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As a new report reveals the stress, anxiety and burn-out of juggling careers and parenthood, we examine a trend that’s been years in the making and is affecting parents, children and employers. 

‘Parents need more support at work as parenting challenges increase’. That was the finding of the Modern Families Index, which found a third of parents were experiencing burnout juggling their work and parenthood, while 90% said they found balancing responsibilities stressful. 

Full disclosure: this data doesn’t come from a recent survey. It’s from a report published in 2018, pre-Covid, pre cost-of-living crisis, pre-everything that has made life so much harder over the past few years. 

So it should hardly come as a surprise that things don’t appear to be improving. According to a recent report by PGL Adventures, school holiday periods leave almost half of parents (45%) experiencing burnout. 40% say they have missed important meetings because of childcare issues and 53% say they can’t fully concentrate on their job. 

And all of that is before we get to the issue of cost. According to Nursery World, three quarters (74%) of UK parents say they find it difficult to meet childcare costs. One in four say they have been forced to quit their job because of the rocketing cost of childcare.  

Parental stress affecting parents and children

Stress of any sort can have a debilitating effect on workers. As Pathways notes, it can make it “difficult to concentrate, meet deadlines, and utilize … creativity. More significantly, stress can trigger other mental health concerns that impact job productivity— including burnout, anxiety, depression, and conflict.” 

Yet parental stress impacts not just the parent, but the child too. According to Psychology Today, chronic (that is, persistent) stress can lead to “behavioral and emotional problems for children at some point during development”. 

According to Christiane Spitzmueller, professor of industrial organisational psychology at the University of Houston, one key to better health outcomes for children is parental self-control and, as Spitzmueller told Human Resources Online, “If a parent has too many stressors, it reduces your self-control.” In other words, as the article notes, “how we parent when we experience high levels of stress is probably fundamentally different from how we parent when we are coping well.” 

Flexibility and autonomy at work

As an employer, you might feel that parental stress is something to empathise or even sympathise with, but it may not be something you feel you can do a great deal about.  

The reality, however, is that employers can do a lot to help parents, which can have a positive effect on those parents’ children and their work. And the two employer interventions that can have the greatest effect? Flexibility and autonomy. 

Flexibility: According to HR Magazine, enabling parents to better fit their work around their day can help reduce parental stress. A four-day-working week, for example, could make a big difference to parent, child and childcare costs. Maintaining hybrid working in the growing face of a return-to-office mentality could help parents better use time they would otherwise lose to a commute. 

Autonomy: According to the findings of a longitudinal study of working class families in the US shared in Harvard Business Review, “parents who experienced more autonomy on the job and who had more-supportive supervisors and coworkers were in turn warmer and more engaged when interacting with their infants. This has major, long-term implications for those infants’ development.” 

The study uses the example of a delivery driver whose every moment is monitored by the employer and compares it with the experience of a home health worker who was empowered to manage her own time. The positivity felt by the latter spilled over into her parental time, contrasting with the former who arrived home tired and frustrated and not ready to support the needs of a “needy baby”. 

Payroll help for parents

The evidence suggests that when an employer supports parents, that support can go a very long way. To explore ways of ensuring you have a company payroll that supports parent-friendly initiatives, talk to us.