Why Exactly Do Women Experience Office Stress?

By Dr. Hoosain Ebrahim
Associate Professor and International Lecturer with the University of Minnesota

Women are more likely to feel tense during a typical workday and tend to “internalize”

Research confirms that employment has a positive effect for women and families. Despite this conclusion, women still encounter a number of difficulties and misperceptions that affect their performance in the workplace. A study by the American Psychological Association found that “one-third of employees experience chronic stress related to work” and that stress in the workplace is especially show in women. Let us examine some difficulties and describe various methods employed by workingwomen to resolve them.

1. Leadership style
Leadership styles attributed to women are believed to reduce their effectiveness in the workplace. Specifically, women are thought to be more people-oriented in their leadership style and men more task-oriented. The people-oriented leadership style of women is viewed as less likely to inspire productivity among workers.

2. Gender stereotyping
Gender stereotyping is a problem that working women must deal with. The behavior of men and women in the workplace is similar. Differences may have existed in the past but these differences are rapidly disappearing. Perhaps what needs to be examined is why these differences are disappearing.

3. Role conflict or multiple roles
Another problem faced by women is stress caused by role conflict or multiple roles. Research suggests that the use and choice of coping strategies may be a factor in reducing such stress. A coping resource that has been found to reduce stress is social support. The particular social support mechanisms most helpful to working women are emotional support and tangible support. Tangible support is defined as providing some sort of assistance for another person.

4. Work/family conflict
There is a work/family conflict that particularly affects working women. It is extended work hours. There is research that suggests that a child’s well being suffers as a result of lack of time with parents. Specifically, “the lack of sensitive, responsive, and consistent care from overworked parents or substitute providers can lead to decreased cognitive and social skills. This can also promote attachment insecurity in children.

5. Rigid schedules
Working women with rigid schedules report more family difficulties than working women with flexible schedules. There is a relationship between the lack of job flexibility and depression. When family responsibilities expand, mothers are more likely than fathers to change jobs, to work part-time, or exit the labor force for a spell because families cannot afford to lose fathers’ wages. The result is often a decrease in mothers’ financial and occupational attainment.

6. Communicate differently
Men and women communicate differently and therefore, negotiate differently. The successful female professional must not only understand the gender differences in communication but be able to use them to her advantage as well. A man’s way of communicating is “guy speak.” For example, when a man leaves a meeting and you ask him how it went, he will probably say “Great.” He is not really conveying any information about what happened at the meeting; rather, he is simply acting confident. A woman, in contrast, might answer the same question with,” Okay, but I could have handled the cost issue a little better.” Like the man’s comment, hers does not necessarily describe what happened at the meeting. Rather, it reflects her “desire for perfection.” If you rely on what each actually says, without taking into the account the gender of the speaker, you are liable to draw erroneous conclusions. The same is true when men and women negotiate.

7. Different negotiating styles
The different negotiating styles men and women tend to exhibit are a natural corollary to these different communication styles. The “relational style” usually associated with women focuses on the relationship between the parties. Inherent in that negotiating style is a desire not only to achieve substantive objectives but also to develop the relationship between two sides. The “competitive style” usually associated with men focuses more on the substantive outcome of the negotiation. Some women who are more comfortable with a relational style adopt a competitive one because they believe it to be more effective, especially in business settings.


Taking into account her personal disposition, a working woman can take the initiative in finding a work-family management strategy that is best suited to her needs. Results suggest that working women can cultivate useful resources in an effort to reduce experienced stress and work-family conflict. In particular, supportive home and work environment are directly associated with reduced stress and indirectly link to diminished work-family conflict.


As part of a concerted effort by senior leadership to raise awareness of inhibitors to women’s work experience and to enhance women’s promotional opportunity, senior management needs to commit to on the ground initiatives that see diversity incorporated in core business activity. Much of the research in this area has focused on issues of structure and workplace policies such as those relating to work life balance, affirmative action in recruiting and so on. However, it was felt that the largely hidden story was is in the more subtle areas of culture and social and interpersonal dynamics which affect the quality of women’s experience, and therefore career choices and ability to contribute. Despite employer of choice and action to counter discrimination, and to encourage equity, many women of quality are not being used to their full potential or are leaving these organizations for a more supportive environment. In this environment hungry for human talent, the cost to both individual organizations and the nation are significant. The issue also has a significant social dimension as women of quality are often frustrated and denied their fullest chances in life.


In conclusion we note that the demands of the global economy has seen an intersection of the business and ethical case for change. The ethical case for equal opportunity, while afforded the protection of legislation has not been able to make inroads into deeply rooted cultural practices. Leadership can no longer afford to stand by while talented individuals are denied opportunities. Today’s networked, interdependent, culturally diverse organizations require a leadership presence that is able to harness the collective intelligence, creativity, and imagination, of employees at all levels.


It is necessary for a working woman to find the management strategy best for her because the family needs of all women are neither homogenous nor static.


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