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Women in the workplace are most at risk for burnout and attrition

Organizations must address burnout and improve well-being for all employees, but especially for those most at risk: women. Here’s how.

Our 2022 Employee Experience Trends Report showed that women are most at risk for work-induced burnout and attrition. Just how dire is it? According to our research, overall women’s intent to stay dropped eight percentage points since last year. Meanwhile, women leaders of leaders’ intent to stay dropped even more significantly – by 21 points – meaning they’re 3x more likely to leave than last year.

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, 42% of women say they have been often or almost always burned out, compared to 32% a year ago. And one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.

These are alarming numbers – and they’ve only increased since the start of the pandemic.

So, what’s causing widespread burnout in women? What are the implications of them having low levels of well-being at work? And what can organizations do to address these issues before women leaders and employees leave?

We explore the answers to these questions, and more, below.

What factors cause women to have low levels of well-being in the workplace?

There are myriad reasons why women, particularly women of color and other intersectional identities , are most at risk for burnout and attrition.

  1. Women have been leaning into the work of driving diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and well-being, while also receiving little to no recognition for that work.
  2. Women are often responsible for other work on top of their jobs. Whether it’s caregiving, managing their household, or something else, women often have extra work – and little reprieve.
  3. Pay inequity. Traditionally marginalized groups are often out front leading the charge when it comes to DEIB and well-being work. And yet, they continue to be paid less than their peers. Indeed, pay equity has always been a challenge, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.
  4. Well-being inequity. Organizations must remember that burnout is not the same for all women, and should consider this when planning how to address the cause(s).

What’s the impact of low well-being at work?

Well-being is an integral part of the employee experience when creating a healthy work environment, and indicates the ability to which employees can cope with the demands and stressors that are placed on them.

Having healthy levels of well-being helps to mitigate the impact stress has on a person. That said, stress is not always a bad thing; healthy amounts can drive motivation, encourage efficiency, and improve cognitive functioning. However, excessive stress, combined with a lack of well-being, can lead to poor health and burnout.

Two competing factors influence how well employees can navigate the stresses of the workplace and home: demands and resources.

When demands exceed resources, the impact can lead to stress and fatigue. These depleted resources result in lower levels of well-being, affecting employees in several ways:

  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism, i.e., when employees are present but less productive
  • Poorer relationships between colleagues and lower trust in managers
  • Employees withdrawing, disconnecting, and/or showing apathy
  • Poor quality of work, especially in those who’ve typically worked to a high standard
  • Physical and mental health implications, including lack of sleep and burnout

How organizations can take action

The question organizations need to answer to retain women is: How do we support them to prevent burnout – and ultimately attrition – in our organization?

While not an exhaustive list, here are some ways for organizations to get started:

1. Provide women with the resources they need

Our data shows that women are the most likely to leave, so ensuring they’re given the right support is key.

Work with leaders to reassess targets. Work with them to understand what kind of support they need, rather than piling on more pressure. Make sure they know it’s a collaborative process, that you’re hearing their concerns, and will take action to help.

This includes the right training, talent, and technology.

2. Recognize women for going above and beyond

Recognize those who are doing the work to foster cultures that support DEIB and well-being. Tell them what you appreciate about their contribution to the company. Be as specific as possible and explain why their work stands out.

Keep in mind that, to be meaningful, recognition has to match an individual’s preferred style. Not everyone wants to be brought on stage to rousing applause. Get to know your people and what motivates them.

Consider whether a more personal thank you is appropriate. Kudos that come directly from a manager or team leader tend to be very well-received. It’s important to have individuals who are close to an employee’s work recognize their efforts.

3. Advocate for pay equity

Employees need to feel that their skills are valued and appreciated – and rewards such as pay and benefits are a big part of that equation.

If employees can get significantly better – or more fair and equitable – pay and benefits elsewhere, it’s more likely they’ll explore moving on.

4. Set expectations around what well-being looks like at work

Employees are burned out by trying to keep up with the need for hyper-communication, increased people focus, and demand for their time. They need help establishing boundaries – and a culture that supports those boundaries.

For example, while many organizations have seen positive gains from a remote/hybrid work model, organizations must frame the parameters around it to avoid an always-on mentality. Set new expectations that allow employees to work at a sustainable pace.

“Organizations can no longer say, ‘Here’s what you need to do as an individual to improve your well-being’ while also asking employees to deliver more. It has to be, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do as an organization to support you to be successful."

5. Leverage employee listening tools

To create real, positive change and foster a culture of well-being, every employee should feel empowered to take action.

Our Well-being at Work Solution reveals how energized employees feel, how positive they feel about themselves, and what level of trusting relationships they have at work.

With these real-time insights, organizations are empowered to take top-level action. Meanwhile, leaders have access to their team’s results; highlighting which factors are making the biggest impact on their team, team-level scores for the four well-being drivers, as well as best practice guidance on how to take action.

And finally, each employee receives an individual score report, giving them an understanding of their well-being, plus hints and tips for actions they can take to feel more energized at work.

Improve well-being with our best practices ebook

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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