In case you’ve missed the polarizing headlines recently, mental health at work has been a very hot topic for women in the workplace. Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open because of the pressures of the press. Meghan Markle left the British royal institution after getting tremendous negative media scrutiny and being socially isolated.
You probably aren’t a professional athlete or a princess, but no matter what you do, chances are that you’ve experienced some tough times at work. Between micromanaging bosses, tight deadlines, and bias and discrimination, many women — especially women of color — are feeling stretched thin and seeing the impacts on our wellbeing. Add on the additional demands of this global crisis on our work (research shows we’re working about 2-3 more hours per day on average now than in 2019), and it’s no wonder that we’re experiencing a collective burnout.
Being burned out is a chronic mental health issue that goes beyond simply having a couple of long days before a big meeting or deliverable. Burnout includes three main characteristics: (1) physical symptoms of stress and exhaustion, (2) a lack of energy even at the start of the day, and (3) feeling disconnected and alienated from work.
You might be blaming yourself for getting to this point. In her interview with Oprah, Markle said that she hadn’t researched what the role entailed and that she didn’t really understand what she was getting into. But make no mistake, the pressures of burnout are starting from the top – whether your office is in a castle or a coworking space. Increased expectations and demands, lack of communication and support, and unequal treatment are systemic causes for these symptoms.
Most workplaces follow a patriarchal culture, even when the leadership and employees are female. Because of societal norms and bias, women have to work harder to stand out and succeed. Osaka is not the only female athlete who has called out reporters for being aggressive and overly critical. The value of hustle over balance creates a fear that if we don’t compete to do the most, we are at risk of not achieving our goals or even losing our livelihoods (hello $15k fine for skipping a press conference).
So how can you change the paradigm and make the system work for you? It’s all about setting boundaries. It can be scary at first, but it is much easier to maintain your sanity when you’re making the rules that you (and others who work with you) have to live by.
Be clear about your expectations and comfort level around your time, space, and energy. This includes things like having regular breaks during your workday, communicating with respect, and recognizing your unique needs, whether it be a chronic illness, your child’s soccer schedule, or religious beliefs that differ from the government holiday calendar. Let your leadership and coworkers know your boundaries up front so that when situations arise, you can refer back to those initial conversations. Human tendency is to test the limits and cross them if unchecked – so be sure to gently remind people if they have overstepped.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to advocate for your needs at work. If you notice that you are feeling stretched to the point of burnout, recognize what you need to return to a healthier mental state and do that. If your company still demands more from you as you are letting them know the damage that overwork is having on you, look to these two famous examples and consider looking for a more supportive environment and walking away from what could be toxic and harmful long-term. Nothing is more important than your health.
For more stories by Sonia Ashok on SEEMA, check out The Busyness Epidemic