There is a common belief that burnout happens due to the inability to balance conflicting priorities.
However, “it's a lot more than that”, stresses Nupur Mehta, global HR leader for talent acquisition and business partnering for Nium, an embedded fintech company that provides banks, payment providers, and businesses of any size with access to global payment services.
Burnout is not just overwhelming exhaustion. “It is a state where one feels cynical about their work, detached from their job and ineffective at work. The overarching emotion associated with burnout is a lack of accomplishment,” Mehta contends.
Why do women face this situation?
Research has proven that women feel more overburdened relative to men in trying to balance home and work commitments. Hence, they consider stepping out of the workforce or opting for lesser demanding careers.
The pandemic probably made things worse as work from home (WFH) blurred the line between office and home. Despite organisational efforts to define the boundaries, the ‘always on and available’ state became the unfortunate model of success. Co-workers and managers stopped respecting boundaries and personal time and it quickly went to subtly implying or explicitly requiring individuals to always be available.
“While this ‘always on and available’ challenge is similar for both men and women, women find it difficult to compete, thanks to increased workload expectations on both fronts - work and home. Family responsibilities have always been a default part of every woman's wellbeing equation. The need to multitask in the all new ‘always on and available' mode with a second shift at home, compounded the exhaustion rate in women,” says Mehta.
What can organisations do to make things better?
Mehta suggests the following ways to enable all employees, especially women, to cope.
- Adopt a positive culture, which understands that ‘always on and available’ does not necessarily mean more work being done. Creating a culture where employees feel unapologetic about taking leave for self and family care, creating norms around office hours and non-office hours, redefining the definition of urgent and important, and flexible work arrangements are all necessary for organisations to redefine a sustainable model of success where both men and women can feel accomplished.
- Creating a fair compensation and promotion process, educating managers about their own biases, holding leaders and managers accountable for diversity in their teams, and creating equitable milestones for progress where women are not asked to prove themselves more than men are key to improving the well-being of women at the workplace.
- Recognising that continual inequities and unconscious gender biases are still a major issue in the workplace. The constant unfounded doubt whether women can hold positions of power is visible in disparity in earnings. Many times, women are asked to prove themselves more than men, which activates further pressure on them to constantly prove themselves through higher performance standards and intermewed balance.
"Organisations can supplement this by showing more encouragement for women who take risks and opt for challenging assignments by offering more mentorship, recognition of their accomplishments and having their back when blamed unfairly. This will make more women feel encouraged to take risks," she adds.
What can women do to change things for themselves?
Women are victims of the perfection trap that is deep-rooted in them. “This often leads to self-criticism coupled with feelings of inadequacy at home or at work when things aren’t as per their own expectations. The continuous pressure of trying to appease and approve oneself with precision and the self-pressure to have it all is not sustainable,” Mehta says .
Further, women tend to be more risk averse in letting go of things and find it difficult to delegate work (home and office) to others in their quest to be a perfectionist, as per Mehta, and this often accelerates feelings of being stressed and burnt out, both at work and home.
Mehta stresses that women must also be ready to make positive changes.
Women must recognise when they are crossing the threshold and over-committing, in a desire to be likeable which invariably leads to skewed balance and wellbeing, she says.
“Women need to build higher tolerance for making errors and learn to be focused on the bigger, more impactful things than trying to get everything right. They must keep the perfectionist tendencies in control. In an effort to be amazing at everything and fighting self-guilt, they often end up exacerbating their imbalance, fatigue and burnout.
"‘True equity’ for women at the workplace is a long game because while it is not incorrect to say that both men and women have access to somewhat the same resources or opportunities, there is still a long distance for organisations to recognise and appreciate different circumstances that women go through to reach an equal outcome," she adds.
Mehta says there is an urgent need to acknowledge that there are deep-rooted biases that make women burn out at a higher rate than men. While the real problem is ambiguous to solve, it is a responsibility of both employees and employers to break biases and acknowledge the core of issues to create a workplace that promotes wellbeing for women and prevents burnout.
Mentoring, sponsorship key to advancement
Mentoring and sponsorship are key to advancing, but women are often over-mentored on gaps and under-sponsored on potential, says Mehta. “It is well known that networks facilitate access to information and opportunities than formal networks and women often fall out of the boy’s club.”
Mehta also notes that the lack of women employees in leadership positions and the impact sponsors can have to advocate women mentees is missing, leading to visible disadvantage in their careers. Women have to fight much harder to get to the top and the speed at which they can climb to the top becomes slower as they reach mid-level. This leads to women feeling discouraged and disappointed in their own potential and leads to stress and exhaustion
As a famous quote says, “There is one thing worse than fighting with allies – and that is to fight without them.”
Therefore, leaders and managers need to commit the time and energy to sponsor women, who in turn need to be more open in asking for it.
“I can speak for my ilk when I say that the fighting spirit in women makes them more action oriented. With the right support system, leadership and sponsors, women can avoid the dreaded burnout,” Mehta says.