The 10 top causes of stress for women at work

07 Jul 2014

There are some types of stress that are particular to women who work, and they are affecting a huge portion of the population.

According to last year's Stress and Wellbeing survey, one in four working women reported moderate to severe levels of stress. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) commissioned the survey to examine the wellbeing of Australian adults, with a special focus on working women.

It found men and women have different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally, with working Australians overall reporting significantly lower workplace wellbeing in 2013 compared with findings in previous years.

Professor Lyn Littlefield, the former Executive Director of the APS, believes the data presents a compelling argument for a widespread review into the methods for dealing with the causes of workplace stress. So what are they?

  1. More household responsibilities

    The latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics survey found that housework in Australia is still shared unevenly. The data found women completed more than double the amount performed by men, about 16 hours per week. They also spent more time caring for children, running domestic errands and babysitting.

  2. Work/life balance

    Australia is rated as "above average" in the recent OECD How's Life? report, with one exception: work/life balance. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) paint a similar picture. "Putting in extra hours at work (paid or unpaid) was especially common in families where both parents were employed full-time," with women responding that they struggled the most.

  3. Friendships and family life

    Last year's Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey found that significantly larger numbers of women reported visiting social networking sites, eating or sleeping more to manage stress than in previous years. The study found 47% of working women cited family issues as a major area of ongoing stress.

  4. Concern over remuneration and the gender pay gap

    New figures from the ABS show that, on average, full-time working women's earnings are 17.1% less per week than men's (equating to $262.50 per week). Half of all women reported stress over finances, according to the APS research.

  5. Lack of job satisfaction

    While there is some good news in the APS survey with women "more likely than men to report being involved in their job,", an international study found the opposite. It analysed a traditionally "satisfying" and prestigious job - lawyer - and found that out of 326 respondents, women had significantly lower job satisfaction, "due primarily to their lack of influence and promotional opportunity".

  6. Mental stress, especially depression

    One in four (24%) Australians reported mental health issues as a source of stress and three in four working women said current stress was having some impact on their performance at work. Worryingly, a World Health Organization (WHO) study suggests within five years, depression will become "the second leading cause of global disability burden," with women affected twice as much as men.

  7. Carer stress (caring for others in the home)

    More than a third of women (38%) say they feel concerned about the health of others, and according to the ABS, women make up the bulk of home-carers in Australia, in every state and territory. The WHO survey points out that sudden changes to family circumstances might, "significantly increase gender inequality".

  8. Career progression

    Last year's Graduate Careers Australia report on the gender wage gap found that overall, men's starting salaries were 9.4% higher than women's. The researchers attribute part of this gap to the fact that employees in male-dominated fields (such as engineering) are more highly remunerated. This stress flows on throughout a women's career as the gender divide is not addressed.

  9. Weak superannuation funds

    It's a fact; nearly 90% of Australian women do not have enough superannuation, says the Association of Superannuation Funds. Major contributors include the gender pay gap as well as lost earning during unpaid maternity leave.

  10. "Competitive stress" at work

    Of those surveyed by the APS, 63% of working women felt like "their lives were out of control", and nearly half reported they're more stressed now than they were at the same time last year. The main stress-junkies? Thirty to 39 year-old women, a prime time for women who are extending their careers. Feeling that they are being overlooked for promotion can especially cause additional stress on the job.

What can we do?

"Since commencing this annual survey in 2011, we've seen a significant decline in workplace wellbeing in just three years and almost half of working Australians (47%) rated issues in the workplace as a source of stress," Professor Littlefield says.

"It is vital for us to examine why workers are feeling this way."

Blackmores Director of Education, Pam Stone, agrees. "It's clear from the results of that both Australian women need more support and advice in order to manage their everyday stresses and busy lives."

"While stress is a part of everyday life, excessive and ongoing stress can have serious effects on our health if left unaddressed, it can negatively impact sleep, the digestive system and energy levels".

There are numerous responses women can take to the above stressors, but Stone offers some words of wisdom: "Remember that stress is not so much what happens to you as how you respond," she says. "Make positive choices about how you manage stress, be proactive, take control and restore balance to your life."

Last modified on Friday, 15 January 2016 11:53
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Yvette Maurice

Yvette Maurice is a journalist-in-residence at Open Colleges and blogs regularly about careers, work and fashion.

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