woman leader PE016

3 Ways to Reduce Burnout in Female Managers

Under the surface, female managers are feeling the pressure of carrying the load and face a greater risk of burnout than their male counterparts. What can you do to deal with this?

If you have been on Tik Tok or Instagram recently you have probably seen the reaction videos to Disney’s latest animation release Encanto. While the film centers on the magical Madrigal family, the song Surface Pressure is hitting a chord around the world. In it the older sister Luisa sings of the pressure she is feeling to support everyone around her “Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that'll never stop… Pressure that'll tip, tip, tip 'til you just go pop”. Luisa is strong and mighty but when asked ‘what’s wrong?’, she sings of the burden of responsibility she feels and her fears of vulnerability. As the film progresses, Luisa is the first member of the family to lose her special power or gift, leading to the family home literally and figuratively cracking around the Madrigals.

It is no surprise that this song has resonated with women in particular. It comes at a time when women are perhaps more tired than ever. Carrying the weight of children and family at the same time as supporting organizations through relentless uncertainty and change. In fact, McKinsey and LeanIn.org’s latest “Women in the Workplace” report revealed that women are more burned out than they were at the start of the pandemic and, in that time, the gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled.

Furthermore, people managers, especially women, are more likely to experience burnout than those who do not manage people. Compared to men in similar positions women managers are consistently doing more to promote wellbeing. This may be by checking on team members, helping them to manage their workload, and providing support to those who are already dealing with burnout or other work-life challenges.

People managers, especially women, are more likely to experience burnout than those who do not manage people.

Women leaders are also up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work that falls outside of their job role. This could include supporting internal DEI groups, coordinating events, and recruiting those from underrepresented groups. They are also more likely than men to demonstrate allyship through mentoring women of color, advocating new opportunities for them, and actively confronting discrimination.

It reminds me of this Forbes article from 2020 which explored how women and minorities are doing more of the ‘office housework’. By this, I mean work which is unseen and unrewarded. It could be tidying the kitchen area or rearranging a meeting room. But also, the small yet essential tasks like merging slide decks, managing distribution lists, sending out meeting action lists.

So, it comes to paint the picture that, just like Luisa Madrigal, women managers and leaders are taking on ‘all the heavy things we can’t shoulder’. They are taking on the tasks that drive better outcomes for all employees, without the recognition or room to accommodate this within their formal responsibilities. We know that when managers support wellbeing, employees are happier, experience less burnout, and are less likely to consider leaving. This is also true of employees who have strong allies and believe DEI is a high priority for their company.

When managers support wellbeing, employees are happier, experience less burnout, and are less likely to consider leaving.

How to deal with burnout

But what can organizations do to combat burnout? Googling this question brings up close to 9 million results, yet we are still exhausted. So, now is the time to try something different. McKinsey and LeanIn.org report these three actions:

  1. Continue to embrace flexibility but also set clear boundaries

    Many people experience the pressure to be ‘always on’ when working remotely or flexibly. Yet only 20% of employees say they have been told they do not need to respond to non-urgent requests outside their working hours. Establishing clear work norms is a key solution to protecting employees’ personal time and preventing burnout, especially as the boundary between work and home has blurred.

  2. Managers are perfectly positioned to impact employee burnout and wellbeing

    To make sure this impact is positive, they should try to model a good work-life balance, ensure that performance rewards results over time spent, and support the wellbeing of their team.

  3. Finally, organizations should ask their employees what they need from them

    Research has proven that empowerment can lower the levels of burnout. You can empower your people by increasing employee support structures, and this will only work if they target specific needs. So, ask what they need, do not assume.

We cannot deny that the pandemic has accelerated burnout in employees, including female managers. When we talk about burnout, it is actually not so much about the employees—it says a lot about the workplace and the leadership. Now is the time for leaders to up their burnout strategy, so you will have a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. It is only by trying something different, exploring creative solutions, and listening to employees that organizations can take the pressure off their employees—particularly the Luisa’s who are carrying the load.

Check out our International Women’s Day Collection for more insights on how you can help women to be more successful in the workplace.

headshot abigail winter


Abigail Winter

Abigail Winter is a Senior Consultant within the UK&I professional services team. She combines her passion for innovative assessment solutions with a special interest in early talent and women in leadership. She has worked with clients from around the world to provide bespoke selection and talent management solutions throughout the employee lifecycle.

Explore SHL’s Wide Range of Solutions

With our platform of pre-configured talent acquisition and talent management solutions, maximize the potential of your company’s greatest asset—your people.

See Our Solutions