Women in the corporate world are more likely to be perfectionistic and heavily self-critical than their male counterparts.
These are the results of Australia’s Biggest Mental Health Check-In, a snapshot of mental health at all levels of corporate life in Australia.
The survey saw 4980 workers from 41 Australian workplaces answer a 100-question mental health assessment, as well as wear a heart monitor at work to gather biometric data across two four-week periods.
Psychologist Peta Slocombe, senior vice president of corporate health at Medibio (who led the survey), said there was a link between perfectionism and high rates of self-criticism, both of which were traits more likely to be found in women.
According to the results, 33 per cent of women in corporate workplaces had high perfectionism scores, compared to 21 per cent of men. Looking at self-criticism, 44 per cent of women exhibited this trait, compared to 34 per cent of male respondents.
Slocombe said perfectionism would manifest in results such as a lack of “tolerance for making mistakes or errors, not getting everything done that they wanted to get done, [and] getting feedback that isn’t positive”.
“There is a lot of evidence to suggest that has a more significant impact on people with high perfectionism than other people who might say, ‘Oh, well I didn’t get all of that done today. But I did the best I could under the circumstances.'”
The check-in found clinical levels of anxiety to be higher in corporate women than men, with one in four women demonstrating clinical levels of anxiety, compared to 15 per cent of men. Women surveyed also recorded marginally higher rates of depression than men (23 per cent compared to 22 per cent).
The rates for both conditions are notably higher than those collected by the ABS from the general population in 2007, the last time such figures were made available, which found anxiety rates to be 18 per cent and 11 per cent for men and women, respectively. Depression rates at that time were measured at just seven per cent for women and five per cent for men.
(Slocombe said she expected that the ABS’ figures from their 2017 survey will be higher when they are released later this year.)
For Slocombe, the reality is that corporate women are more likely to be functional and high-achieving, but “unfortunately, sometimes the things that make us ‘professional’ are also not good for mental health”.
She said, in a world where women still perform the majority of domestic labour in addition to paid work, women should try to limit the number of things in their lives they try to make perfect.
“If you’re going to be perfectionistic about telling the kids you’re going to be there when you’re going to be there, that’s one thing,” she warned. “But if you’re going to be perfectionistic about what you make the kids for lunch in the morning, as well as never missing an email at work, and every other thing, that’s another.”
Although they displayed higher rates of mental health problems, women were more likely to know if they had a clinical mental health disorder: 42 per cent of women who scored in the clinical range for anxiety or depression were aware of their condition, compared with just 27 per cent of men.
However, across the board, corporate workers with mental health problems in the severe ranges were failing to seek treatment, with only 17 per cent of respondents doing so.
Now in its second year, Slocombe said one of the merits of the check-in is demonstrating to timepoor workers that taking charge of their mental health doesn’t need to be an overly stressful or time-consuming experience.
“People say to us in clinics all the time, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go on drugs, there’s nothing I can do about it,'” she said.
“With a program like this, instead of people thinking ‘oh gosh, what do I say when I go in’, they can go in [to a GP’s office] with a report.”