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Women and Work Stress: What's the Cause, What's the Cure?

Women and Work Stress

Working women are doing their best to manage the increasing demands on their personal and professional lives, yet they’re feeling more stressed than ever—and more than their male counterparts. A recent survey of employees in the United Kingdom found that 79% of women—compared with 66% of men—experience work stress. Women ages 35 to 49 fared the worst, with a whopping 87% feeling stressed at work.

When employees are stressed, they’re less focused and motivated, and this often translates into a big hit to your company’s productivity.

Skewed Work-Life Balance

Women are told they can have it all, but many are finding it challenging to manage it all. Many women feel that to stay on an upward career trajectory, they must be available 24/7 to their employer. In fact, 64% of U.K. women surveyed reported feeling the need to be “always on” when it came to work, which might include responding to emails after work hours and even staying connected on vacation.

This often means making difficult choices when family needs arise, such as missing an important meeting to pick up sick children from school, taking a vacation day to chauffeur elderly parents to doctor’s appointments, or missing a client dinner to attend a child’s dance recital. Unfortunately, the professional cost of these choices can be high and may lead to difficulties advancing at work despite their hard work.

As women try to juggle heavy workloads, family priorities, and even personal health concerns and financial worries, physical and mental health can suffer.

What’s the Cure?

Offering flexible working schedules and work-from-home opportunities are two ways to reduce the employee stress that comes from a skewed work-life balance. Doing so can show employees you prioritize the results they produce over the need for in-office face time. This simple gesture can help women feel valued, reduce burnout levels, and improve both job satisfaction and employee retention—a win-win for everyone.

Workplace Inequality

Even when men and women hold the same responsibilities at home and in the workplace, women are more likely to believe they have to work harder overall. In five separate surveys of working men and women in the U.S. and the U.K., women were consistently more likely than men to strongly agree or agree with this statement: My job requires that I work very hard.

Unfortunately, workplace demographics suggest women have a reason for feeling this way. The data shows that men are 30% more likely than women to be promoted to management roles. Men are also given more challenging assignments and have easier access to senior management. It’s therefore no wonder that women are frustrated with—and stressed out by—the workplace.

And that work stress continues to build as women try to hold themselves to progressively higher standards while struggling to prove their worth in increasingly competitive workplaces.

What’s the Cure?

Make sure you’re offering every employee—regardless of gender, age, job title, or department—the opportunity to grow and improve. That means providing online or in-person training to help employees develop the skills they need to advance their careers. Not only will employees appreciate the opportunity to contribute in new ways, but you’ll also gain confident, loyal employees who believe they’re worth investing in.

Another way to reduce work stress is to implement mentoring programs that further help female employees gain the skills and confidence they need to take on leadership positions. A great mentor can provide women with a role model to look up and aspire to, and it helps them look at workplace challenges as opportunities, not stress-inducing obstacles.

Pay Gaps

Although the gender pay gap has fallen slightly in recent years, a significant disparity still exists: In 2019, women across the board still make just $0.79 for each $1 a man earns.

Interestingly, when the data is controlled for job type and worker seniority, the pay gap shrinks. In other words, when men and women hold the same role, women actually earn an average of $0.97 for every $1.00 men earn. While this is certainly better than a $0.79 gap, it suggests a woman who is doing the same job as a man, with the exact same qualifications as a man, is still paid two percent less. 

Women of color face even more barriers when it comes to equal pay. American Indian, Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic women earn an average of $0.74 for each $1 their white male counterparts earn.

This data reveals a pervasive problem: Women lack the same access to higher-paying opportunities, and the “glass ceiling” is a real barrier to a woman’s ability to maximize her lifetime potential earnings.

A natural outcome of the gender pay gap is increased financial stress, which can easily spill over into every other aspect of life, particularly if the woman is in a single-parent household.

What’s the Cure?

Fortunately, there are simple fixes to the pay gap. One is simply to be transparent about what employees and managers are earning. While managers might have to defend the salaries of certain higher-paid employees, transparency can be an incentive for managers to conduct more objective yearly reviews to even the playing field.

Another way to narrow the pay gap and eliminate the financial stress that comes with it is to eliminate salary negotiations, instead of instituting fixed salaries for certain roles, with fixed raise amounts being available for quantifiable performance improvement. Women are generally less likely to negotiate for higher salaries, and they’re also frequently less successful than men when they do try to negotiate. Unfortunately, the inability to successfully negotiate even one pay raise early in their career can translate into a lifetime of income loss for women.

When women do well, companies do well. So when more than 80% of people report they suffer from stress—and 13% feel unable to manage that stress—it’s important to take notice and offer support. A robust wellness program that addresses the unique stressors women face offers the perfect opportunity to provide that support and create an inclusive environment that encourages the success of all employees.

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