Research reveals burnout among Utah women surpasses hope amid COVID-19 economic crisis

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new research has revealed that Utah women are experiencing burnout more than they feel hope. It comes as income decreased and hours increased in some industries.

The data from the Utah Women & Leadership Project was recently released as the pandemic has raged for more than a year and brought with it death, economic crises and mental health problems for residents.

"We need to do specific things in our communities to raise hope and bring down (feeling) burned out," Susan Madsen, founder and director of the UWLP, explained. "Because our burnout is higher than our hope right now."

A total of 3,542 Utah women responded to the survey, exceeding the original goal of 2,000 respondents. Tuesday's report is the first of several upcoming briefs about the impact of the pandemic on women living in the Beehive State.

The research aims to gauge where Utah stands when compared to national trends that showed women in America have suffered from disproportionate effects of the pandemic when compared to men and been forced to leave the workforce in higher numbers as a result; the phenomenon has been dubbed the pink recession.

While Madsen did expect Utah would follow the national trends, she said it's important to study specific areas and get information on what's going on in local communities.

"Knowing where we're at exactly in the state of Utah is so much better than just knowing generally what's happening (in the country)," she explained.

While Utah has mirrored some of the same trends seen nationally, the state did stand out in other areas.

"We're the same in a lot of ways, but we're different in other ways," Madsen said, pointing to the great economy the Beehive State has sustained.

The data differed across industries, showing that the percentage of women who reported a decrease in wage was the lowest for those working in construction fields at 5.1%. About 13.6% in construction said their hours increased.

Other industries were impacted inversely, with 25% of those in the hospitality and tourism industry reporting their wages decreased and 4.4% reporting their hours had increased. A total of 27% in manufacturing reported their income decreased and 12% said their hours increased.

"Since a decrease in pay and an increase in work hours could lead to more mental and emotional stress, these data were summarized together," researchers explained in the brief.

On average, those working in food services experienced a decrease in income but an increase in working hours as well with about 26% reporting income decrease and 29% reporting an increase in hours.

"In terms of the emotions that could result from decreased income and increased work hours, the respondents indicated feeling burnout at levels that were greater than the levels of hope across industries, except for trade, transport, and utilities, where they are equal," researchers wrote. "Utah women as a whole reported that they are burned out, and, at the same time, they have 'some' hope for the future."

Child care

Many women between the ages of 30 and 49 reported they were leaving the workforce to care for children who couldn't attend school or day care due to the pandemic. Madsen said companies tend to shy away from addressing child care issues, but noted that solving these barriers doesn't necessarily mean building an on-site day care facility.

Even connecting employees to child care resources can help address these issues and allow women who want to work to be able to re-enter their careers.

"Successful companies are going to shake things up and they have already, and some of the best companies really are implementing these (flexible) policies," Madsen said. "Figure out what your employees need, do some research, collect data, analyze your data, and just make changes you need to move things forward; it really isn't rocket science, changing policies within companies can happen fairly quickly."

Domestic abuse

The research also pointed to a disturbing discovery — 9% of women living in Utah said they had experienced domestic violence in their homes since the pandemic began. For Latino and Hispanic women, that number jumped to 11%, versus 8.7% of white women who felt the same way.

"A lot of women that are struggling the most didn't take time to take (the survey)," Madsen added. "That's a lot of people even in our sample, but we know that that percentage is probably much, much higher."

The data points to a trend first reported in March 2020, when police agencies, including the Salt Lake City Police Department, said they'd seen an uptick of domestic violence-related calls in the first few weeks of coronavirus-related closures.

Connecting victims of domestic violence to the proper resources, like the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, YWCA Utah, South Valley Services, and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is crucial to addressing these problems in the state, according to Madsen.

"We do need more resources in the state of Utah, but we have some solid foundational resources," Madsen said. "The problem is that a lot of people in domestic violence situations actually don't even know what to do because they don't want to admit that's what's going on, they don't want to talk about it, they don't want to reach out. So some of the people that need it the most actually need people around them to say, 'Hey, can you read this report that actually defines what domestic violence is?'

Raising awareness of the problem itself, educating individuals about the signs of violence in the home and letting people know there are groups that help is one of the most important things the state can do to address the issue, Madsen noted.

Moving forward

Now that there's data, what can residents of the state do? Madsen said it's fairly simple: Implement better practices to address these issues. Companies, for example, can take the research and immediately look at how their business practices could be changed to better serve the women on their staffs, Madsen said.

"Those, to me, are conversations tomorrow," she said. "If they got this brief, companies could have the conversations exactly about that."

For state and local leaders, it's important to take action and look for ways to solve the problems residents face in local areas.

Madsen said county and city leaders reached out to their group during the project to create data based on respondent's locations in order to set a baseline of where each area is at now, with the hope of improving issues in the future. There were differences in experiences based on where women lived across Utah. For example, those living in Washington County did report slightly more hope than burnout, whereas all other counties in the state saw an increase in burnout and a decrease in hope.

Solutions like Gov. Spencer Cox's recently implemented returnship program for adults impacted by the economic toll of the pandemic are a great way to address the problems exposed by COVID-19, she added. Cox's executive order is aimed at removing barriers many might face as they try to re-enter the workforce after suffering from the ongoing economic constraints the pandemic.

"The goal of a returnship program is to help experienced adults re-enter the workforce without starting at the bottom of the career ladder," Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said when the program was announced last week. "Diversity and life experience are valuable to us and shouldn't be relevant to pay and opportunity in the workplace."

Moving forward, implementing more of these types of programs can really help the state develop and address some of the pandemic-caused issues that could have a lasting impact on the state for the coming years, Madsen said.

"Understanding the research and the research that's going to come and then putting those programs together, they can all work together in really moving things and changing things," she said.

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Lauren Bennett is a reporter with who covers Utah’s religious community and the growing tech sector in the Beehive State.


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