“Women in leadership positions are more likely to suffer from exhaustion, physical impairment and high stress-levels.” These are the findings of the Shape Study, initiated by Walter Kromm which measures the correlation between leadership / outstanding performance and health or social quality of life. There is, evidently, a close connection between the high pressure those women feel in their jobs and a lacking need satisfaction.

The Token-Women

In a paper by Gudrun Sander and Ines Hartmann they explain this with the so called “Token-Women Phenomena”, token meaning the individual case or signboard. Women with power are still a minority and therewith are regarded as exotic, role models and different. They have a “token” status and are somehow in the special attention and under observation of the public, more than their male counterparts. This could explain why in the study a lot more women expressed their worries about a good performance within their jobs. Furthermore those women are often measured with gender role stereotypes. (See my earlier post The Amazons or compare with Women in Supervisory Boards by Katrin) Too feminine is regarded as “unprofessional” or imputed to be used as a strategy, however a women that acts like a man is easily “unwomanly” and a “quasi-man”.

Vicious Circle

The result is that they need to manage this public pressure by moving on a fine line. A very common reaction is that women try to demonstrate their ability with special knowledge and qualifications which means they work harder and try to achieve better results than the average colleague. However, many women complain about missing acknowledgement, work and social overload and dissatisfaction in their work place. According to the Shape-Study these are the factors that lead to health problems, depression and in the end burn-out. It is proved that with an increasing rate of women in management, meaning when women are not regarded as a minority in top positions anymore, this fact becomes negligible.


So, with respect to these problems, how can a company change its culture and business practices in order to reduce stress of its people? I think a reflection and disclosure on what defines “good management” and “good performance” in the specific company  would be a beginning to make managers feel more confident. Also creating a harmonic work environment by encouraging diversification is to be considered and furthermore working hours and work load have to be adjusted, especially when it comes to women who apart from their full-time jobs are full-time mothers, housekeepers and an individual with own needs as well.

What do you think of this topic?

10 Responses to “Burn-out”
  1. hem says:

    “Work-life-balance” and “diversity management” are hot management topics also in Europe today (see for example the latest issues of “Personalführung”, a leading HR-journal. Solutions are different in the specific country corporate governance context. In more market economies like the U.S. these issues were on the agenda earlier, in more regulated countries like Germany expectations traditionally are more adressed on institutions like government or work councils. Now it is a generic management topic, but still in the development. To encourage discussions about diversity management, there is a nice video-take of “The Office”!!

  2. Izzy says:

    Thank you Mister HEM,
    Yes, The Office has their own sarcastic way to deal with the topic: “Diversity Day”. Actually not such a bad idea if you implement it right. I am really interested in what actions the German government will take in the near future to address these current problems. To me, this also means to make sure that in the upcoming decades all resources need to be exploited to the best possible outcomes in order to avoid wasting money, time and knowledge.

  3. katjo2010 says:

    Thank you for this post! It illuminates a different aspect of management.
    Stress, work load and time pressure have increased a lot within the last years. Hence psychological strains, not seldom ending in burn-outs, rise (see study).
    I found another interesting article for further reading.
    Hopefully, employers start to do something soon, or otherwise they might loose their employees to burnout.

  4. Mary says:

    Thank you, Isabel for that post and HEM and Katrin for your interesting comments.

    I found a very nice article in which a successful women, Marissa Levin, tells her own story in the so-called acceleration-trap, not noticing that she needed to slow down.

    “What is the pace of your communication? Do you as the CEO consistently send emails outside of business hours… at 10 PM during the week, or throughout the weekend? Now that home offices and blackberries are natural extensions of our regular offices, there is no “typical” work day.”

    How true! I myself receive mails in the middle of the night, feeling bad not to answer them right away. I really think there is time for a change!! If you’d like to read further, she is also referring to an Harvard Business Review article, which can be found here.

  5. martinjaja says:

    Hi, i just found this interesting article on spiegel online about burn-out! It supports your argumentation about it! The statistics they show are really frightening.

    They pick up a really interesting perspective, that firms are some how burn-out their young professionals. Most of these firms do not even have a solution for that or are just in the beginning to start counter measures….

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