Women less likely to ask for deadline extensions than men, study shows

Lena Weib

December 16, 2021

5 min read


Disclosures:
Whillans reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.


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Women are more likely to feel uncomfortable than men to ask for more time on adjustable deadlines at work or school, leading to higher rates of time stress and burnout, according to study results.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences of the United States of America, also showed that women are more concerned about burdening others by asking for more time and that, by doing so, they would be viewed as incompetent.


“Women experience higher rates of time stress in part because they are less comfortable asking for more time [for deadlines], which predicts higher rates of burnout and also undermines their performance.” - Quote from Ashley Whillans, PhD



“Time stress is on the rise, and women experience higher rates than men,” Ashley Whillans, PhD, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, told Healio. “We know from the negotiations research that women are more hesitant asking for salary increases in many contexts. We wondered whether women might also be less comfortable asking for more time, partially accounting for higher rates of time stress.”

Whillans and colleagues conducted nine studies using surveys, experiments and archival data including more than 5,000 participants to identify potential risk factors that predict gender differences in time stress and burnout.

Results showed that women across academic and professional settings were consistently less likely to ask for more time when working under adjustable deadlines. After controlling for marital status, industry, tenure and delegation preferences, researchers additionally found that women’s discomfort in requesting for more time on adjustable deadlines predicted time stress and burnout.

“Women felt less comfortable asking for more time on adjustable deadlines regardless of their job experience, status in the workplace, and regardless of whether women were asking a male or female manager or a peer,” Whillans said. “Women experience higher rates of time stress in part because they are less comfortable asking for more time, which predicts higher rates of burnout and also undermines their performance.”

However, the researchers also found that having formal policies in place to request extensions eliminated the differences between men and women in their comfort asking for them.

“Formal policies offset these negative effects, speaking to the importance of organizational policies for helping all employees advocate for the resources they need to get their work done,” Whillans said. “Formal policies about the ability to ask for extensions can eliminate these gender differences.”

Moreover, women were also less likely to request more time to complete their tasks because they hold stronger beliefs that they will be penalized for requesting more time and worry more about burdening others.

However, no data were observed indicating women are judged more harshly than men.

“We are currently looking at the impact of formal policies on the success and stress levels of junior female academics,” Whillans said. “Normalizing the ability to ask for more time to get work done is a helpful and potentially overlooked strategy to reduce stress among the most vulnerable employees within an organization.”

For more information:

Ashley Whillans, PhD, can be reached at [email protected]

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