April 15, 2022 3 min read
“No matter how fast I run or how hard I try I can’t keep up.” - Anonymous working mum
During COVID-19 pervasive uncertainty, dissolved boundaries between work and life and the acceptance of traditional gender roles left Working Mothers (WM) burnt out and opting out (of paid work). Pre COVID-19 WM wellbeing proved precarious with stress levels at 40% above the average. The unprecedented uncertainty that followed with a global pandemic compromised WM basic human needs of feeling safe and rested further compounding the likelihood of mental health challenges.
Whilst WM embraced the normalisation of flexible working that presented with COVID-19 lockdowns the reality of dissolved boundaries between work and life cultivated feelings of “always being on”. Interestingly, how flexible working manifests in the home is engendered. WM invest flexible time in more domestic duties whilst working dads take the opportunity to work more hours. Thissuggests an increase in WM domestic load, driving the propensity for.
Traditional gender roles in COVID-19 lockdowns became the default position with WM taking on two point five times the amount of domestic unpaid care work relative to their male counterparts. Lockdowns presented WM with a new challenge, having to juggle their work and domestic shifts simultaneously. The cumulative load meant that work life balance for WM was elusive, self-care diminished, and stress levels elevated. The practice of consistent self-care behaviours is critical to WM ability to mentally and physically recharge. When self-care in not prioritised productivity is impeded, stress elevated, sleep disturbed, and exhaustion ever present.
The mental health of WM is still suffering post lockdown and it is unlikely to return to a healthy baseline. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as feeling depleted of energy, mentally distanced from work and unproductive. Disturbingly, burnout is now prevalent amongst WM with forty-two per cent of professional women and fifty percent of female leaders feeling burnt out often. The excessive load on WM with school aged children during the pandemic encouraged the trend towards burnout, declining self-esteem, and opting out of the workforce.
Overwork and overload impacts fulfilment in work and can drive feelings of inadequacy. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between a decline in self view and mental health suggesting that WM self-esteem is likely to have declined because of the disruption to their environment. Opting out of paid work has become a coping mechanism for many WM with one in three women having contemplated opting out of paid work in the past year.
The evidence paints an unsettling picture should the trend towards burning out and opting out amongst WM continue. Do we truly understand the long-term impacts of work life overload on WM? If not, how does this impact the ability to make truly inclusive societal choices and deliver effective wellbeing interventions? We cannot ignore the societal ramifications of failing to support the number one caregivers in our society, nor the impact a twenty three percent exit of women from the paid workforce could have on the significant inroads made in driving gender equality. Perhaps what’s even more disturbing is the potential future increase in workplace burnout if female leaders continue to opt out of paid work, as they are much more likely through inclusive action to prevent burnout within teams.
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