How the COVID pandemic has left working mothers burned out

More than 5 million women have lost work since the pandemic began

Working and raising children during the pandemic has taken its toll on parents, but now a new survey suggests it has impacted women in the workplace -- stalling careers and ambition.

DETROIT – Working and raising children during the pandemic has taken its toll on parents, but now a new survey suggests it has impacted women in the workplace -- stalling careers and ambition.

According to a new Women at Work survey, 65% of working women have made things worse for them at work.

One Metro Detroit working mother thinks she knows why that’s happening.

Emily Hay is a mother of two. She’s a self-employed entrepreneur who has been working from home for more than a decade.

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“I go back to a year ago and just think, looking at what’s happened in the last year from a working moms perspective,” Hay said. “I am not surprised that women are suffering burnout like never before because I personally have felt it myself.”

More than half of those women surveyed said they feel burned out at least some of the time, and more than a third of the 3,600 women polled said they’ve considered quitting their job over the last year.

“We working moms, were put in a fight or flight mode and when you’re in that survival mode, biology probably tells us that you should only be in that mode for short timeframes,” Hay said. “When you go back to the course of the year of the pandemic year, that survival mode never lifted. And when you think about being taxed and burned out, and I think burnout is the opposite ambition, if you are so burned out, then you’ve probably lost your ambition, right? That was just a byproduct of having to survive.”

With a spike in burnout, more women reported feeling less ambitious about their career goals overall.

“When you have so much on your plate and you are taxed at every angle and you are drinking from a firehose, you really do just have to say, ‘What’s the first thing I can realistically let go of?’” Hay said.

A fifth of working women said they’ve experienced a career setback during the pandemic. At the same time, more than five million women have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of the women surveyed said they’re reassessing their overall career goals.

“If you hop on LinkedIn or you hop on social media and you see women using this time as a chance to really do a couple of things -- reassess what they want to do or reassess who they want to do it for and maybe about what they want to do,” Hay said. “They might not necessarily transition or pivot their profession entirely, but they can at least look for remote jobs that they before were limited to where they could physically drive to.”

As women make shifts and changes when it comes to their careers, so are big companies. Some are ramping up plans to make it easier for women who left careers during the pandemic to get back into the pipeline.

“Women have proven that they are resilient and they have all the motivation in the world to keep going,” Hay said. They have people that need them and they’re setting an example for them and working moms, women, I mean we figure it out.”

Experts said many companies will need to provide special programs to help women who have taken a break from the workplace during COVID. Programs that offer mental health resources and even child care options.

About the Authors:

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.