Lord knows, many of us reach that point in our work lives where we simply feel burned out! It’s the underlying reason for underperformance, the reason why we choose to walk away, the cause of stress and unhappiness. I often find myself wondering if there any new information that can help to paint another brushstroke and illuminate the reasons why we feel the way that we do when we reach that peak.
Importantly, according to new research out of the University of Montreal, wellbeing at work can be affected by factors that lay outside the work environment. Mind you, this is not to say that deadlines, relentless demands, abusive colleagues and endless overtime don’t contribute, but findings suggest that these factors are not the sole reasons for psychological distress, depression and emotional exhaustion that provide the framework for the condition that we call burnout.
The researchers explain that workers’ mental health is multifaceted and reliant upon the broader social environment with which they interact on a daily basis. Although these interactions may be sources of wellbeing and pleasure, they can also affect so-called ‘psychic balance’ in more negative ways. In fact, when almost 2,000 employees from 63 different Canadian organizations were surveyed about their mental health, workplace, family and social networks, it appeared that the interaction of workplace stress and daily personal stressors played a key role. Moreover, in so far as work was specifically concerned, factors like decision authority, proper utilization of skills in a job and demands/social support from colleagues had only a small impact on characteristics of burnout when compared across different work scenarios. And, any variation appeared to level out when the researchers started to account for outside factors such as family and social networks, marital status, household income and social support from friends.
The workers who had greater stability outside of the work environment — being in a relationship, having higher household income and experiencing less work-family conflicts and greater access to positive support networks — were found to exhibit fewer mental health symptoms. Conversely, factors such as stressful marital and parental relationships tended to boost the mental distress quotient. The work/family conflicts, e.g. having to delay family time for work or having family impact work ability, coupled with relationship stress may have influenced distress the most.
However, questions remain. While researchers may be closer to identifying the cause of work related burnout and how organizational and external factors interact to create the perfect storm, it’s less clear the types of steps inside the workplace that can be taken to minimize the intersection of these factors. In the interim, perhaps it’s time for workers to focus on/take stock of outside forces; by maximizing how content they are with their lives and life quality, they may find that work becomes more pleasurable and easier.
I’ve got a little secret to share with you: I am in the midst of a career change or at least, a significant shift in what I’ve been doing and what I will be doing. That’s all that I am able to say right now but as I move through my journey of reinventing women, I started to recall that about a year and a half ago I ran an ongoing feature about women who were doing exactly what I am doing right now — reinventing themselves. And so, I thought that while I am in the midst of my own shift, I would put out another open call for your stories. One of the most important things that we can do is share our stories with one another and support each other through the different phases of life, love and career. Inspiration can come from the strangest places sometimes.
Consider this an open call!
I want to hear about the career or life changes you’ve made or are in the process of making — the ‘why,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ as well as any other nugget of wisdom that you might impart to others considering a similar reawakening.
If you are a woman, age 44 or older and want to share the story of your transition (or transitions), drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me a little about you, your age and a snippet of the wisdom or learnings that you’d like to impart to other readers. I am hoping to find at least 10 more women willing to share their stories, their triumphs, their failures and their lessons.
If you’re at a loss, check out the varied stories of three women, collected a few years back. They are likely to inspire and help shake a few tail feathers too!
Reinventing Women. It’s an ongoing movement and it’s all about you!Read More
About a year ago, I wrote a post about a UK study exploring women experiences of working through the menopausal transition. Among the various challenges cited, poor concentration, fatigue, memory issues, depression and loss of self-confidence ranked among the highest. Moreover, the majority of women chose to avoid discussing their symptoms with their managers, making a bad situation even worse.
A more recent survey has been released by The Working Mother Research Institute and not surprisingly, the findings are similar. And, while the methodology is not quite scientific and based on a series of survey blasts, it does serve up some sobering statistics. Among 1,500 women surveyed (ages 45 to 65):
- About one-third cited hot flashes as the most troublesome symptoms in the workplace, and roughly two-thirds said that they occurred daily.
- Similar to their UK counterparts, changes in memory and concentration and fatigue (attributable to sleep disruption) were also among the most troublesome symptoms.
- Almost half (48%) reported that managing their symptoms took a toll on their work life, with 12% passing up more demanding work or promotions as a result.
- The more ‘male’ the work environment, the more that women tried to hide their menopausal symptoms while at work; this distinction was almost two-fold.
- Fewer than one on three women felt comfortable discussing their symptoms with their supervisors and among those who were, again, gender was a strong determining factor.
So, what do these flashing, fatigued women desire in their work environment? Overwhelmingly, one primary ‘want’ shines through: the ability to adjust temperature in their workspace. A close second and third? A flexible dress code and the ability to bring a fan into the workspace.
The bottom line of this survey echoes the UK study: employers need to be more aware that among their female employees ‘of a certain age,’ the menopausal transition can cause some difficulty. And while the solutions are relatively simple, the lack of consideration for an issue creates a problem in and of itself.
According to the North American Menopause Society, approximately 6,000 women enter menopause daily in the United States. Not only are these women living longer but increasingly, they continue working well beyond what was once considered traditional retirement age. So long as women keep working the ‘pause, employers will need to readjust the environment to keep those women happy and productive. Currently, it appears that there is a long way to go to achieve the optimal balance in the workplace.Read More
In my 20s, I used to work as studio director for a radio morning show. Often, I’d stay up, watch Late Night with David Letterman, and then hit the sack, only to get up and hit the road to be at the station at 5, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with coffee for the gang. A little later on, I worked at a 24-hour news network, and my shifts were almost always 3 a.m.-11 a.m. or 4 a.m.-noon. I’d come home, do some other work, my partner would come home, and I’d almost always be in bed after 10 p.m. Five hours sleep was fine. In an magazine job, all-nighters were common as we got to production.
If I tried that now, I would implode in a week. And that isn’t always the easiest thing for a man to admit. We’re supposed to be invulnerable, aren’t we? One of the things I’ve noticed as the years have gone on is I can still be as intense as I was in the past (I think!), but that I can’t maintain that level of intensity for same length of time. I attend a music-industry conference each year where part of the deal is attending music sessions that go on until about four in the morning. I can do that, but inevitably there’s a post-conference crash.
Combine the fact that my “energy well” isn’t as deep as it used to be with the lifestyle of a self-employed consultant, where the pace can sometimes oscillate between frenetic and … what now? and you have a recipe for stress.
I have a few things I try to do to combat that stress. I try to keep my sleep habits as regular as I can. I’m lucky in that I rarely have insomnia, so it’s easy for me to stay rested most of the time. That keeps the energy supply high.
If there’s a frenetic period on the horizon, I will try to book downtime to recharge my batteries after the urgency subsides. Better to book it and keep it for myself than to carry on as if I didn’t just complete a herculean task and end up crashing.
And I try to keep my regular appointments sacred. Yoga class, exercise, and the like can sometimes feel like a distraction that I “should” skip “just this once.” But that has an impact down the road. Short-term gain for long-term pain.
It’s not easy to stay energized all the time. But if you can learn — even attempt — to manage yourself a little better, you can perform at a higher level all the time, rather than some roller-coaster cycle of sprinting, and then collapsing.
What are your tips for managing energy levels? Tell me in the comments.Read More
Can you believe that three years has passed since I first wrote about Amanda Griffith’s study on menopause and work? The final results are in and they are fairly indicative of the issues that menopause brings to the work environment.
Dr. Griffiths is a professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Several years ago, she and her colleagues set out on a journey to discover gender-specific health issues in the workplace other than pregnancy. And, since her target was on women between the ages of 45 and 55, chances are great that the focus would be less on reproductive issues and more on post-reproduction, i.e. menopause. Noting that studies have shown that some women find that their symptoms negatively impact their work life, and that certain work factors, e.g. environment, may increase the intensity of symptoms, Dr. Griffiths also points out that women are generally reluctant to divulge to colleagues or their managers that they are going through menopause. Moreover, even if employers know, what sort of things can they do to help?
Mind you, this study is in the form of an electronic questionnaire and this is the type of design that many will question as introducing bias and issues with recall. However, rest assured, the researchers carefully honed their questions based on an earlier study that was done with a group of women police officers, through one on one interviews with women to discuss the impact of menopause on their health and work and through close review and evaluation by experts in a variety of medical and occupational fields. But enough of the science; let’s get to the meat.
Roughly 900 women were surveyed; about 43% were perimenopausal, 31% in menopause and the rest, on hormones or in menopause due to surgery. Yet, regardless of where they were in their menopause journey, three symptoms were especially problematic when it came to work: feeling less confident, an inability to concentrate and memory issues. Three’s a charm…except when it comes to menopause. The icing on this cake were hot flashes; not only were women unable to control the temperature in their workplace environment (honestly, who does have that ability?!), but having hot flashes became unbearable when the work environments were overly heated or improperly ventilated.
To make a bad situation even worse, over a third of the women said that they worked harder to overcome difficulties so that menopause wouldn’t affect their performance or draw attention to them. Working harder also meant learning the best strategies for coping with their symptoms and worklife. And while, on the surface, this doesn’t sound so terribly awful, can you imagine having to make light of matters, making a list and checking it thrice to avoid mistakes or changing your working hours to hide a condition?!
Managers, take note! What do women want to make their workplace more tolerable? Overwhelmingly, women report that they would be better served if management acknowledged that menopause was a possible health problem and provided more flexible working hours. Better ventilation, air conditioning and temperature control are important. And advice and support? More than 50% of women said that having information and advice from their employers about menopause and coping at work as well as informal support from colleagues would make their work environments more palatable. On the flip side? The researchers say that it might be helpful to explore working women’s attitudes toward their co workers and line managers’ perceptions of menopause; after all, women in the throes of the ‘pause may actually be overestimating others’ abilities to infer menopause status when a hot flash hits and may even have misconceptions about others’ negative perceptions of menopause.
There is no doubt that menopause impacts working ability, environment and relationships. As with any health condition, appropriate support from employers is imperative and may help to reduce stress, help boost performance and insure loyalty. Yet, employers can’t do it alone; women need to be able to communicate their status and their needs. Work and the ‘pause is truly a two way street.Read More
Earlier this week. Fox Business ran a piece claiming that the gender pay gap was nothing more than a myth. Some of the more interesting conclusions suggested that there are fewer women in select fields was because they choose to work in industries that pay less such as education, versus those that pay more (and where you find greater numbers of men), such as computer and engineering.
The author writes: “women sacrifice pay for all sorts of reasons including security, safety, flexibility, and fulfillment. Their priorities are vastly different than men’s. And when you account for that, when you compare apples to apples, when women actually make the same career choices as men, there is no gap. Men and women earn the same.” He adds that even when women pursue higher paying fields, such as medicine, they tend to gravitate towards areas that are less stressful, such dentistry rather than specialize in stressful positions such as surgery. Moreover, men work more hours.
While he acknowledges that women are having babies and do most of the child rearing — obvious factors that contribute to the gender pay gap — he claims that these are personal or societally-driven decisions and that truly, the glass ceiling has been broken.
Is this man living under a rock?!
I can rest on my laurels, throw a bunch of statistics in your direction and reinterpret the findings to provide evidence that the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. Or I can share the following proof that it’s not, that this author’s primary point, if you pay close attention to the article, has nothing to do with gender pay and more to do with his opinion that the Federal Government should not be wasting its time trying to equal the paying (pun intended) field.
That aside, let’s get down to brass tacks.
According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women continue to be paid less money than men in all but 7 of 534 occupations – respiratory therapy, computer support, operations research analysts, stock clerks, medical scientists, bookkeeping/accounting, and packager/package handlers. You can see the differences in the chart below as outlined by the Center for American Progress:
[Source: Center for American Progress]
Moreover, it’s not simply a matter of women choosing not to enter higher paying fields; often there is a discrimination bias taking place. For example, as Perry Hewett wrote in a 2011 Forbes.com piece, a key reason that women are lacking in tech is because this male-dominated industry is not broadening its professional networks to include more women. Anecdotally, I hear this all the time from my female techie friends. Importantly, the problem is magnified many fold among women of color who are trying the break the barriers. This problem is coupled with the need to improve girls’ access to science and technology programs (and boosting their interests in the same) so that we are producing a greater field of qualified applicants. And my gal pals also echo Hewett’s contention that visibility is a huge issue; even women who participate in more highly visible events are often invisible to the masses. Those who speak up are often ostracized when they do. The problem is pervasive.
In medicine, the reality is just as harsh. Although women are now entering medical school in droves, studies have suggested that gender discrimination is a large factor driving where females ultimately end up; in one survey, 75% of women on a surgical track had experienced gender discrimination. More specifically, female physicians have three choices in order to excel:
- deny that there is any distinction between her and her male colleagues, thereby joining the man’s clube and be subject to be treated as a “neuter”
- assume a more traditional societal role as a seductive, helpless, dependent female, which means she is then treated as a sex object
- become a superwoman and compulsive overachiever in career and family roles in order to supercede expectations in all areas of her life
As I’ve written previously, gender and age discrimination is also pervasive in the film and entertainment industry. I’m sure that there are more fields, more data, more anecdotes; I’ve simply scratched the surface with the most obvious. However, the issues underlying and driving the glass ceiling are complex. In some areas, women have shattered it; in the majority of others, it is intact. And to overcome the challenges we face as women, it’s more than simply leaning in, or making choices other than the ones that many women are forced to make.
The gender pay gap? It’s real and not going away anytime soon. And it will take more than empowerment to move the needle. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. But when it comes to action, the future is now.Read More