September 17, 2021

Precarious Balance: How to Keep Women Workers From Leaving

My 6-year-old walked in again. I was on camera and not on mute. Everyone chuckled and seemed happy to see her. I was, too, but I also felt stressed. Everyone was polite, but surely this was disruptive.

When my husband and I had no childcare support in those early days of the pandemic, sympathetic colleagues and flexible, remote hours kept me afloat. I wasn’t sleeping very well in March of 2020 anyway, so I would work in the middle of the night and apologize to colleagues for the occasionally odd timing of my email responses. I started gaining weight and felt constantly worried, but I had resources and a supportive spouse; my family was safely quarantined under the same roof. I was able to find the help I needed. Not every woman is fortunate enough to have such resources.

Mental Health Issues Are Pushing Women Out the Door

I’m lucky. I’m not one of the 2.3 million women who have left the labor force in 2020.

Women have suffered the brunt of pandemic-related job losses. Many of those who stayed are ready to leave their roles for the chance to work remotely with more flexible hours and better benefits.

Fifty-seven percent of women participate in the American labor force, and they often shoulder a disproportionate burden of caregiving duties at home. Whether they’re performing telework or required on-site, they often struggle to find a balance between working and caring for family. As a result, working women are more and more likely to suffer from poor mental health.

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions reported that anxiety levels among working women increased by 52 percent between February and June of 2020. Levels of depressed moods increased among women by 83 in the same timespan.

Many working women, especially those with family responsibilities, feel a certain stigma, driven by what Workology editor Megan Purdy calls “that cult of all-or-nothing careerism that makes the quality of your work, and the amount of time you spend at it, your defining quality.” As a result, many women — especially those with children or other caregiving responsibilities — may often feel reluctant to ask for extended deadlines, different hours, and time off. This puts many working women at increased risk of burnout.

How to Support Women in Your Workplace

What can employers do to support the women in their workforces? How can they keep women engaged, promote healthy work/life balance, and stem the tide of defections as women look for better working conditions?

A culture shift is the only answer. Employers need to understand that women — especially mothers and caregivers — are overwhelmed. By implementing the following tactics, organizations can start to change that:

1. Offer Women-Friendly Workplace Policies and Benefits

Your benefits and policies should cover family planning, child- or eldercare resources, flexible working hours, and more paid time off. You might also promote resources, including apps and digital tools, to support mental and emotional health. Some companies are even considering ways to address social determinants of health, such as salary-based healthcare premium contributions.

2. Make It Easier for Women to Find Support

This means more than just referring women to the employee assistance program provider when mental health issues arise. Rather, truly supporting the women in your workforce entails broad policy changes to eliminate penalties for time off, encourage women to speak up, and build an enterprise-wide focus on well-being. Employers also need to better leverage technology to make sure employees find it easy to access the resources that meet their needs.

3. Rethink Your Work Model

In addition to better pay and medical benefits, employees who are thinking about leaving your company probably want things like shorter commutes, the ability to disconnect from email after hours, and a hybrid approach that enables them to split their time between working from home and the office.

Employers would be wise to review their communication techniques, too. Even if you offer plenty of programs, resources, and robust benefits packages, they mean little if employees aren’t aware of how to use them.

It makes good business sense to adopt a women-friendly work culture. It doesn’t just help you keep your current valued employees where you need them — it also ensures your office remains a welcome workplace for all the women you’ll hire in the future, too.

Debra Andrianopoulos is a principal in the Engagement Practice at Buck.

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Debra Andrianopoulos is principal in the Engagement Practice at Buck, an integrated HR and benefits consulting, technology, and administration services firm. Debra has more than 20 years of experience in employee benefits and other communications.
https://buck.com/