The Burn Out Effect

By Anna Hallahan

McKinsey recently released a study noting that women make up 53% of the corporate-entry level class yet only 37% of higher management positions. We have all heard the statistics about the stark disparities that exist within the workplace. The lack of female CEOs and other gender inequalities in the corporate world is the result of a wide variety of biases, social norms and antiquated viewpoints. However, as we look to create a world with strong female managers and CEOs, it is only fair for us to turn inwards and examine why women are not attaining or pursuing these higher level positions.

I do want to make it very clear that I am by no means blaming women for their lack of upward mobility in the workplace. Instead, I want to take a step away from the traditional outlook on external norms that plague working women. As a true advocate for workplace equality, I want to solve the problem by looking at all angles.

Recently, Fast Company released an article titled “Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out.” The article was quick to note that it had nothing to do with having a family and balancing the home life. One study reported that only 11% of women are leaving the workplace and returning home to care for their families.

Instead, the article argues that the cause of the burn out preventing women from rising in the workplace may be attributed to self-imposed high expectations. High achieving women like Jenny Blake from the article work to have it all. Jenny was “thriving when she began her career at Google. But then she started to burn the candle at both ends. She was working full-time as a career development program manager while writing a book on nights and weekends." In addition to this, our increasingly global world has our phones and email constantly in reach. We are always “on” and therefore, work has the ability to come through at all hours of the day. It can be tough to refute this culture as women “especially in competitive jobs or industries [perceive] there would be a…line out the door for their replacement” if they distanced themselves from their phones and emails.

With little boundaries between our personal and professional life, it quickly becomes clear that the pace of women like Jenny is unsustainable.  In fact, Jenny ended up burning out just weeks before her book was set to be released.

I wish I could provide a firm explanation as to why this phenomenon is more common in women than men. The article briefly hints at a study from University of Kansas, which reported that “women experience significantly higher rates of role overload.” To be honest, though, I am not really sure what that even means, and it does a poor job of convincing me why women are burning out.

Left up to my own interpretation, I think there is a lot to be said about strong women who are striving for the top but end up biting off more than they can chew. As the deeper “why” question is beyond my ability to answer, I want to focus instead on what we can tangibly do.

Like any major problem, prevention is key. So, what can we do now, as college women, to attain success without the cost of burning out?

It’s a tough question with many debatable answers, and I wish I had an easy prescription to offer.

However, as I reflect on my own undergraduate experience and my glimpses into the working world, it becomes increasingly obvious that a sense of passion and happiness is vital to personal and professional success.

In my opinion, in order to keep the flame burning and avoid burning out, one should be happy with what they’re doing now, not just what they’re working towards. For example, shadowing doctors all summer, working in a lab and getting EMT certified is certainly ambitious and often regarded as favorable when applying to medical school. However, multiple summers (and school years) dedicating your life to these activities without making time for other interests is a sure setup for burnout. It is often hard to resist the necessary resume experiences needed for our desired career, but insisting that our stress and unhappiness now is worth it in the long run is not a healthy life choice.

Of course not everything you do has to be pleasant and enjoyable. Success requires hard work and grit. However, success is not just measured by what you can professionally post to your LinkedIn page. Your personal success, and that vital work-life balance, is crucial to creating a happy, well-rounded and fully successful individual.My advice for you (and myself) is to reassess the activities you are associated with and involved in. Are they making you happy? If not, drop them like it’s hot. I have increasingly found that those who are deemed successful and competitive for the most prestigious jobs are in fact truly interesting people that are involved in activities that are genuine to their interests.

Moving forward, I encourage young women to establish that firm work-life balance. Events like “You are Not Your Resume”, which will be hosted next Thursday (April 21) at 7:30 at HFSC, are awesome ways to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding success without high profile stress. Additionally, it is crucial to make it our priority to balance our productivity and necessary periods of rest. We can follow Kate Unsworth’s example and severely limit our email checking time. As the CEO of a major tech company, her reduction in email checking led to a drastic improvement, not only in her well-being, but also in the quality of her work. As students, this is something that surely we can also try.

I hope that we can begin to find this balance in order to create not only highly successful female managers and CEOs, but also happy and lively women.

For more information on the “You Are Not Your Resume” Event, check our the Facebook event here: