Employers have been urged to change their attitudes to female staff or risk burning them out.
The warning came as a report called on organisations to recognise the pressures women are under, juggling multiple roles at work and at home, and to foster a more supportive working environment.
The study, from the Economic and Social Research Council, indicated that the UK’s long-hours culture is damaging women’s health, as they are more likely to snack on unhealthy food, drink caffeine, smoke and take less exercise when working excessive hours. But working longer hours had virtually no negative impact on men, according to the study of 422 employees.
Nick Isles, director of advocacy at the Work Foundation, said women were often treated as second-class citizens in the workplace. “Lots of companies still have a very male-dominated environment,” he said. “But employers have to develop a culture that is supportive to all, regardless of gender.”
Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said flexible working was key to improving the situation. “The UK’s long-hours culture is not only damaging the health and wellbeing of individuals; it is also damaging the economy,” she said. “Fresh thinking is needed now to stop the UK burning out.”
Separate research from women’s advice website Allaboutyou.com reveals that 70% of working mothers still take day-to-day responsibility for raising children, and only one-quarter share the responsibility with their partners.
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of charity Working Families, said employers often made the assumption that working mothers would lower their career expectations. “They have to make flexible working available for all senior-level people, or risk throwing away good skills,” she said.
Glenda Stone, chief executive of the Aurora women’s networking organisation, said: “There’s a dichotomy between rhetoric and reality when it comes to diversity. Lots of companies are just paying lip service to it.”