When I’m working, I feel guilty I’m not spending more time with my children. When I’m bonding with my children, I feel guilty that I’m not cleaning my house. When I’m cleaning my house, I feel guilty I’m not putting in more hours at work….
If you’re a working parent like me, then maybe you’ll recognize this exhausting loop of guilt and overwhelm.
For most companies, a large portion of their workforce are parents. And given the demands that come with raising a family, it’s no surprise that 60% of working parents suffer from burnout as they juggle the responsibilities of work and home
Plus (like with every workplace challenge) if you add in a global pandemic, the consequences will compound.
School closures, loss of child care and exposure quarantines meant that many parents sacrificed work to be home with children. In fact, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 4 women considered downsizing careers or leaving the workforce in 2020. And this issue continues to disproportionately affect women. By the beginning of 2022, all male workers had regained positions lost during the pandemic. However, there are still 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce now than there were in early 2019. Why? According to the National Women’s Law Center, mothers in general take the lion’s share of caregiving activities.
This means companies have lost some valuable talent to parental burnout, and they haven’t earned it all back yet. Perhaps it’s time to review how company policies and procedures affect employees who are parents.
What is Parental Burnout?
According to Neil Brown, a licensed clinical social worker and author of the Parental Burnout Recovery Guide, “Parental Burnout (PBO) is a condition of chronic emotional, mental and physical fatigue caused by a parent’s unending attempts to meet their children or teens’ needs or manage their behavior. When parents try their best, yet always feel they’re coming up short, it inevitably leads to PBO.”
In these cases, work, family and individuals all suffer. Nearly half of respondents in one survey said that burnout undermined their well-being, leaving them anxious, worried, unable to enjoy family time and without the focus they need to fully concentrate at work.
How Does Parental Burnout Impact Employee Engagement?
Even though parents tend to have more responsibilities to juggle than their non-parent co-workers, a survey by Great Place to Work uncovered that “parent employees” actually show more signs of dedication to their organizations than their colleagues without kids. It makes sense if you think about it. It’s natural that the responsibility to provide financially for children would magnify the importance of a steady income and benefits. In fact, 71% of workers say the ability to provide for themselves and their families is what motivates them to do their job, according to CareerBuilder.
But it’s one thing for employees to show up and quite another for them to be actively engaged in the company’s success. With employee disengagement at an all-time high, understanding the reasons behind it is more important than ever. (Read: Employee Disengagement: What it Costs and How to Steer Clear)
There are a variety of explanations for why employees may be disengaged, with one of the most significant being stress in their personal lives. And when it comes to parents, much of that stress can be tied back to their responsibilities at home.
Parents deal with many things on a daily basis that that may pull their focus away from the office. They juggle not just their own schedule but one for each of their children. Plus they have the added financial responsibility of paying for childcare, piano lessons, dance, soccer, new shoes, braces, diapers and any other needs their kids have. With so many people begging for their time and money, working parents are forced to play a delicate game of tetris each day as they try to fit everything in.
Employers Can Ease the Burden
While employers are indeed one of the many entities fighting for parents’ time and energy, they also have a unique opportunity to be more than just a responsibility. Instead, employers can support their parent employees in a variety of ways that actually take some of the pressure off in other areas of their lives. Doing these simple things makes it easier for employees to focus on their job while they’re at work.
Here are 8 benefits companies can implement to support their parent employees:
- Childcare. You may have seen the photo circulating the internet of University Professor Steve Raquel teaching a class with a student's 6-month-old baby in tow. The child’s daycare had fallen through and Raquel encouraged his student to bring her baby to class rather than miss the lecture. Though bringing children to work on a daily basis (or ever) won’t work in most offices, there continues to be a huge need for accommodation. During the most recent COVID-19 wave in the winter of 2022, 1 in 4 families with young children couldn’t use their regular child care arrangements because of health safety, availability or affordability issues. Experts are saying that the pandemic merely exposed weaknesses in the childcare industry, meaning the problem won’t disappear when the pandemic does. When possible, allow employees to bring their child to work when childcare falls through at the last minute. In addition, some companies offer on-site childcare and others reimburse for all or some of the cost at other facilities.
- Maternity and paternity leave. This one is crucial to supporting new parents. Substantial leave time provides families time to get settled when their new additions arrive. Allowing this time for employees to adjust at home will play a big part in streamlining their new routine. And when new mothers do return to work, be sure to provide reasonable accommodations for pumping and storing breastmilk for those that choose to breastfeed.
- Discounts on home-based services. Consider the demands greeting parents as soon as they sign-off at work for the day and find ways to lighten their load. This could include meal prep, house cleaning or laundry services. Helping reduce the length of their to-do lists frees up both time and energy for employees to focus better at work.
- Travel stipends. Every employee needs to get away from time to time. See our article: Why Employee Vacations are SOOO Good For Business and How Employers Can Make Them Happen. Without a little break here and there, employees tend to burn out faster, which can be troublesome for employers. And the past 2 years of lockdown and fear have created a lot of pent-up demand. In fact, people are booking vacations and using up saved PTO in record numbers. But with finances tight for many working parents, carrying out those getaways can be a challenge. Consider offering travel discounts or a cash stipend as an employee benefit to help those vacation dreams become a reality.
- Everyday discounts. On a related note, everything is more expensive with a family. Consider a meal at a restaurant. Or a night out bowling. And imagine going to a movie. Each of these things costs more with each body you add to the party. This is especially true when you add inflation-bloated prices into the equation. Everyone is feeling the pinch of inflation in the grocery store and at the gas pump, etc. For families, the higher prices add up even faster. Employee discount programs provide abundant savings on these outings, making it easier for employees to get out and experience more with their families.
- Flexible scheduling. An alarming 34% of parents felt resentful about their employer’s approach to work-life balance, according to research conducted by Working Families. Loosening the reigns and allowing employees to choose their own schedule within business hours allows them to tend to their needs at home when they need to so they aren’t worrying about it while they’re at work. Additionally, provide ample PTO so employees can take the day off when family emergencies arise.
- Mental wellness. Mental health is at the forefront of issues facing organizations today. Consider bringing in speakers during lunch or other times that address challenges with parenting and other stressors employees may be dealing with at home. In addition, a wellness program that provides employees access to individual or family counseling will support parents in times of crisis or turmoil.
- Physical wellness. When available, an on-site gym allows employees to get their daily dose of dopamine and endorphins without even leaving the building. In-office yoga classes are often popular as they allow employees the opportunity to de-stress with their co-workers. Many companies reimburse employees for their gym membership when an on-site workout facility isn’t an option. Encouraging employees to invest in their physical health can be a great way to show you care about their individual well-being.
In addition to these suggested lifestyle benefits, there are some other pretty simple things to do day in and day out within the office that’ll ease the burdens of all employees. For example, respect their time. With no shortage of things to do, 29% of working dads and 37% of working moms reported “always feeling rushed” in a recent survey. Do them a favor: cut unnecessary meetings and optimize process flows. Not only will employees be less anxious with fewer tasks needed to achieve their goals, but your company will likely generate more revenue too.
For further insights on reducing stress in the office, read: Stress is the Biggest Threat to Employee Engagement. Here’s How to Fight It.