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Wellbeing Stats for Women in the Workplace Show a Need for Change
Workplace

Wellbeing Stats for Women in the Workplace Show a Need for Change

Story Highlights

  • 3.5 million women left active work in a single year
  • A life well-lived means thriving in Gallup's five elements of wellbeing
  • There are seven catalysts of wellbeing that support wellbeing behaviors

Far-thinking leaders have always been concerned about their workers' wellbeing. The business impact of struggling workplace wellbeing is dire, and leaders are increasingly concerned about the wellbeing of women at work. Gallup analysis found that 500,000 more women than men left the workforce during the pandemic, and the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 45% of mothers with school-aged children were not actively working in April 2020, representing 3.5 million women who left active work in a single year.

Gallup's 2021 State of the Global Workplace report found record levels of stress -- and nowhere in the world are female workers less stressed than men. On average, 46% of working women in 2020 reported stress "a lot of the day yesterday," as did 42% of working men. In the U.S. and Canada, it's 62% to 52%, respectively. Meanwhile, wellbeing is declining among employed women, whether or not they have children, faster than among working men.

That much stress can have a debilitating impact on workers' wellbeing, which is a culmination of five elements:

  • career wellbeing: You like what you do every day.
  • social wellbeing: You have meaningful friendships in your life.
  • financial wellbeing: You manage your money well.
  • physical wellbeing: You have energy to get things done.
  • community wellbeing: You like where you live.

Gallup's research shows that a great life involves thriving in all five elements, and of them, career wellbeing has the greatest impact on a life well-lived. And when stress drives women out of the workforce, career wellbeing is the first element to suffer.

Of course, their former employers suffer too -- and maybe more so. Gender diversity expands the leadership pipeline, and Gallup finds women tend to be more effective managers, are more engaged workers, and that gender-diverse companies are more profitable. A pre-COVID-19 Gallup study of more than 800 business units found that gender-diverse retail business units had 14% higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units, and gender-diverse business units in hospitality showed 19% higher average quarterly net profit than less-diverse business units. That reflects the many, many studies determining that gender diversity, especially in leadership, improves financial metrics such as revenue, return on assets, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, return on innovation, and operating profit margin.

Gallup's research shows that a great life involves thriving in all five elements, and of them, career wellbeing has the greatest impact on a life well-lived. And when stress drives women out of the workforce, career wellbeing is the first element to suffer.

The numbers are staggering, but they don't reflect the personal loss to the individual. Women, like men, want a job with purpose, a job that inspires and fulfills them. Meanwhile, Gallup recently discovered that disengaged workers are seeking new jobs at a higher rate than engaged workers. It suggests that fulfillment strongly motivates employment decisions. Wellbeing factors into those decisions -- and stress erodes wellbeing.

The Problems Working Women Face

Facilitating women's wellbeing -- and preventing more job loss -- must include reducing their stress at work. Gallup bases its wellbeing work with clients on promoting a culture of wellbeing that focuses on diagnosing employees' needs, prioritizing the right programs and policies, and activating behavior change by equipping employees with knowledge and tools to improve wellbeing.

On a more granular level, that approach uses a wellbeing framework that integrates each client's lived culture by leveraging seven catalysts of wellbeing that support (and/or change) wellbeing behaviors.

Catalyst 1: Development -- include wellbeing goals in individualized development plans

Catalyst 2: Recognition -- share and celebrate wellbeing successes

Catalyst 3: Communication -- create messaging that reflects the beliefs of a high-performing and net thriving culture

Catalyst 4: Incentives -- support participation in activities that produce results

Catalyst 5: Events -- build awareness of net thriving culture and change behaviors

Catalyst 6: Rules and Guidelines -- align policies toward wellbeing in the five elements

Catalyst 7: Facilities -- design facilities for physical and mental health, collaboration, and socialization.

Most cultures already demonstrate these catalysts -- but not always intentionally or efficiently. Using a wellbeing lens for each catalyst, companies can dial down women's stress levels and improve performance across the board.

Most of those catalysts are in leaders' hands, but managers, more than anyone, create engagement and support wellbeing among workers. They can also, inadvertently, increase stress if they're not careful with their programs and policies.

Apply the Catalysts Properly to Avoid Undermining Wellbeing

Consider, for example, the communication catalyst. Proximity bias, the tendency to give preferential treatment to people nearby, can create communication vacuums. This is reckless behavior in the hybrid world of work, especially for those who work from home full time.

Managers can subvert that bias by using objective performance management systems, establishing rituals for off-site workers and paying attention to engagement needs -- and doing so may accelerate diversity and inclusion strategies. Currently, 85 women are promoted to management for every 100 men, who are likelier to want to work on-site. If proximity is the indicator of good communication, women will lose, and companies will reward behavior unrelated to performance, weakening a catalyst of wellbeing.

Proximity bias, the tendency to give preferential treatment to people nearby, can create communication vacuums. This is reckless behavior in the hybrid world of work.

Another catalyst is development. Job seekers consider development a top draw in a new job, Gallup finds, and it opens the door to resources, advancement and better wellbeing. But not all forms of development are equal. In fact, Gallup has discovered that the most effective form of development focuses on an individual's CliftonStrengths.

One Gallup client found that when women are simply aware of their CliftonStrengths, their odds of advancement increase by 43%. Given this information, managers need to encourage their employees to use their natural strengths and abilities in their roles. If managers don't do this, development can fail to support wellbeing and won't improve engagement.

Perhaps the most explosive catalyst is incentives. Unintended consequences always cluster around incentives, even when they're aimed at wellbeing.

For example, a manager might believe that lightening a woman's workload or assigning her lower-status tasks will alleviate her stress -- the well-worn "mommy track" -- and some women may welcome it. But if the worker feels sidelined, her wellbeing can erode. Managers can reduce stress more effectively by partnering with women to design a workload that gives them purpose, inspiration and the opportunity to use their CliftonStrengths every day.

While CliftonStrengths are distributed by gender almost equally, research shows that women have a bit of an advantage over men in certain areas. Men, by and large, tend to gather external data and internalize their decision-making. Instead of seeking feedback, men tend to look for answers from within.

If the worker feels sidelined, her wellbeing can erode. Managers can reduce stress more effectively by partnering with women to design a workload that gives them purpose, inspiration and the opportunity to use their CliftonStrengths every day.

On the other hand, women are more likely to cultivate potential by checking in on their employees' progress, which encourages the development of self and others. Women are also, on average, more focused on teams and prone to gathering collective voices. And when Gallup asked female leaders and managers if their organization's "mission or purpose" makes them feel their "job is important," significantly higher numbers of women than men strongly agreed.

Gathering feedback, cultivating teams and upholding the mission are vital leadership traits necessary to rebuilding after the pandemic. Wasting those traits sets companies back. As it is, economists predict the exodus of women from the workforce will siphon $885 billion out of the U.S. economy over the next two years, and the global GDP will see a $1 trillion shortfall by 2030. Each business shares a portion of that loss, and some more than others.

Economists predict the exodus of women from the workforce will siphon $885 billion out of the U.S. economy over the next two years, and the global GDP will see a $1 trillion shortfall by 2030.

Employee Wellbeing Matters to the Bottom Line

Reversing this trend depends on leaders' commitment -- the tone from the top is powerful -- and managers' behavior toward working women. It will also help managers greatly if leadership's tone loudly supports them too.

Gallup finds that one of the primary challenges of management is job stress, so female managers may be as or more stressed than their employees. For the moment, most women are the minority in leadership -- a Gallup random sample found that men are twice as likely as women to have a leadership position -- so if female managers are already bringing all their talents to bear to exceed expectations and advance, speaking up for other women may feel like special pleading. Speaking up for themselves may endanger their entire careers.

Given the unique wellbeing needs of managers and the women on their teams -- and the unique strengths they all bring -- assuring managers of support is a smart investment.

So is investing in women's wellbeing.

A lot of gut decisions were made during the pandemic because there was no data for leaders to use. But the data are in: Gallup has quantified American workers' attitudes and behaviors in a rapidly unfolding situation.

And these data show that the wellbeing of women at work is precarious. They also show that leaders who understand and commit to female employees' overall wellbeing get better business results. That means leaders are right to be concerned about wellbeing. And their commitment to wellbeing makes them more than far-thinking -- it makes their companies better.

Create a workplace that supports women and allows their wellbeing to thrive:

Author(s)

Vipula Gandhi is Managing Partner at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor at Gallup.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352529/wellbeing-stats-women-workplace-show-need-change.aspx
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