping your boundaries and provide the support you need to get the job done well. You should never feel guilty for taking time outside of work to rest so you can truly bring your whole self to work.

2. Ask ahead of time.

According to research from the Wall Street Journal, women’s guilty feelings make them unwilling to ask for work extensions. To combat this, ask ahead of time not only for clear deadlines but also whether these deadlines are flexible. While we can’t anticipate everything that might come up in our busy lives, setting these expectations earlier can help you feel more reassured and guilt-free in the long run.

3. Help create structure.

You might not just feel guilty asking for deadlines—you may feel nervous, too! Talk to your manager about setting up a structure for requesting extensions with the goal to help eliminate gendered obstacles and biases. Reassure them that creating a structure won’t lead to worse performance; instead, it’ll empower you and your fellow employees to own your projects with success, care and accountability—without the added guilt and stress.

4. Know it’s not your fault.

While there are ways to help you feel less guilty at work, know that your feelings are never the issue. Feeling guilty at work is unfortunately a common occurrence for women in the workforce, and it won’t be wiped away just by setting boundaries and making expectations clear. Guilt is a factor of how women are treated in the workplace, not a reflection of who you are as a professional. You’re not alone. 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for feeling guilty at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!


This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

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