Time stress—the feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them—is a societal epidemic that compromises productivity, physical health, and emotional well-being. Past research shows that women experience disproportionately greater time stress than men and has illuminated a variety of contributing factors. Across nine studies, we identify a previously unexplored predictor of this gender difference. Women avoid asking for more time to complete work tasks, even when deadlines are explicitly adjustable, undermining their well-being and task performance. We shed light on a possible solution: the implementation of formal policies to facilitate deadline extension requests. These findings advance our understanding of the gendered experience of time stress and provide a scalable organizational intervention.
In nine studies using archival data, surveys, and experiments, we identify a factor that predicts gender differences in time stress and burnout. Across academic and professional settings, women are less likely to ask for more time when working under adjustable deadlines (studies 1 to 4a). Women’s discomfort in asking for more time on adjustable deadlines uniquely predicts time stress and burnout, controlling for marital status, industry, tenure, and delegation preferences (study 1). Women are less likely to ask for more time to complete their tasks because they hold stronger beliefs that they will be penalized for these requests and worry more about burdening others (studies 1 to 2d). We find no evidence that women are judged more harshly than men (study 3). We also document a simple organizational intervention: formal processes for requesting deadline extensions reduce gender differences in asking for more time (studies 4a to 5).
Full academic paper is available at PNAS.