How can organizations work better for working women?

Deloitte’s Women @ Work survey delves into the experiences of 5,000 women across 10 countries, examining their stress levels, safety worries, and mental health in the workplace

Karen Edelman

United States

Many women say they’re more stressed than a year ago, and nearly half are worried about their safety when at work, commuting to work, or traveling for work. These are just two of the eye-opening findings from Deloitte Global’s recent Women @ Work: A Global Outlook survey, which represents the views of 5,000 women from workplaces across 10 countries. Now in its fourth year, the survey aims to better understand the lived experiences of women at work and the ways in which aspects of their lives outside work can impact these experiences. What more can organizations do to directly address the challenges many women face and enable their success at work?

Stress is rising for many women—and their mental health is suffering

The 2024 survey shows that stress is playing a significant role in respondents’ ability to thrive at work—and this is likely one factor impacting their career choices. The highest percentage of women respondents (43%) plan to stay with their current employer for only one to two more years; only 36% expect to stay more than three years. When the time frame extends to five years, only 7% of survey respondents plan to still be with their employer.

This year, fewer women say they’re experiencing burnout (23% versus 28% in 2023), which makes it the second consecutive year in which burnout declined following a peak in 2022—a positive trend, for sure. Still, 50% of respondents say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, and, perhaps relatedly, a similar percentage say they are either concerned or very concerned about their mental health (figure 1). Over the past year, 33% of respondents have taken time off to address mental health challenges.

The survey reveals most respondents prefer not to address or discuss their mental health at work. Two-thirds of women surveyed say they don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace or disclosing mental health as the reason for taking time off. Why not?

Workplace culture can contribute to this reluctance. But Deloitte’s Global Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Emma Codd, points out the other factors respondents cited: “The top reason is concern about damage to career progression. So, stigma plays a part,” she explains. “These women also believe it will make them vulnerable to being laid off, and one in 10 are basing their concerns on past experience.”

This year’s survey results also reveal a powerful link between working hours and mental health: Among the 19% of respondents who regularly work extra hours, far fewer would say their mental health is good when compared to women who don’t regularly work such additional hours (23% and 50%, respectively) (figure 2).

Respondents worry about their personal safety in workplace scenarios

To delve deeper into the challenges women at work may face, for the first time, this year’s survey explored women’s feelings of personal safety while at work or traveling for work. We found that many respondents have safety concerns: Nearly half (47%) say they are worried about their safety when at work, commuting to work, or on business trips. The numbers are markedly higher for women with disabilities and transgender women: Sixty-six percent of respondents with visible disabilities and 64% of transgender women cite having safety concerns at work or traveling to or for work.

A fair share of women who have safety concerns speak from experience. Among respondents, 10% say they have been harassed when traveling for work, and 16% say customers or clients have harassed them or behaved in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, 9% say they have been harassed by a colleague (figure 3). 

Flexibility and work/life balance are critical for retention

Given this array of stressors and others explored in the report, it may not be surprising that many respondents hope to leave their current employer in the near future. Women who are currently planning to leave their employer for another organization cite poor work/life balance and a lack of flexibility on working hours among the top reasons (figure 4).

This year’s report shows that fewer women than last year feel supported by their employers to balance their work responsibilities with their commitments outside of work. Only 10% feel they can talk openly about work/life balance at work. Nearly all women (95%) feel that requesting or taking advantage of flexible working opportunities will affect their likelihood of promotion, and 93% don’t think their workload would be adjusted accordingly if they request flexible work options (figure 5). 

As companies examine return-to-office policies, flexibility and work/life balance are key to retaining women

Almost half (47%) of women surveyed say their employer has recently implemented a return-to-office policy, requiring them to be onsite either full time or on certain days. While employers will likely have considered various factors when making this policy decision, nearly 40% of women who have recently been asked to return onsite full time say they have asked their employer to reduce their working hours following the introduction of the policy. Another 30% say they have needed to relocate to meet this requirement. And 26% say their mental health has been negatively impacted, while about 20% say they’re now less productive since they’ve been required to be onsite full time (figure 6).

On a more positive note, survey respondents who plan to stay with their organization for five or more years say their top reason for staying is because they’ve been able to manage work/life balance and the weight of personal responsibilities alongside their career. “Flexible working is about policies, but it’s also about leaders enabling it,” Emma Codd explains. “It’s about culture. It’s about environment. All it takes is a raised eyebrow by a leader, when you want to leave the office to do something important in your outside life, to undermine a good policy.”

For more insights on women’s experiences at work, explore the 2024 Women @ Work report.


Karen Edelman

United States

Emma Codd

United Kingdom


Cover art by: Alexis Werbeck