Women are more prone to burnout than men, say scientists.
They are less likely to be given positions of power – causing them to become overwhelmed with frustration, according to new research.
Beyond mental exhaustion, work burnout can lead to physical effects like insomnia and headaches and the prolonged stress raises their risks for heart disease.
The issue of exhaustion in the workplace has been debated for years – but gender has remained a blind spot.
Now a new study from Montreal University has found a dramatic difference in how the problem men and women.
Women suffer more burnout at work than their male counterparts, due in part to their dissatisfaction in lower positions where they work more, for less, a new study suggests
Study author and professor of population health, Dr Nancy Beauregard, said: ‘Our results show there are differences between men and women because, from the outset, employees are subject to different working conditions depending on their gender.
‘Indeed, female employees often burn out at a faster rate simply because of the nature of their work.
‘Many women have positions that offer little latitude in decision-making, meaning that their work only provides them with a low level of authority and decision-making power and makes little use of their skills.
‘This type of position, which men are less likely to hold, causes women to burn out.’
Burn out leads to lack of motivation, low efficiency and a feeling of helplessness.
Sufferers can be blighted by headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath and insomnia and, long-term have higher odds of heart disease and immune disorders.
The financial costs are also high, with one study estimating that overly stressed employees cost their companies between $150 and $300 billion each year.
Up to one-in-three workers are said to become victims at some time in their career.
Even celebrities are not immune. Female stars who’ve been diagnosed with exhaustion include Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding,, Kendall Jenner and Lady Gaga.
The study published in Annals of Work Exposures and Health identified lower self-esteem and increased work-family conflicts among the most common causes of burn out.
We can reasonably hypothesize that, if men and women had identical working conditions, their burnout rates would be similar
Dr Nancy Beauregeard, University of Montreal sociology professor and study author
And work that encroaches on time spent with loved ones or leaves no energy for non-work activities occur much more frequently in women.
Time spent doing household chores – such as washing dishes or getting the groceries – can help women avoid burnout, at least at first, said the sociologists.
Dr Beauregard said: ‘This is one of the most surprising findings of our study.
‘We observed many women use household chores as a strategy to escape the demands of their work and to ‘vent’.
‘In the short term, this can be a protective mechanism against burnout.
‘In the long term, however, this strategy can become a trap and result in missed opportunities for advancement, causing women to remain confined to positions with low decision-latitude.’
The factors that lead to burnout in men are more complex and are related to time management, the researchers found.
More hours worked or more frequent atypical schedules lead to increased work-family conflicts, which affects men’s mental health.
However, some factors are unrelated to gender.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT THE BODY?
Stress – whatever the source – has a whole array of negative effects on mental and physical health.
It can immediately cause muscle tension and headaches, difficulty sleeping, a loss of sex drive and elevated blood pressure.
Plus, stress affects the mood, causing irritability, loss of motivation, anxiety and even depression.
If it persists, chronic stress can take a significant toll on a person’s memory and cause heart and digestive problems.
Excessive psychological demands, employment insecurity and a lack of recognition at work all lead to burnout in both men and women.
Dr Beauregard said: ‘We can reasonably hypothesize that, if men and women had identical working conditions, their burnout rates would be similar.’
She went on: ‘Are women and men equal in the workplace? That is far from certain.
‘This is why we need to find solutions for everyone and develop an adapted approach to prevention.’
If women burn out because they have less latitude to make decisions it suggests their work should be reorganized so they can use the skills they have.
Dr Beauregard said: ‘This outside-the-box solution is more likely to break the vicious cycle of burn out and reduce absenteeism.
‘It’s time to reflect more deeply on the way we approach mental health in the workplace.’
In the study her team followed 2,026 people recruited through a Canadian insurance company in a wide variety of 63 workplaces in Quebec for four years – half of whom were women.
Burnout was assessed in all participants using a questionnaire that probed issues such as emotional exhaustion, cynicism and professional effectiveness.
Dr Beauregard said: ‘Although our study’s subjects come from diverse professions and sectors we cannot generalize the results to the entire population of Quebec.
‘Nevertheless this is an excellent starting point for understanding the role of gender in burn out and finding more adapted solutions.’