Ladies, Make Like Men and Take a Personal Break at Work

I read this article on female workers burning out at 30 and sent it around to a few female colleagues with this comment:

Take care of YOU first, ladies. Everyone else will follow suit when they see that – especially in a professional context. PS I’m burned out and moving to Tahiti.

Here’s what I immediately got back (anonymously since I didn’t have time to ask them for permission):

Coworker 1: The thing that is troubling is that women are killing themselves and burning out…and men aren’t killing themselves, and are getting promoted. And they didn’t even talk in here about the whole working Mom thing. Trust me ladies, that’s no picnic :)

Coworker 2: I find this particularly interesting and disturbing in light of all the stats I’ve read that there are more women in the workforce now than there are men. It’s time for women to shift their natural multi-task syndrome over to tasks that benefit our well-being as well as our career climb.

Coworkers 3: That is what I found was missing: talk about planning a wedding (or two) as one of our female coworkers is doing now, starting a family, and dealing with aging and ailing parents.

All so true. But here was the stat in the article that I found most interesting:

“Men are 25% more likely to take breaks throughout the day for personal activities, 7% more likely to take a walk, 5% more likely to go out to lunch, and 35% more likely to take breaks ‘just to relax.’”

Why don’t women do this? Because we think we’re not allowed to – we’re at work. Unlike boys, we’re brought up to be orderly and pleasing, and please we do, by being brilliant, bien sur, but also through means that can hurt us: multitasking, working ourselves to death, slavishly obeying our perfectionist impulses meanwhile cutting other corners that shouldn’t be cut.

So ladies, by all the power vested in me by, well, me, I give you permission to take walks. To go out to lunch. To take breaks JUST TO RELAX!

As I said to my coworkers, take care of yourself. Your self-possession will be respected and you’ll find it easier to keep your performance consistently high.

I’m telling you this not just because I’m all rah-rah-women! today, but because as a manager and as someone who’s become pretty good at managing my own energy, I can tell you, these breaks, these “personal indulgences,” will make you more, not less productive.

Your turn: Why do you think women burn themselves out – and what’s the solution?

Sara Grace is myGreenlight’s Program Director.

Comments (3)

  1. Having worked in a number of business settings with many women, I can only speak to those experiences, but what I witnessed was something akin to culture shock for me. I did notice incredible disparities between what men did and what women did, and a lot more criticism of the latter towards the latter. I was never an overachiever when it came to jobs that I considered just that, jobs. So I came on time, and I left on time. Took my lunch breaks in full, and both 15 minute breaks every 4 hours. I always did my job, and did it well. What was interesting to me was, this was never enough. Even in the office administrator role that I was in, there were others in the same or similar roles that stayed overtime, didn’t take their full lunch breaks, didn’t take breaks and generally couldn’t say “no” when asked to do more than they were responsible for. Resentment, after it builds for a while, needs to go somewhere…and if the person doesn’t realize that they’re responsible for their personal energy and power, then it can turn into criticism of others and blame. I watched this happen time and again. Not just to me, but among other female coworkers. The pressures – spoken or unspoken – to put in ever more time – as if we were all required to make a sacrifice to the god of approval for the priviledge we’d been given to be out of the domestic and into the social. Women often hold themselves and, as a consequence sometimes, other women to abnormally high expectations of perfection, as if we all have to prove our worth. It’s a destructive energy when turned against ourselves. This is, of course, not applicable everywhere, all the time.

  2. Agree. I create my own little incentive structures every day. Even when you enjoy your work, sometimes you need a lollipop (or the equivalent) for keeping yourself focused for an extended period of time.

  3. Couldn’t agree more, Sara. That’s something encouraged here where I work — taking a little time each day to — shudder — not work! I do believe they make employees more productive. Plus, sometimes we can work more efficiently when we know we have a little beacon of light (i.e., walk, lunch, coffee break) waiting in the wings. At least, that’s how I operate!

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