On the Problem of Women and Workplace Anxiety

Far more women than men report experiencing anxiety in the workplace. While anxiety knows no gender boundaries, women still face many pressures in the workplace that their male coworkers do not. Even when they're not on the clock, women spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying over workplace woes as compared to their male counterparts.

This anxiety negatively impacts the course of many careers. Workplace anxiety can lead to poor judgment and decision-making skills, hesitancy instead of assertiveness when dealing with clients and coworkers and missed deadlines due to lost sleep. When women address workplace anxiety, their careers benefit substantially with their improved ability to focus, delegate and manage their career responsibilities in general.

Factors Influencing Workplace Anxiety and Females

One reason more women than men experience workplace anxiety involves the fact that women still earn less than their male counterparts despite strives toward equality. As of 2017, white women still made only 80 percent of what their male counterparts in equivalent positions earned. Women of color fared even worse with Latino women, who face a pay disparity of almost 50 percent when compared to men.

Image by Kathrin Honesta

Image by Kathrin Honesta

Far more women than men experience sexual harassment in the workplace. One recent study found that a full 81 percent of women report having faced sexual harassment in the workplace at least once, while only 43 percent of men reporting having experienced harassment.

Additionally, women must still overcome gender stereotypes in the workplace, especially those working in STEM fields. When women feel pressured to overcome gender stereotypes, the mental energy they expend to avoid being perceived as incompetent can detract from their ability to focus on the task at hand.

Finally, women continue to do the lioness' share of housework and child-rearing. Many men return home from work and simply relax, whereas women rush about picking up the kids from school or scrambling to prepare a healthy meal. Women also typically exert more emotional labor in making sure necessary household tasks are completed.

Workplace anxiety may spiral into depression when women feel they cannot possibly keep up with all their responsibilities and start to shut down due to stress. Many women experiencing anxiety attempt to self-medicate, leading to substance abuse that further derails their career aspirations.

The anxiety women feel in the workplace affects the business organization as a whole. Mental health issues constituted nearly half the sick days taken in 2015 and 2016.

Ways to Alleviate the Stress

How can women overcome workplace anxiety? The first step in kicking workplace anxiety to the curb means realizing it exists. Symptoms of workplace anxiety include panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, difficulty with concentration, racing heart and excess sweating. Women experiencing these symptoms should take immediate action to address the underlying problem. Some ideas include:

  • Exercising: Many women find relief from workplace anxiety by beginning a regular exercise routine. Exercise releases endorphins, boosting moods naturally, and also provides a physical outlet for releasing negative emotions.

  • Practicing Yoga and Meditation: Likewise, women can begin a regular yoga practice or meditation routine to help manage workplace stress. Learning deep breathing exercises they can perform discreetely at their desk can help women diffuse office panic.

  • Talking With HR: When self-help techniques fail, women experiencing workplace anxiety should inquire with HR as to available employee assistance programs. Many workplaces offer free or low-cost counseling to help employees work through their emotions and practice positive interventions when they feel anxious or panicked.

  • Seeking Medication: Finally, since some anxiety stems from an imbalance of brain chemicals, women who find counseling and self-help both inadequate to stop their racing hearts often benefit from a short or long-term course of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications. These medications help restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain leading to relief.

Changing the Workplace Dynamic

While women experiencing workplace anxiety should seek professional help when self-care fails, all the counseling and medication in the world cannot change the external factors that lead women to develop the disorder in the first place. Employers can help alleviate workplace anxiety by:

  • Offering equal pay to women

  • Allowing for flexibility in work-home balance by letting employees telecommute whenever possible

  • Taking affirmative action to help stop workplace harassment by addressing what constitutes inappropriate behavior clearly in their employee handbook

Until women reach true equality in the workplace, they will likely continue to suffer higher rates of workplace anxiety than their male counterparts. While women experiencing this anxiety should take proactive steps to address their emotions, we as a society should likewise strive to create a more inclusive, supportive work environment free from gender stereotypes.

Article by Kate Harveston