- Women are more likely than men to feel burned out at work, 34% vs. 26%
- The burnout gender gap has more than doubled since 2019
- Women in non-leadership positions are especially affected
Working women report more on-the-job burnout than working men do, and the gap has only widened during the pandemic.
In 2019, 30% of women and 27% of men said they "always" or "very often" felt burned out at work. That three-percentage-point gap expanded to 12 points in the pandemic-era months of 2020, from March to December, and has averaged eight points in 2021 -- 34% of women and 26% of men this year have reported feeling burned out.
Line graph. Trend in percentage of U.S. employees who always or very often feel burned out at work, by gender. Burnout among women was 30% in 2019 but expanded to 34% in 2020 and remains 34% in 2021. Burnout among men was 27% in 2019, fell to 22% in 2020 and is 26% in 2021.
The expanded gender gap in worker burnout seen during the pandemic is the result of two shifts since 2019 -- increased burnout among women and decreased burnout among men. Burnout among men has varied, dipping significantly to 22% in 2020 and then rising to 26% this year, but is still just below the 27% recorded in 2019. By contrast, women's burnout increased four points to 34% in 2020 and remains at that level in 2021.
Why Does the Burnout Gender Gap Matter, and What Is Contributing to It?
To be clear, burnout among working men is still far too common, with about one in four currently experiencing it on a regular basis. Employees who reach this breaking point of always or very often feeling burned out at work are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to leave their employer. Burnout is a serious workplace issue for all genders, races, ethnicities and job types.
However, the disproportionate increase in burnout among working women during the pandemic has resulted in a third of them dealing with it as a routine part of their job -- a figure that demands attention.
To help inform how this imbalance can be rectified, Gallup researchers studied several factors that could potentially be associated with the expanded gap. A key discovery is that there is no simple answer -- instead, several potential factors emerged requiring further exploration.
The following considerations and insights can help spark important conversations about closing the burnout gender gap.
Women who spend part of their week working remotely (hybrid) are at higher burnout risk (38% in 2021) than women who work exclusively from home (31%) or fully on-site (34%). In contrast, burnout among men tends to be unrelated to their remote work arrangement -- their burnout risk is the same regardless of whether they work fully on-site, work exclusively from home or are hybrid.
Turning to workplace hypotheses, are women being tasked with more of the team coordination and communication activities associated with a hybrid environment where people have highly individualized work schedules? Sixty percent of employees in remote-capable jobs prefer to be hybrid workers long-term. Thus, now is the time to start discussing what that means for women.
Roles and Responsibilities
The burnout gender gap is relatively consistent across most industries and, importantly, is just as evident among white-collar workers as among workers at large.
But within organizations, there is a sizable burnout gender gap among workers who are in individual contributor or project manager roles. Women in these types of positions are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to feel burned out, suggesting they could be dealing with different workload expectations during the pandemic -- either at home, at the office or both.
Conversely, there is little difference by gender in burnout among workers in managerial positions. These findings suggest that workload and support may be more equitable between genders for people in managerial roles than in individual contributor and project manager roles.
The gap in burnout between men and women is just as wide among workers without school-age children (under 18) as among those with school-age children.
When specific aspects of childcare are studied, notable contributions to the gender gap in burnout emerge, but none of these factors prove to be the clear driving force behind the gap. For instance, caring for children and experiencing interruptions to school and daycare are prime ways the pandemic has disrupted people's normal lives, but these factors only modestly affect the burnout gender gap.
This may not be entirely surprising, as schools largely found ways to reopen after the initial surge of the pandemic and people have acclimated to their new work routines. Additionally, previous Gallup research demonstrates that burnout tends to be most strongly influenced by how people experience work and how they are managed.
Nonetheless, family responsibilities and work-life balance are part of every parent's wellbeing equation and should be part of the burnout discussion -- even if they are not the direct causes of the burnout gender gap. As we continue to research the experiences of working mothers, further insights into factors contributing to their burnout will be explored.
Concerns About COVID-19
It's also important to note that the pandemic itself imposes disproportionate stress on women, as women are much more likely than men to say they worry about getting COVID-19. Workers of both genders who are "very" or "somewhat" worried about getting the virus are substantially more likely to be burned out. But because women are more likely to be in this high-worry group, they are also higher on burnout.
The concern here should be how the emotional stress created by the health aspect of the pandemic can stack on top of work-related responsibilities and challenges.
Recommendations for Employers
The heightened rate of burnout for working women necessitates immediate concern and action. Now is the time to address what may be systemically causing workload and stress disparities for women in your organization.
Here's what your organization can do to start the conversation and shrink the burnout gender gap:
Assess, act, repeat. Identify where burnout exists within your workforce. Driving change starts with accurately assessing the problem and using your employees' own personal experiences with burnout to inform and inspire action.
Gallup recommends routinely measuring and tracking workplace teams' wellbeing and engagement using brief employee surveys to unearth hidden challenges -- like the burnout gender gap. These insights can help identify where your greatest burnout risks are occurring. Data alone won't solve the problem, but these facts will help start the right conversations needed to uncover the right answers and create accountability for solving them.
Arm teams to beat burnout. Preventing burnout fundamentally comes down to teaching your managers and teams to have meaningful conversations about what is causing and compounding their stress.
Start by discussing the top five causes of burnout Gallup discovered and what your team can do about them. Pay special attention to the cultural, procedural and systemic factors that may be affecting women differently. Follow up with regular check-ins designed to identify potential burnout risks your team is facing and inform the creation of new norms to better support one another.
Because the No. 1 cause of burnout is feeling treated unfairly at work, alarm bells should be ringing if your conversations or data uncover a gender gap in burnout or in how people believe they are treated at work. And given their elevated burnout rate, be especially vigilant about your burnout surveillance for women working hybrid (partly on-site, partly at home).
Manage your managers. Managers are the most important people in your organization when it comes to building a culture of high engagement and wellbeing -- but new Gallup research has discovered they are now among the most likely to feel burned out.
At the same time, leaders and managers should be mindful that their personal experiences and circumstances with gender equality at work may be very different than those of the team members they lead.
When it comes to stopping burnout, the time to act is now:
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