Healthcare is both a female-dominated profession and an industry that faces severe challenges. Healthcare workers of all genders feel a crisis of stress, burnout and other mental health problems – pressures that only add to the difficulty and danger of taking care of patients during a deadly pandemic. 

And those pressures continue unabated, even as we moved away from the pandemic. Virtually all Canadian healthcare workers reported feeling more stressed at work in recent years and nearly half of health care workers said that their mental health was worse than before the pandemic. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) recognizes that work-related stress and mental health are pushing nurses to a breaking point. This emotional intensity is compounded by women’s primary role in household labour and childcare as continuous caregivers, which has only increased during the pandemic. 

It adds up to a perfect storm for female healthcare-sector employees, and many of them are looking for alternatives that offer ways of cultivating better wellness and work-life balance. 

Facing stress at work and work at home

With their work lives feeling increasingly unsustainable, nearly one in four healthcare workers said in 2022 that  they plan to quit within the next three years – including half of nurses. Nurses also report greater impacts of stressors than physicians, identifying “worry about the health of family” as the top stressor, followed by “work-life balance.”

It's no wonder that nurses see family health and work-life balance as top issues, considering that Canadian women remain responsible for the lion’s share of responsibilities at home. Wellbeing and work-life balance are two of the main concerns uncovered by Indeed’s latest report on the future of Canadian women in the workplace

“Women still bear the brunt of unpaid household labour,” as Calgary Journal puts it. Canadian women did more than half of the housework in 2019, and COVID-19 only increased the demands on them as at-home children needed tending, as greater cleanliness and healthcare tasks were required. Such tasks fell very disproportionately to women, a trend that researchers have called “the extreme gendering of COVID−19.”

Pile a stressful work life on top of their families’ needs, and women in healthcare are looking for alternatives. In a recent commissioned global research on job seekers, Indeed found that four in ten Canadian employees in healthcare are interested in finding a less demanding role.* And nurses are the most likely among healthcare workers to plan to leave their jobs in the next three years.

Leveraging a changing work landscape

Many healthcare workers looking to change jobs object to the long hours and difficult working conditions in healthcare settings. Half are also looking for higher salaries, and almost a third are focused on better benefits, including paid vacation, remote work and training.* Considering that women make up the majority of healthcare employees as well as a large majority of those healthcare employees who want different work, it’s safe to say that women in healthcare are making their voices heard in the demands for safer, better-paid, more supported and more flexible work. 

Women healthcare workers’ interest in jobs that allow them more latitude to care for themselves and their families reflect strong workforce trends in Canada and many other countries. Those shifts are particularly apparent in the priorities of young workers. These workers want to choose when they’ll work, to feel that they belong and are appreciated, to experience honesty and transparency from their employers and to have their needs identified and met. Those who don’t feel their workplace is providing these things are quick to look elsewhere, as they are less invested in loyalty to employers than previous generations. 

With Canada facing high demand for workers, these young workers and the many healthcare employees – particularly women – who are demanding more from their workplaces are likely to get it. Workers today are adept at finding opportunities online and they are looking for workplaces with values that align with theirs and offer flexibility (as Indeed’s report on Canadian working women and its joint report with Glassdoor on 2023 trends highlight). It, thus, becomes important for employers to get in front of them through Employer Branding or by boosting job offers.

Women are skilled at forming communities and networks, so it’s likely that female healthcare workers who leave the field or shift to different parts of it may create pathways for their peers to follow, accelerating a potential exodus from frontline healthcare work. The general findings we are getting from our global research on job seekers underline that success in the future of work will come from understanding the needs of job seekers to form a better union of workers and employers.

* Source: « Understanding job seeking behaviour in UK, US, Canada & France » commissioned research by Curious Industries for Indeed, June 2022.