I interviewed Jacinda Ardern in 2017 when she first took on her role as New Zealand’s Prime Minister. At the time Ardern was the world’s youngest female leader (having taken office at the age of 37) and an inspiration to many women around the world.
Despite her age Ardern wasn’t naïve about the difficulties she would face integrating work and home life. Ardern believed the most significant challenge women encounter in their careers is the constant expectation of having to do more in all aspects of life.
“To be a better sister, a better daughter, a better partner, better at our jobs, better at caregiving – just everything. I think we just carry so much expectation and guilt. It is hard to know how to balance that,” says Ardern.
Today, Ardern announced her resignation as Prime Minister, citing burnout as one of the key reasons. Ardern is not alone. Deloitte’s Women at Work 2022: A Global Outlook Report, which includes a survey of 5,000 women across ten countries, found that burnout for most women has reached alarmingly high levels.
Overall, 53% of women surveyed said their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, and almost half feel burned out. Additionally, almost half of all participants rate their mental health as poor or very poor, and 30% have taken time off work because of mental health challenges.
Emma Codd, Global Inclusion Leader for Deloitte, says most people don’t realize that burnout is chronic workplace stress that has not been adequately managed.
“There are six indicators that make burnout more likely to happen, and all of them relate to things that we should have at work, like purpose, teamwork, equity, fairness, transparency and belonging. I think many of those things are either still not present, or we lost them a bit during the pandemic and failed to get them back,” she says.
At least 43% of women shared that they do not feel comfortable discussing burnout at work, which makes the problem particularly difficult to solve. Additionally, hybrid working has increased the pressure women encounter to always be available. One-third of women do not feel like they can switch off from work and worry that their career progression will be affected if they do.
Even when women reduce their work hours, it doesn’t necessarily address the challenges that burnout and toxic workplace cultures create. For example, the report finds that women who have reduced or changed hours during the pandemic and those who work part-time report significantly lower levels of mental well-being and motivation at work.
Toxic workplace cultures compound many challenges women encounter with managing work-life integration.
“In the past year, around half of all participants (working in a hybrid environment) said they weren’t getting the access to leaders that they needed. Now we all know how important sponsorship is for anybody that’s in an underrepresented group. Also, women are feeling excluded. We’ve all heard stories of the person who dials in and realizes everyone else is already in the room. That’s not a great experience for anybody,” says Codd.
The report found that more women in 2022 experienced harassment or microaggressions at work compared to the previous year. This trend is even more pronounced for LGBT+ women and racial and ethnic minority women. Additionally, 60% of women working in hybrid models (arrangements that include remote and in-office work) report feeling excluded.
Given all of these challenges, it isn’t surprising that many women want to quit. In fact, 40% of women shared they are actively looking to change employers, with burnout being the main reason. Additionally, more than half of the women surveyed want to leave their employer in the next two years, and only 10% plan to stay with their current employer for more than five years.
To tackle this great resignation, Cobb says we need leaders who can lead.
“It’s a cultural issue. The main drivers of culture are often leaders. Culture is the most important thing. You can introduce a flexible working policy, but people aren’t going to use it unless you adjust their workload and don’t feel judged. That’s culture.”
Cobb believes organizations can start to address these issue by educating leaders and holding them accountable for the cultures they create. In doing so workplaces can begin to not only retain women but more importantly, value them.