Health and Wellness

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Preventing burnout 'needs to be a priority'

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook speaks onstage during 'Putting a Best Facebook Forward' at Vanity Fair's 6th Annual New Establishment Summit.
Matt Winkelmeyer | Getty Images

As Americans enter the third month of the Covid-19 pandemic, the realities of life at home are taking a toll. Many people, especially women, are experiencing burnout, according to new research from LeanIn.Org and Survey Monkey.

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." It's characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one's job, feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one's job, and reduced professional efficacy.

"We know companies are under tremendous financial pressure during this economic downturn, but helping their teams avoid burnout and illness needs to be a priority," Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org, wrote in an op-ed for Fortune. "That is how they'll get the best out of their employees amid all this disruption and retain those workers when the crisis is over."

There are concrete ways that companies can do this. For example, Sandberg wrote that Facebook has postponed performance reviews, broadened childcare benefits and given managers more freedom to "reshuffle priorities."

Adding outlets for emotional support, such as short check-ins and stand-up meetings to stay connected, can also go a long way, she added.  

Women, in particular, are struggling to stay engaged at work, while also taking care of children and handling housework, according to the study. In fact, women are experiencing physical symptoms of severe anxiety and burnout at up to twice the rate of men.

In the survey of 3,117 people conducted from April 13 to 17, women were two times more likely to report symptoms like a racing heartbeat, problems sleeping and feeling overwhelmed than men.

"[W]omen are disproportionately feeling overwhelmed because they are disproportionately the ones working day and night to keep households afloat," Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org, wrote in an op-ed for Fortune.

Even before the pandemic, research has shown that women tend to take on most household duties, including childcare, cleaning and buying groceries.

Now, with stay-at-home orders in place, partnered women who work full-time and have families are putting in an extra 20 hours of work — including childcare, caring for elderly relatives and housework — a week. Latinx and Black women, as well as single mothers, are spending even more hours per week on these responsibilities than white women or those with partners.

As a result, 31% of those women with full-time jobs and families said they "have more to do than they can possibly handle," while only 13% of working men with families said the same. 

While many people around the country are having trouble focusing and handling stress amid the Covid-19 pandemic, work pressure has not ceased. Of women who are able to work from home, only 18% of women surveyed said that they have had managers reduce their scope or priorities.

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