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#WomensMonth: Why experts are growing increasingly concerned about burnout in women, particularly working moms

International research revealed that one in three women, and 60% of mothers with young children, spend five or more hours a day on housework, homework and care-giving. Supplied image.

International research revealed that one in three women, and 60% of mothers with young children, spend five or more hours a day on housework, homework and care-giving. Supplied image.

Published Aug 12, 2023


Johannesburg - By the time Kayla Ferreira* returns home from work at about 6:30pm every evening, she is mentally and physically exhausted.

Her day begins at 5am every morning as she starts preparing her three young boys for school as well as herself for work.

Her husband Frank* tries to help as much as he can, but as an entrepreneur, he has his hands full with his business and is often travelling.

This leaves the 34-year-old from the south of Joburg with the majority of the responsibilities of child care as well as seeing to their household duties.

And after she drops her sons, aged two, five and eight, off at their schools, she makes her way to the north of Joburg for her demanding IT job, which then requires her full focus from 9am-5pm.

“I then have to sit in traffic on my way home, and when there is load shedding, I can sometimes even get home after 7pm,” Ferreira told The Saturday Star this week.

“I then have to cook dinner, help the kids with their homework, bath and feed the boys and then put them to bed.”

It is only around 9pm when she is able to take any time for herself, but by then, she is so tired as she then has to mentally prepare for the next day and its busy schedule.

“My husband works alot and can’t always help, and my family lives in Port Elizabeth, so most of the family duties fall on me, and I still have my own job, which can be very challenging and stressful,” she explained.

Ferreira is one of many women across the globe who are experiencing burnout due to their busy schedules and lifestyles, and as South Africa commemorates Women’s Month this August, experts are warning about the effects.

“Burnout is defined as a syndrome manifesting from chronic workplace stress, and it arises when individuals cannot access enough recovery between stressors,” explained Kerry Rudman from Brain Harmonics, a Neuro feedback organisation specialising in retraining brains.

“We see this particularly with employed parents who face a higher number of, and longer exposure to stressors from the multiple roles they play compared with non-parents, and they have less ability to access periods of recovery as a result.”

She added that “employed parents report several stressors, in particular, a lack of work-life balance, increased responsibilities at both work and home, greater concern for safety at work and for their kids at school, a loss of social support and isolation.”

Rudman quoted international research, which revealed that one in three women, and 60% of mothers with young children, spend five or more hours a day on housework, homework and care-giving.

“Five hours a day is equivalent to a half-time job,” she said.

In addition, Rudman said that the Covid-19 pandemic stripped bare what was already under the surface.

“It was well understood by working women just how imbalanced those responsibilities outside of the workplace are, because for the majority of women, the thing they worry about in the workplace is how they’re going to be evaluated in their performance, not how much extra work they’re doing at home.”

In collective studies conducted around the world, Rudman explained that employed parents have reported that “they are worn out at the end of the day,” in comparison to non-parents, and that they often lose interest or enthusiasm for their work or find their work insignificant as they face illness, financial worry and isolation.

“The compounded pressure of working while parenting, including schooling and working, has left many with feelings of apathy and fatigue, where they feel that they are failing to live up to their own expectations across their multiple social roles.”

Rudman added that of the parents who reported burnout – 90% believe their management considers productivity to be more important than mental health.

“Because of this, a lot of people will never discuss any issues that they are experiencing with their management or co-workers because they don’t want to look bad or seem as if they are not coping when everyone else looks like they do.”

“They also don’t want to be seen as incompetent or be at risk of being replaced, and there is an assumption that people should be glad that they have a job right now and everyone just needs to do the extra work demanded of them as they could easily be replaced.”

Rudman said that of the six main causes of burnout — an unsustainable workload, a general perceived lack of control, insufficient rewards for effort, the lack of a supportive community, absence of fairness, and mismatched values and skills — many are challenges that employed parents may be more likely to face, particularly from the coronavirus pandemic.

“In a survey conducted by Brain Harmonics, parents experiencing symptoms of burnout are more often responsible for all household duties, compared with parents not experiencing symptoms of burnout (57 percent versus 41 percent),” said Rudman.

She added that the majority of parents responsible for all household duties reported symptoms of burnout. “These responsibilities, including caring for older adult family members in addition to children, most often fall to women, who have also been more likely to cut back on paid work during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to provide childcare.

“For these women specifically, reduced paid time at work could also serve to further exacerbate the symptoms of burnout they are experiencing, if their responsibilities at work do not also decrease.”

In addition, Rudman said that according to international research, parents also are understandably worried. This is as four in five employed parents say that they feel concerned about their child’s mental health, and more than one-third rate this concern as extreme.

“In a McKinsey and Co survey, parents are more likely than non-parents to report missing days of work because they are experiencing symptoms of burnout, and they are also more likely to use leaves of absence and supported employment.”

And while employed parents are more likely than non-parents to see themselves staying at their employer in two years’ time (79 percent versus 64 percent), burnout correlates to employed parents’ likelihood of not recommending their place of work to others, Rudman said.

“What’s more, stress and burnout are the main reasons that cause people to consider leaving their jobs.”

Due to the dire consequences of burnout, particularly for working parents and especially mothers, Rudman believes it is vital for them to seek assistance.

“Talk therapy and life coaching is one aspect that can help to achieve a work-life balance.” She added that neuro-feedback is another option for those who might not be able to adequately verbalise their feelings.

Rudman explained that neuro-feedback training is a non-invasive tool that can help to improve mental health and feelings of physical and emotional burnout.

“We have found neuro-feedback - brain training - to be an effective tool to assist in balancing stress, depression and sleep as well as traumas which exacerbate burn out and ongoing mental health issues,” Rudman said.

“Addressing these imbalances as soon as possible will help parents and employees to be more effective, happier and more productive as well as giving them the opportunity to cope with the ongoing stresses that they are confronted with.”

*Not their real names.

The Saturday Star