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‘Token’ women in male-dominated workplaces suffer more stress

28 Aug
Working in male-dominated environments makes women more susceptible to chronic stress. (pic courtesy of

Working in male-dominated environments makes women more susceptible to chronic stress. (pic courtesy of

Women who work in predominantly male workplaces are more prone to unhealthy levels of stress – and this is down to the environment, not to the woman’s personality type or the job she does. That’s according to a study by Indiana University into the stress exposure of women working in male-dominated professions.

The researchers measured the levels of stress hormone cortisol in women working in environments that were 85% male. “We found that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or ‘dysregulated,’ patterns of cortisol throughout the day,” said co-researcher Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology. ” Such women are more likely to experience exposure to high levels of interpersonal, workplace stressors.”

Those stressors and pressures can include doubts about the woman’s competence and performance, being excluded from after-work social activities, bumping against the glass ceiling, sometimes sexual harassment, and generally receiving little support. The study concluded that it’s exposure to these negative working conditions that puts ‘token’ women at risk of chronic stress – not the job they’re performing, or because they have high standards or a particular personality type. This ‘dysregulation of stress response’ – basically when too much cortisol is produced, leaving the woman in a state of high alert – can have consequences way down the line.

Co-researcher Cate Taylor, assistant professor of sociology and gender studies, added: “Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes. This is evidence that the negative workplace social climates encountered by women in male-dominated occupations may be linked to later negative health outcomes for these women.”

The stress of having no job control can double diabetes risk in working women

23 Aug

Workplace stress doubles the risk of diabetes among women who have little or no control over their jobs – but this is not the case for men.

Women with micromanaging bosses and little job control double their risk of diabetes. (pic:

A nine-year study of 7,443 working women by the Institute for Work and Health and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies in Toronto, Canada, found that micromanaging female employees can have serious consequences for their health.

The researchers found that 19% of diabetes cases in women are due to ‘low job control’ – higher than the cases caused by smoking, drinking and lack of exercise (but lower than for obesity).

The tendency for women who felt they had so say over their work, or were managed too tightly, is often to turn to comfort food that has Continue reading

Emotional stress goes straight to the heart of women

26 Apr

Emotional stress has more impact on women than men, and can lead to an impact on heart health, according to research from the Penn State College of Medicine.

Stress hurts women's hearts. (

When women feel emotional stress – such as the pain of bereavement, or the breakdown of a marriage – blood flow to the heart remains the same, whereas it increases for men. This puts more stress on the heart, and can lead to heart pain.

The researchers said: “This puts women at greater risk of coronary pain and could offer an explanation for ‘broken heart syndrome’ – a temporary weakening of the heart muscle during emotional strain, like losing a partner. It’s almost exclusively felt by women.”

However, it’s not exclusively women who suffer from stress, as findings from a separate survey show. The Evening Standard reports figures from Nuffield Health’s Canary Wharf medical centre that nearly half (44%) of Londoners don’t take their holiday entitlement. A third said they didn’t have time for a break, or feared losing their job.

Nearly half are working unpaid overtime, with 12% working an extra eight to 20 hours in the week. Half (51%) feel their tolerance levels have lowered since the economic downturn, and a third argue more with family members.

Stressed-out workers seek relaxation in alcohol (22%), and a third turn to exercise. Perhaps the figures on heart health will be a salutary reminder to female workers to leave their desks on time, and submit their holiday forms in full.

Women are off sick through stress three times more than men

23 Dec

Women are three times more likely than men to take time off work through stress, according to analysis of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics by Legal & General.

The analysis shows that between October and December 2010:

  • 31,000 women took sick days citing stress, depression or anxiety, compared to 11,000 men.
  • 74% of stress-related absences were made by women, with only 26% of absences taken by men.

This follows the DWP research report Health and wellbeing at  work: a survey of employers that reveals that just 17% of organisations provide stress management support and advice to employees. Plus, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development 2011 Absence Management Survey showed that stress is the second biggest cause of short-term absences and one of the leading causes of long-term absences.

Diane Buckley, managing director of Legal & General Group Protection, said: “Stress is one of the leading causes of long-term absence so employers should ensure that good quality support is available in the workplace to help women before they reach this point.” She recommends cognitive behavioural therapy as a key tool to helping stressed employees back into the workplace.


Multitasking is stressful for working mothers

2 Dec

Working mothers multitask for 40% of their waking hours. (pic credit:

I do love it when a study  proves what we already know – that working women are brilliant multitaskers, and do much more multitasking than men – but new research shows just how stress working mothers are as a result of all this juggling.

Working mothers in the US multitask in the home for more than 40% of the time they’re awake: they do 48.3 hours compared to 38.9 hours for men, which the Offer-Schneider study says contributes to gender inequality because women are carrying the burden of housework, childcare, as well as bringing in an income.

The research shows that women engage in tasks that are more onerous: 52.7% of multitasking for working women involved housework, compared with 42.2% of fathers (though I think this number is rather high). And 35.5% of multitasking for women at home involved childcare, compared with 27.9% for fathers.

However, the significant point in this research is that multitasking at home and in public is a more negative experience for working mothers “because mothers’ activities are more susceptible to outside scrutiny”.

Study co-author Barbara Schneider, the John A. Hannah Chair and University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University, said: “Mothers’ activities in  are highly visible to other people. Therefore, their ability to fulfill their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticised when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers, who face less normative pressures and are under less scrutiny when they perform and multitask at home and in public.”

She recommends that fathers “step up” and do a bigger share of housework and childcare. And she recommends that policymakers and employers should create more opportunities for fathers to be involved with their families, such as allowing time off for family/school events, and not bringing work home with them – so that there can be “more egalitarian norms” for parenting roles.

However, the conclusion is that trying to do it all – to be superwoman – just isn’t making working mothers happy.

Less presenteeism and more flexibility can help reduce workplace stress

6 Oct

I’ve never been able to tolerate martyrdom in the office: the people who sniff and shuffle to their desks, struggling through the day, spreading germs as they go – and all because they feel guilty about taking time off.

Presenteeism – turning up to work no matter what, in the belief that people will think you’re not committed to your job – is making workplace stress levels worse, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Simplyhealth Absence Management Report 2011.

Presenteeism is just one of the factors cited as exacerbating stress, which is now the number-one cause of long-term sickness absence. Over a quarter of organisations surveyed said they had seen an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months, and two-fifths noted an increase in mental health problems. The report says: “Such presenteeism can negatively affect an organisation’s productivity, not only if illness is transmitted to other colleagues, but also because ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illness. Presenteeism is also a sign of anxiety. Failure by organisations to address employees’ concerns may lead to mental health problems and costly longer- term consequences.”

Lack of job security is a major factor, especially in the public sector, where half of employers report an increase in stress-related absence over the past year. Stress is worse in organisations planning to make redundancies – not surprising, really, especially as half of employers use absence records as part of their criteria when deciding who to make redundant.

Other top causes of stress are workloads, management style, family issues, and organisational change. Home/family responsibilities are in the top five most common causes of absence for two-fifths of organisations.

CIPD recommends that organisations lead from the top in promoting attendance, and supporting line managers in helping to deal with stressed employees. They should also foster an “open and supportive culture” where people feel they can take time off when genuinely ill, and they should make a serious commitment to flexible working practices to allow people to juggle the various aspects of their lives.

The daily commute is more stressful for women then men

23 Aug

Is the daily grind hard to handle? (pic credit: istockphoto)

Any working mother with young children will know just how stressful it is to get them ready, get yourself ready, and get in the car to drop them off at school or nursery and then make a dash for the train. It often feels like you’ve done a day’s work before you’ve even reached your desk.

It’s the added responsibility and burden of chores and childcare that adds to the daily stress of commuting for women, whereas men may have a longer journey but without the same negative psychological impact, according to a new report from Professor Jennifer Roberts at the University of Sheffield, published in the Journal of Health Economics.

‘It’s driving her mad’: Gender differences in the effects of commuting on psychological health concludes that “commuting has an important detrimental effect on the psychological health of women, but not men”. Analysing data from the British Household Panel Survey , the finding say: “We explore explanations for this gender difference and can find no evidence that it is due to women’s shorter working hours or weaker occupational position. Rather women’s greater sensitivity to commuting time seems to be a result of their larger responsibility for day-to-day household tasks, including childcare and housework.”

The psychological impact of commuting was four times worse for women than men with pre-school children. Professor Roberts added: “We know that women, especially those with children, are more likely to add daily errands to their commute, such as food shopping and dropping off and picking up children from childcare. These time constraints and the reduced flexibility that comes with them make commuting stressful in a way that it wouldn’t be otherwise.”

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