As if working a full-time job and looking after children wasn’t stressful enough already, many working parents had to take on new roles during then pandemic; dealing with financial uncertainty, becoming full-time teachers to their children with new online classes and homework and, in the process, re-educating themselves on algebra that they haven’t seen or used in years, learning how to use Zoom, as well as dealing with the general stress that comes with a worldwide pandemic.
For a lot of employees, the line between home and work were blurred. This quick merging of worlds caused a lot of parents to feel the pressure of perfectly juggling all of these new responsibilities, and it was these unrealistic expectations that lead to an inevitable increase in parental burnout and mental health issues.
Often, we ask too much of working parents without providing them access to better mental health support in the workplace. Many parents would benefit greatly from the knowledge that they are supported by their bosses and having the reassurance that it would be okay to take time off if they needed to.
The first lockdown may have been a relief for some as they got the chance to slow down and spend some time with family but as restrictions lifted and they had to go back to work while their kids were still off school, the feeling that they were letting their children down by not being there to help with schoolwork may have become overwhelming. As well as this, not being able to return to normal work hours with the kids still at home caused uncertainty in a lot of working parents, causing severe apprehension that their job wasn’t as secure as it once was and that they could be replaced by someone more available.
A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) confirms this, after taking a survey of over 50,000 working mothers they found that 25% were afraid to lose their job and 48% felt they would be treated negatively as a result of childcare difficulties. Nine out of ten also said that their mental health had been negatively impacted as a result of the disruption due to school closures.
Statistics like these demonstrate how important it is for employers to check in on their staff and create open lines of communication surrounding mental health and parenting in the workplace so that employees feel comfortable asking for support if they are struggling.
Line managers should check in on employees who have children to find out if they can do anything to help their working day run more smoothly. This is especially important for working parents who feel that they cannot keep up with their co-workers that do not have children, as their struggles can make them feel divided from their colleagues in the workplace. Employers who can openly discuss expectations, challenges and solutions to help their employees, are invariably rewarded with a more motivated and loyal workforce.
In June 2021, research from specialist coaching consultants Talking Talent discovered a distinct increase in the demand for coaching that focuses on support for working parents. From responses by UK workers, including parents, carers and line managers, the most popular areas of desired improvement were wellbeing in working parents (24.8%) including resilience and anxiety coaching (19%).
The importance of looking after the working parents in this country has never been more important, with more parents reporting harmful exhaustion during the pandemic, leaving them physically unwell which can damage their relationships with friends, family and colleagues at work. The pandemic also made going to the doctors for support more difficult, and so for many working parents, their mental health went unchecked, which could cause them to feel more alone and isolated, especially if they had not had previous struggles with anxiety and depression. This obvious high demand for better mental health support needs to be acted upon before businesses lose talented working parents from their workforce for not providing adequate support for the unique challenges that they face.
Sharing fact sheets and resources about mental health is a beneficial way to start opening conversations in the workplace and helps to remind working parents that their employers take the mental health of their staff seriously. Working parents are well versed in the world of meltdowns, feelings of frustration, and the sense everything is working against them, and it is due time that we open up their eyes to the world of confidence, happiness and hopefully, a little less stress.
Building skills such as managing anxiety and resilience can help protect employees from mental health struggles, providing them with a good sense of their well-being to better assess their own needs. Whether it’s specifically curated coaching programmes for working parents to help them through the different stages of family life, or simply more support from the workplace and checking in from the boss, something needs to give… and it’s not the parents!