It’s scarcely an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything –– and that’s definitely true when it comes to working women. Pre-pandemic, women actually held more jobs than men. In 2020, American women lost more than 5 million jobs, as they were more likely to work at businesses that closed during lockdowns, including restaurants, hotels, and daycares. When children switched to online learning, women were also more likely to stay home, or adjust their work hours, to take care of them.
Today, the percentage of women working or looking for work is at its lowest level in more than three decades. Despite all of this, women continue to climb the corporate ladder. They started half of 2020’s new businesses (usually around three out of four businesses are started by men). Unfortunately, in 2021 working women are almost twice as likely to feel burned out then men. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career. If you’re one of them, here are some strategies for staying in the workforce.
Battle Your Burnout
Burnout has soared during the pandemic. Studies suggest that flexible schedules can help relieve burnout, but that comes with a catch. If flexibility leads to an “always on attitude” it can do more harm than good. So one of your strategies for staying in the workforce should be setting boundaries. If your boss expects fast responses to emails regardless of when they are delivered, it’s time for a serious conversation.
Even on-call doctors get downtime… You deserve some as well.
Of course, we are often our own worst enemy. There’s nothing wrong with starting and ending your workday later –– so long as it actually ends. If you’re responding to emails or working on projects at midnight, you need to have clearly defined times when you aren’t working. Physical boundaries can also really help. I’m a firm believer in keeping your work separate from the rest of your life. If you don’t have a home office, separating your desk from the rest of your studio apartment with a sheet can make a real difference. It should go without saying that if you are a manager with a habit of sending staffers late night emails, please make it clear you don’t expect an immediate response. Better yet, stop sending them.
Limit Ad Hoc Therapy
Listen, it’s a stereotype to suggest that female managers are more “nurturing.” It’s fairly sexist as well ––– how often do you hear even the most kindhearted and supportive male managers described that way? Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that in recent surveys female managers report they are far more likely to be asked for help with emotional or mental health concerns than their male counterparts. It’s awesome that managers have stepped up to offer support during these difficult times, but regularly fulfilling a role that should be filled by a therapist can get exhausting.
If you feel drained less from the job than from playing counselor, it’s time to discuss the issue with your supervisor. Because if you need another example of how women’s work isn’t as valued as their male counterparts, this is a good one. Few companies compensate or provide bonuses to managers who help their staffers’ mental health. This means we should develop guidelines for how to navigate being a workplace sounding board and discuss incorporating it into scheduled office hours. For example, you could have scheduled check ins with remote staffers as part of your job.
Unpaid labor is a big reason women battle burnout. Besides the many female managers being called upon to offer ad hoc therapy, during the pandemic women were far more likely than men to shoulder the bulk of childcare and household responsibilities, explaining why so many reduced their work hours or quit their jobs altogether.
Working mothers have been talking about the lack of affordable childcare in this country for years. The pandemic supercharged the issue. It led many to leave the labor force, as they were forced to care for their children who were learning online. Even as schools have reopened, they remain in flux as hundreds have closed suddenly due to a rise in infections. Daycares are struggling to find workers, which means many have waitlists.
Of course it isn’t an either-or choice. Working mothers can consider remaining in the workforce part time, or working from home. A FlexJobs survey recently reported that over half of working mothers see full-time remote work as their ideal arrangement. Even if you aren’t a mom, remote work can resolve numerous workplace issues –– so long as you maintain boundaries.
During the pandemic, thousands of mothers actually returned to their hometowns where relatives were available to help with childcare. And some discovered that starting their own business left them feeling far less stressed than when they worked for someone else. The secret is developing a strategy now rather than just saying “I quit” later.