Women have had to overcome a lot over the last century to land a seat at the corporate table. But to say that the workplace is a utopia of equality is sadly not the reality. And while we're across the pay gap — the divide that sees women earning 14.2% less than men — what we don't often talk about is the pressure gap that sees women experiencing more work-related burnout. A recent study says that the root of this might lie in our propensity to encounter 'time stress' more than men.
Time stress — the feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them — is described by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America as a societal epidemic. It can lead to reduced productivity, compromised physical health and poor emotional wellbeing among workers.
Past research shows that women experience disproportionately greater time stress than men and has illuminated a variety of contributing factors.
The study, which analysed the findings of nine studies with more than 5,000 participants, included experiences of working adults and undergraduate students in order to gain insight into the time stress gap.
What they found was that women, in comparison to men, were more likely to feel that they had too many things to do and not enough time to do them, according to the report. Women also had a tendency to avoid asking for more time to complete tasks, even when project deadlines were deemed flexible.
The report also noted the tendency for women to take on more activities outside of formally defined responsibilities, both voluntarily and due to more frequent requests from other people.
'Why?' you ask? Well, if you're not someone who struggles with this very thing, then it might be tough to empathise with, but the desire to 'prove' yourself worthy most likely stems from the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, women have only fairly recently been ingratiated into the workplace. The authors of the study deduced that one factor which played a huge role in women’s decisions not to ask for an extension was rooted in their belief that asking for more time would make them appear less competent than their male counterparts.
They therefore not only avoid asking for help but also avoid sharing the load. "Women have a harder time delegating work tasks to others than men," stated the report. "As a result, women end up with a greater task load relative to men, which contributes to the feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time." Basically, we feel like we're juggling too much because we are juggling too much.
One of the most profound causes of our lack of delegation can be chalked down to the fear of being a burden — a fear we spend most of our lives trying to unlearn. "Women are less likely to ask for more time to complete their tasks because they hold stronger beliefs that they will be penalised for these requests and worry more about burdening others," the report stated. Employers can also be guilty of propagating perceived resource scarcity, particularly during difficult times like the pandemic, which in turn manifests in a hustle culture where employees are guilted into feeling like the business' success rests solely on our overworked shoulders (even if it absolutely does not).
We talk about corporate wellness and scroll endlessly through the memes and painfully accurate TikToks but where we can go wrong is in putting these boundaries into practice.
So what can we do about time stress? The study’s authors suggested some helpful tips for women to challenge these tendencies that lead to internal pressure, including asking for more time when a deadline is flexible.
They also had some recommendations for managers, advising them to conduct regular check-ins with employees who appear ‘stressed out’ and asking them if a deadline extension would be helpful, where possible.
Managers were also encouraged to put forward formal policies that promoted deadline extension requests, making it easier for workers to ask for more time to accomplish their tasks without the stigma of disrupting the greater workflow.
"Reducing ambiguity about whether or not asking for an extension is an acceptable behaviour by establishing a formal policy around extension requests could mitigate the proposed gender differences in asking for more time on adjustable deadlines at work," they wrote.
Of course, it's easier said than done. We talk about corporate wellness and scroll endlessly through the memes and painfully accurate TikToks but where we can go wrong is in putting these boundaries into practice.
Work is always going to be a source of stress, and we’ve all felt the pressures of apathetic bosses and strained teams during the pandemic, but spreading yourself too thin is only setting yourself up for failure, and we've come too far to take those steps back.