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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 freedigitalphotos.net/hin255)

Working in male-dominated environments makes women more susceptible to chronic stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/hin255)

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.”

Women who work long hours risk piling on weight

3 Apr

The more hours women work, the more likely they are to gain weight. That’s the blunt finding of a study of 9,000 middle-aged Australian women.

Long hours are defined as 41-48 hours per week. Very long hours are 49-plus. The argument the researchers put forward for the weight gain of hard-working women is because they don’t have the time or energy to eat healthily or exercise. More than half of the women (55%) put on weight during the two years of the study, while a third (31%) lost weight.

Nicole Au, a research fellow at the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University who carried out the study, says: “These statistics provide some clues as to how employment patterns may affect lifestyle choices, and subsequently, body weight.”

The survey found that 65% who work more than 49 hours per week drink alcohol at risky levels, and 36% did not do any physical activity. These findings chime with a report out in the UK showing that women’s dangerous levels of drinking are causing more divorces. The Telegraph reports that women are drinking more to help them cope with work stress.

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: istockphoto.com/yusufsarlar)

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

Is anxiety burning women out?

8 Jun
womaneer rocking chair

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere (pic: istockphoto.com/pterwort)

There’s a saying that worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere. That’s certainly the case for many women who suffer anxiety, and for whom it gets to the stage where it affects their performance at work.

Anxious female brains work harder than male ones, says research from Michigan State University. In tests, worried women performed the same as men on simple parts of the task – but performed worse on the more difficult parts, suggesting that “worrying got in the way of completing the task”.

Jason Moser, lead investigator on the project, said: “Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries. As a result, their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much.” 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. (istockphoto.com/jcsmily)

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.

 

Balancing work and family makes women prone to depression

5 Sep

The balancing act of work and family tips many women over the edge into depression, according to a report into mental health across Europe.

Women aged between 16 and 42 are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, and  women aged 25 to 40 are three to four times more likely than men to become depressed. The rates of depression in women have doubled since the 1970s – which parallels the increase in the number of working mothers, suggesting that the quest to ‘have it all’ is taking it toll on some women (who perhaps don’t have the support networks or the options to help them achieve a healthy balance in their lives).

Professor Hans Ulrich Wittchen, one of the study authors, from Dresden University of Technology in Germany, said: “In depression we see 2.6 times higher rates among women, which interestingly and importantly clusters in the reproductive years between the ages of 16 and 42. It’s not this increase after 45 – getting older – that some people think it is. In women, we see these higher rates of depressive episodes at times when they have their babies: they have to cope with the double responsibility of job and family.”

The study, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, covers 30 countries including the UK, and reveals that 38.2% of people are suffering from mental health issues, such as anxiety, insomnia and depression.

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