The Inequality of Burnout


Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, women have made important gains in representation and especially in senior leadership. But the pandemic continues to take a toll. Women are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men.

So says the 2021 version of Women in the Workplace, the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. This year, the study’s seventh, information was collected from more than 65,000 employees in 423 participating organizations.

The study noted that:

  • Women are more burned out than they were a year ago, and burnout is escalating much faster among women than men.
  • One in three women reports she has considered downshifting her career or leaving the workforce this year, compared to 1 in 4 early in the pandemic.
  • Women managers are checking in on their team members’ workload, burnout, and life/work challenges, more than their male counterparts.
  • Senior-level women are twice as likely as senior-level men to spend substantial time on DEI work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities. Yet this work is largely going unrecognized.

In addition, women of color often bear a compounding level of burnout. They face similar types and relative frequencies of microaggressions as they did in the previous study, and they remain far more likely than white women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful behavior.

What This Means

During the pandemic, women leaders have gone above and beyond their normal job duties, making sure everyone is okay at work and at home. This is leaving women more burnt out than ever. The personal and professional risks to women are very real. As is the short- and long-term risk of companies losing the very leaders they need right now

Four in 10 women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs—and the rate of employee turnover in recent months suggests that many are following through.

Try Something New

Take a strong look at your culture to determine whether it enhances the lives of your people. When organizations support employee well-being, employees are happier, experience less burn out, and are less likely to consider leaving. The same is true of employees who have strong allies and believe DEI is a high priority for their company.

Leading companies have taken a wide range of steps to help employees weather the pandemic, including increasing mental health benefits, adding support for parents and caregivers, and offering more paid leave. But burnout is still on the rise. There is no easy fix, so companies should look for opportunities to both expand existing programs and try a few out-of-the-box ideas. Because few of us had a Pandemic Playbook at our fingertips when all this started, experimenting with solutions to relieve employee stress can go a long way. And if something doesn’t work as expected, shelve it and move on.

As a woman-owned, people-focused business, Notion Consulting didn’t have to think very hard about walking the talk on the topic of burnout. It came naturally to us.

Some of the initiatives we have undertaken this year with our own team may spark an idea for what you can do with yours. We…

  • Opened more frequent opportunities for employees to openly discuss what’s on their minds
  • Ran multiple engagement surveys, including questions targeted to the topic of burnout
  • Held monthly DEI check-ins
  • Offered a quarterly no-questions-asked Self Care Day
  • Increased our annual wellness stipend
  • Granted a tech stipend to help employees outfit their home offices
  • Slightly modified workload expectations to reduce pressure

As the pandemic continues, with all its ramifications, executives and leaders must remain vigilant, sensitive and committed to ensuring their employees’ well-being – and consider the toll that has been taken on certain groups. Recognize your leaders who have stepped up during the pandemic. And if you’re a women leader, make sure you are putting on your own oxygen mask first and taking time to recharge when you can.