“Job burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy”: that’s the description provided by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (the World Health Organisation’ manual that helps physicians recognise and diagnose illnesses).
While the WHO has not classified job burnout as a medical condition, it has acknowledged it as one of the factors that “influence health status or contact with health services”. It is therefore a “problem associated with employment or unemployment”, a syndrome stemming from “chronic workplace stress, not successfully managed”.
Globally, some 264 million people suffer from depression, while a recent WHO survey postulated that depression and anxiety-related disorders cost the world economy about one billion dollars per year, in terms of productivity loss. A negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health issues, drug or alcohol abuse, absenteeism and productivity loss. On the contrary, working environments that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more successful in countering absenteeism, increasing productivity and enjoying the relevant economic benefits.
But what are the differences, between women and men, when it comes to occupational burnout? A recent study published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health compared occupational exposure and epidemiology in six countries (Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Italy and the United States) proving that there are remarkable differences between men and women in terms of work–health relationships. Why? Such differences are mainly due to the worker’s position: since women are less likely to hold higher offices, they are more subject to work-related frustration.
However, it’s a Harvard Business Review study that revealed other underlying factors that explain such an imbalance. Firstly, women are still fighting for equal treatment at work. Considerable progress has been made in terms of equality in the workplace, but there is still a big divide in terms of opportunities and pay; these factors make it increasingly difficult for women to turn down heavy workloads, since they fear that doing so might somehow weaken them.
Another factor that contributes to women’s occupational burnout is the impression of being invisible: women are given less credit – compared to men – for their ideas and contributions at work. If your words and actions always seem to be less relevant that those of your male colleagues, it is only normal to feel anxious and frustrated.
Finally, women still perform most of the family-related physical and emotional work. Such an effort, while usually unperceivable and hard to actually quantify, is emotionally and physically demanding.
So, it seems that it’s high time to work to make women’s work matter – and it’s not just another item on the to-do-list.