How can business prevent burn-out among young women?


The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) recently released research showing that young women are regularly becoming psychologically ill due to their work. The research, carried out by TNO, said that one in five women aged 25 to 35 regularly feels emotionally exhausted, extremely tired or empty at the end of their working day. Interestingly, in other age categories, women have far fewer burn-out symptoms.

I’m not surprised by these results. My own research in talking to, working with and coaching people in this age category shows that we are not preparing young people well for the realities of work.

Speaking with a group of young women who work in large multinationals, it is clear that the high-pressure and often high-stress environments weren’t what they were expecting. As one woman said, “I was at an all girls’ school and then went to a top university. We were led to believe we were in the top 5%; that we could achieve anything we wanted to. Then I came into the workplace and ran into a massive culture clash where I felt I was doing everything wrong.” This disconnect between the ambitions and goals of young women and the culture in large businesses is a real issue.

As someone who experienced this clash at the beginning of my career, I know first hand the impact it can have. Trying to take on the mantel of an organisation’s formula for success and play down your own needs – and ultimately who you really are – results in stress, unhappiness and sleeplessness. Perhaps worst of all for businesses is the fact that this means you’re not as effective on the job as you could be. You only really put all of your energy into the work if you’re being all of yourself.

Further education institutes and multinationals need to spend time equipping the future workforce not only with the knowledge they need to carry out their work but also the skills they need to survive – and thrive – in business. Skills like understanding the dynamics of teams and how to work well with individuals who are very different to you; skills like understanding company politics and what to do if you’re caught up in them; skills like how to network across organisations and techniques to find backers for your ideas. And when young graduates start in the workplace, they should be paired with experienced mentors from day one to help get things done without compromising who they are, or their ambitions.

However, this alone won’t help solve the problems these young women are having. Young women entering the workforce also need role models who can show them how to remain true to themselves and authentic in modern business organisations: they need to see that they don’t have to leave part of who they are at the office door in order to succeed.

That’s why I believe that, in addition to training our young people properly before and just as they enter the workplace, businesses need to promote positive role models: authentic, human and passionate leaders and managers who aren’t afraid to be themselves in the workplace. Not just at the top but at every level. The ones being rewarded with a step up the ladder should not only get good results for their business but should also be inspiring role models who bring all of themselves to work; people who also have an ethos of mentoring and coaching younger colleagues. If today’s multinationals used this as a criterion to promote people, we’d be going a long way to ensuring far fewer young women in the workplace suffer these symptoms of burnout.

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