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Checking Up on Women's Well-Being

In honor of Women’s Health Week, we’re looking back at a study we conducted earlier this year revealing key information on the state of women’s well-being. Compared to men, women experience more stress related to caregiving and finances, and also greater loneliness. Read on for a recap of some of our findings and what employers can do to help, especially now as women take on new responsibilities during the pandemic.

Women’s role as caregiver takes a toll on emotional and physical health.

  • Overall, 68% of women report somewhat or high levels of stress versus 57% of men.
  • 80% of women who identify as a caregiver report high levels of stress, versus 65% of male caregivers.
  • 73% of women with children are not satisfied with their physical health, versus 49% of men with children.

Women typically become the default primary caregiver when they have children, in part due to the lack of universal parental leave in the United States. Most employers do grant some maternity leave, though, setting up lifelong patterns of who is the “go-to” parent, and effectively cementing women in the caregiving role. As a result, women are stretched thin, stressed-out, and have little time to attend to their own health and well-being. I can attest to this reality.

This is especially true right now.

The global pandemic has exacerbated women’s caregiving stress and reinforced this gender divide. A recent New York Times article discussed the inequity of caregiving and homeschooling duties during coronavirus times.

We now also have data on how women’s caregiving stress has increased since the outset of the pandemic. A study by The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found among parents with children under the age of 18, 57% of mothers versus 32% of fathers say their mental health has gotten worse because of the pandemic—a striking difference of 25 percentage points. In the poll taken just two weeks prior, it was only five percentage points (36% versus 31%).1

Considerations:

  • Acknowledge that female employees who are caregivers may be more stretched than ever.
  • Encourage taking a PTO/mental health day to recharge and refresh, or even a mental health hour during the workday.
  • Ensure women know about the mental health resources available to them, such as mindfulness and meditation apps, stress reduction and resilience tools, telehealth visits with mental health professionals, and any educational resources that could help with homeschooling.
  • Normalize and value caregiving as a necessary part of life and not something that needs to be “balanced” with work. This has become easier to do now that managers and co-workers are also juggling work/life responsibilities. For example, our weekly team stand-up meetings include kids or pets—it’s a stress-free way to check in while recognizing the current situation of a blended work/life environment.

Women are more stressed about finances than men.

  • Over 40% of women feel dissatisfied with their financial wellness versus 31% of men.
  • 53% of women are concerned with paying off debt like student loans and credit cards versus 37% of men.
  • 45% of women versus 31% of men say their caregiving status has a negative impact on their financial wellness.

Several factors play into why women are more financially stressed. First, there is the pay gap. Women make just 81.5 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Because they are most often the primary caregiver, they also take more time off for childbearing and childcare. Their career progression likely suffers during this time, and it can become nearly impossible for women to catch up. Women with lower-paying jobs may exit the workforce altogether once they factor in the cost of daycare. Women also spend more time out of the workplace to care for aging parents and older spouses.

Coronavirus has dealt a major blow to women’s financial wellness.

The Labor Department says more than 700,000 jobs were eliminated in the first wave of pandemic layoffs in March; nearly 60% of those jobs were held by women.2 Women tend to work in sectors of the economy that were hardest hit, like leisure and hospitality, educational and health services, retail, and professional and business services.

Considerations:

  • Provide access to basic financial skills and education, such as budgeting, how to establish an emergency fund, the time value of money, and other insightful topics.
  • Subsidize childcare, especially for lower-paid workers.
  • Consider implementing more robust parental leave policies and support for transitioning back to work to help women avoid financial losses associated with caregiving.

Women experience greater feelings of loneliness.

  • 56% of women say they “sometimes or always feel lonely or isolated” versus 44% of men who feel that way.
  • Women who are caregivers report greater feelings of loneliness—54% versus 48% for non-caregivers.
  • 48% of women reported being satisfied with the amount of leisure time they have to spend with family and friends before and after work, versus 56% of men.

As we know, loneliness is now considered an epidemic and widely recognized for contributing to both mental and physical illness. Caregiving can be a lonely pursuit with tasks that feel transactional and repetitive. Since more women identify as a caregiver, it makes sense that women report greater loneliness. And, with less free time, they frequently forego opportunities that would allow them to connect more deeply with others, like happy hours or a shared hobby. Our study also revealed that women value social connections and are more likely than men to identify “seeking support from others when needed” as an important aspect of emotional well-being.

Social connections are now even more difficult to come by.

With social distancing, it’s harder to keep up with the social connections that used to bring some balance to women’s lives. A study by Optum conducted in March and April found that for nearly 7 out of 10 women, social well-being is now worse. In March, the number of women and men reporting that their social well-being was worse was nearly equal at 56% and 51%, respectively. By April, dissatisfaction had increased for women to 68%, but men’s social well-being actually improved by three points.4

Considerations: 

  • Acknowledge women’s need for connection in the workplace with opportunities to socialize during the workday.
  • Urge managers to get to know their teams on a more personal level, taking time during meetings to share interests, passions, and stories. Having just integrated our new StayWell team members, we went around the virtual room and shared a healthy selfie and explained it—we learned so much about our team members and promoted some great new ways to be healthy!
  • Women are more likely to participate in wellness challenges, so use them as a way for women to connect with co-workers over a shared goal.
  • Volunteering together is another way to combat loneliness—even if it’s done remotely!
  • For more ideas to foster social connections during work-from-home days—which may last longer than we originally thought—check out 17 Ways to Boost Employee Morale During COVID-19 That Aren’t Happy Hours.

About our study: In the fall of 2019, we surveyed 2,000 U.S.-based employees of companies with 5,000 or more workers to understand the state of employee well-being and learn what individuals are looking for in an employer well-being program. We asked them 38 questions related to well-being, ranging from how they view their well-being to stress levels to how caregiving impacts their lives. Download our whitepaper, How Well-Being Programs Are Failing Women and Millennials, for a full recap of the results.

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