Study: Women, Men Differ in Stress Causes


Stressed and frustrated asian business womanWomen and men worry about different things at work. Differences in the way women and men react to and deal with management styles and workplace cultures can create on-the-job stress. These are conclusions from a study commissioned by LLuminari, a national health education firm.

Elizabeth Browning, CEO of LLuminari, said the study’s results show solutions to reducing healthcare costs “include corporate workplace culture and its link to a healthy workforce. “The study, “Creating Healthy Corporate Cultures for Both Genders,” was conducted for LLuminari by P. Michael Peterson, professor of health promotion at the University of Delaware. More than 1,100 men and women from firms with 1,000-plus employees participated in the on-line survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

“It’s important that managers understand what men value as opposed to what women value in a healthy workplace environment,” Peterson said. “Knowing and managing the differences helps to not only effectively motivate employees and generate consistent, quality results, but also to foster loyalty and overall physical and emotional health.”

Marianne Legato, founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Based Medicine at Columbia University and one of the study’s lead advisors, said the study reveals the three values in the workplace most important to men are pay and benefits, achievement and success, status and authority. She said while these values also are important to women, women rank the following values higher: friends at work and relationships, recognition and respect, communication and collaboration.

Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Boston IVF (as well as the assistant professor of OB/GYN and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School) said it’s the disconnection between these gender-based values which creates on-the-job stress that can lead to subsequent health issues for employees.

Domar explained: “Research has shown that women and men respond differently to stress. Women also report having more to worry about each day. Men on average worried about three things on a daily basis — their immediate family, job and money. Women worried about up to 12 things — including their immediate family, job and money — but also their extended family, the home, the social and academic lives of the children, social connections with neighbors and friends, and more.”

Petersen said the top five work-related causes of stress and ill health identified by respondents in the study are:

1. Mentally tiring work;

2. Time pressure;

3. Too many changes within the job;

4. Not getting enough feedback; and

5. Not having enough influence on their jobs and how they are done.

Highlights of the Gender-Differences Study

The following are highlights from the study’s Executive Summary:

  • Women view work more socially than men, placing greater emphasis on friends and relationships, work-family balance and communication. Men view work more as a place to prove themselves and accomplish/achieve hence they place more emphasis on power, status, results and achievement. These potential value conflicts can contribute to distress, and ill-health.
  • The differences between what men value and what women value at work tends toward creating an additional pressure for female employees. Women who work in a male-dominated value system may be more susceptible to distress and resultant illness due to value conflict and a lack of recognition for the reality in which they exist — a reality that includes both home and work responsibilities.
  • Women value friends and relationships more than they do money and power.
  • Women want to work with people much more than men do, and they don’t necessarily just want to work with women.
  • A female-oriented culture is based on the assumptions work is done in conjunction with other people, and for a company/business to be successful it must recognize the importance of human relationships and communication.
  • A male-oriented culture is based on the assumption work is done for the purpose of achievement and fortune, and for a company/business to be successful it must recognize the importance of achieving results.
  • The key for managers and corporations in the 21st Century is to appropriately blend the strengths of each of these cultures to achieve optimal health for both the organization and the employees that comprise it.
  • Women are much more likely to perceive their relationships with co-workers as “friendships” compared to men.
  • Women commented significantly more negatively on the type and quality of co-worker communication.
  • Women are significantly more perceptive of (or sensitive to) whether their co-workers are thoughtful, nice, courteous and respectful of them than are men.
  • Women are significantly more apt to perceive employers valuing positive virtues and morals than men.
  • Women were significantly more apt to perceive the company valuing “customers and quality” than men were.
  • Men are slightly more apt to express dissatisfaction with how a company values its employees than women.
  • Women perceive their workplaces as significantly more stressful, hectic, fast-paced and busy than men.
  • Women are much more sensitive to the noise level and temperature in their work environments.
  • For women, supervisors are rated based on whether or not they can provide help and support, and whether or not they will get along (as friends).
  • For men, supervisors are rated on the ability to to do the job first, and then whether or not they will get along (as co-workers).

More Study Results

– The LLuminari study also reported these results:

– 20% of respondents said work regularly interfered with responsibilities at home and kept them from spending time with their families.

– 54% of respondents said they “often to always” come home from work fatigued and almost 50% come into work already in a state of fatigue.

– 40% of respondents said they experienced distress due to too much pressure or mental fatigue at work.

– Almost 50% of respondents don’t take their allotted vacation time.

Women and Men Don’t Always Differ

The LLuminari study highlights the differences in the ways women and men respond to different stress sources at work.

But not everyone agrees with the conclusions and implications. Here are some contrasting views:

– Rosalind Barnett, a senior scientist at Brandeis University, stated job type — not gender — has more influence on how people differ in responding to workplace situations. She pointed out a person in a management position is more likely to put emphasis on pay and achievement… while a person in a lower-level job is more likely to see relationships as important.

Barnett cited her own study showing the two main workplace stressors were the same for women and men. They were underused skills and too many job demands.

– The Radcliffe Public Policy Center, at Harvard University, released a study which found young men share the same sensibilities women have when it comes to family and work. The Radcliffe study found 82% of men, ages 21 to 39, put family time at the top of their list as did 85% of women in the same age group. And 71% of men, ages 21 to 39, said they would give up some of their pay for more time with their families.

Paula Rayman, director of the Radcliffe Public Policy Center and principal investigator in the study, said, “Young men are beginning to replicate women’s sensibilities instead of women in the workplace trying to be more like men.”

The Radcliffe study showed: increasing numbers of young men want to take an active role in raising their children, and most employees perceive their loyalty toward employers is not reciprocated. And many employees are sleep deprived. The study’s data showed young men in their twenties are 7% more likely than young women to give up pay for more time with their families.

The study also found 70% of men and women in all age groups agreed gender roles have changed dramatically compared to their parents’ generation.

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