How Burnout Affects Women

Mar 26, 2021

Dr. Ashley Margeson

Dr. Ashley Margeson


Have you noticed that when it comes to burnout, women seem to get hit harder and faster than our male counterparts? There’s a few reasons for this, but I want to talk today about the theory of Emotional Labour, and why it might be one of the driving factors for why women are at higher risk for burning out.

The term was coined by sociologist Dr. Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book The Managed Heart, in which Hochschild described emotional labour as having to suppress feelings for the sake of other people’s “proper state of mind.” In particular, Hochschild wrote that emotional labour has to do with managing emotions to fulfill the requirements of a job.

Now, emotional labour has a focus on within a paid workplace, but today I want to talk about it in the frame of reference of our homes. Emotional labour refers to the work involved in keeping other people comfortable and happy. In the domestic sphere this can look like managing children’s schedules, remembering to send holiday cards to friends and families, planning parties and get-togethers. An imbalance in the division of emotional labour can lead to burnout on one parent’s parts. Usually (but not always) the woman.

Studies show that women shoulder the majority of responsibility in relationships, both in careers and at home. Not only are women underpaid across professions, but much of this invisible work goes uncompensated and unrecognized. In fact, a recent report from the United Nations found that women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid work that men do, noting that, “vital jobs like taking care of the children and the myriad tasks that come with them, like picking them up from school, caring for elderly parents, managing household expenses and completing chores like cleaning and cooking,” become women’s responsibilities.

The biggest way to alleviate the stress of emotional labor both at work and at home is to become clear on your priorities and boundaries when it comes to emotional labor. You need to be aware of when emotional labor is positive or necessary, and when it is not. Emotional labor isn’t inherently bad, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the demands on your time and mental energy.

And remember, balance isn’t perfect. Tell me the last person who asked your husband (or partner or guy you work with) how he was managing to handle all the laundry, homework, kids and relationship and I’ll be the first to apologize. But as a society, we place women on a different pedestal than men. So make the decision for yourself. And protect yourself from burnout.


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