Burnout still rife among female workers despite increase in hybrid, research finds

Experts caution that growing work-related stress among women poses a significant risk to businesses amid an already turbulent labour market

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Female workers are still seeing significant levels of burnout, new research has revealed, despite the increase in hybrid working seen in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

The research found that almost half (47 per cent) of women in the UK said they were more stressed now compared to a year ago, with a similar proportion (46 per cent) reporting feeling burned out. 

A similar number again (47 per cent) also said their mental health was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, and almost a third (30 per cent) have had to take time off work because of their mental health. 

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The study, conducted by Deloitte Global, interviewed 5,000 working women across 10 countries (including 500 in the UK), and emphasised that despite a rise in hybrid working, widespread burnout and lack of flexible work available to female employers continue to affect working women’s career progress.

While flexible and hybrid work models have become more commonplace since the pandemic, many women still report being unable to access this type of working, with just a third (37 per cent) saying their organisation offers flexible working policies.

The majority (95 per cent) of respondents also believed that asking for flexible working would hinder their future likelihood of promotion.  

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Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, said the problem is that “not enough employers have adapted their policies following the pandemic, and now talented women are suffering burnout”. 

“With only 37 per cent of women reporting their employers offer flexible working options, that’s a sign that businesses need to revolutionise their ways of working or risk losing their workforce,” Aston added.

The research also revealed that the implementation of hybrid working has posed additional challenges for some, with women who work in a hybrid way more likely to report experiencing microaggressions in the workplace (66 per cent) compared to those who work mainly in their workplace (29 per cent) or remotely (45 per cent). 

And more than half (52 per cent) of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from important meetings, while two in five (42 per cent) say they do not have enough exposure to leaders, which could also affect sponsorship and career progression.

Women are also more likely to be searching for a new role than they were a year ago, the research found, with two in five (39 per cent) of them citing burnout as the reason why they want to leave their current employer. 

In addition, less than one in 10 (9 per cent) women planned to stay with their current employer for more than five years, potentially exacerbating existing labour shortages amid the ‘Great Resignation’.

Jackie Henry, managing partner for people and purpose at Deloitte UK, called the findings “alarming” and said that “it is clear that employers are struggling to address the issue with burnout being the top driver for those women currently looking for new employment”. 

Regarding the major reasons for these trends, Dr Rebecca Holt, clinical psychologist and co-founder and director of Working Mindset, said that women with young children were still “juggling the lion's share of caring responsibilities, with almost two years of juggling these and their boundaries often being blurred now taking its toll”.

Holt also noted that post-pandemic workloads were increasing while organisations were still finding their way, resulting in lack of clarity around hybrid work. For example, “causing additional burden due to lack of communication on whether women are expected to be in the office on particular days or for more important meetings,” she said.

While the findings shed a light on working women’s personal experience, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, emphasised that “work-related stress poses a significant risk to businesses, as well as employees, and can lead to higher sickness absence, lower staff engagement, and reduced performance”, so it is essential to address these issues.

As hybrid and flexible working could have many benefits, McCartney urged that line managers should place a spotlight on the wellbeing of their teams and help them set boundaries, and develop healthy work-life balance practices. 

“Employers who listen and are open to testing, learning, and adapting their hybrid approaches will benefit from a more diverse workforce and the ability to retain and attract a wide range of talent,” she added.