Nov 2, 2021 - Economy

Why working mothers are burning out

Illustration of a baby monitor on a busy work desk

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

About 1 million working mothers have stopped working during the pandemic, and more could follow.

Staggering stat: 23% of women with kids under the age of 10 are considering leaving the workforce, compared with 13% of men, according to a McKinsey survey.

There's a slew of reasons why balancing work and parenting is hitting mothers harder than fathers.

  • Women spend an average of five more hours on child care and chores per week than men, per a report from scholars at London Business School and Harvard Business School.
  • And many teleworking women have had to give up their house's one home office to their husbands — forcing them to work in less-than-ideal spaces, adding to stress and chipping away at productivity.

But it's not just what's happening in the home. There are dynamics at work that hurt women more than men, Ashley Whillans of Harvard Business School and Grant Donnelly of Ohio State University write in the Wall Street Journal.

  • Women are likelier than their male colleagues to take on administrative tasks, which means they're often saddled with urgent deadlines rather than work they can complete on a flexible schedule.
  • And women are less likely than male colleagues to request deadline extensions at work, per new research from Whillans and Donnelly.
    • They looked at a group of college students studying business and found that the men were "nearly twice as likely" as the women to ask for an extension on a big assignment.
    • "Students who asked for an extension received grades that were 8.2% higher, on average. Because of their hesitation to ask for more time, female students’ performance suffered," the researchers write.

The bottom line: Working parents represent a whopping third of the U.S. workforce — and companies need to address burnout to retain this talent.

  • Strategies that can help include setting company-wide policies for deadline extensions, so everyone feels comfortable asking for the time they need, Whillans and Donnelly note.
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