The pandemic challenges have been felt nationwide, but some groups have faced significant challenges. Research from Oxford University found that stress, anxiety and depression among parents and carers rose during lockdown as they tried to balance personal stress with that of their children.
With restrictions now lifted, it will continue to take time to recover from the effects. And those looking to support the workforce return to peak well-being must acknowledge the key challenges parents face and how to address the root causes of mental illness, including stress and burnout.
After two years of hiatus, returning to relative normalcy is proving difficult for some individuals who feel emotionally unprepared for busy office environments and hectic commutes. The unique demands of remote working — like the need to be “always on” and the blurring of lines between work and home — also make juggling the two approaches particularly difficult.
Ongoing change, stress and uncertainty, in addition to coping with the fallout from the pandemic, are causing employees to burn out, with common physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and digestive issues, as well as emotional symptoms such as overwhelm and mental detachment from one’s work, or feelings of negativity or cynicism.
Employers who are attuned to both the risks and the signs of burnout – including changes in social behavior and usual professional standards – are best placed to intervene in a timely and targeted manner.
A proactive approach is most beneficial. This may include checking that the workload is manageable and finding a quiet moment to ask, “How can we support you?”. or regularly highlighting company support services via internal emails and communications.
Concerns about job security and resulting financial worries
A recent study found that two in five (41 percent) of working parents believe their jobs are more likely to be at risk because of childcare responsibilities.
In the current cost-of-living crisis, concerns about job security are likely to have an exacerbated psychological impact – with half of people agreeing money has affected their mental health recently, according to Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index.
However, employers can help alleviate these concerns by, for example, offering flexible work arrangements that allow them to get their hours done without having childcare responsibilities – like running to school – interfering with their ability to perform.
Similarly, financial support through programs such as childcare grants and family health plans both addresses financial concerns and reassures people that their parenting status is not an obstacle but a valued trait.
In addition to the usual workplace challenges, parents and carers face additional health risks. The potential emotional impact of new parenting status includes issues such as postnatal depression and anxiety, which despite misconceptions can be experienced by both fathers and mothers.
Symptoms are often accompanied by other common health challenges, such as trouble sleeping, which can exacerbate other difficulties. Research suggests that as the duration of sleep decreases after parenthood, the quality of that sleep also decreases.
However, employers can support new parents with a combination of workplace benefits. Interventions that allow individuals to practice healthy and productive routines are crucial — for example, offering flexible shifts and discouraging checking email outside of work hours.
These benefits not only allow employees to handle parenting responsibilities with less time pressure, but also give them time to practice healthy habits like cooking nutritious meals, exercising, and proper sleep hygiene.
Individuals should also be directed to more formal support measures such as cognitive behavioral therapy and staff support programs that provide direct access to mental health specialists who can help new parents understand and understand the transition to parenthood and the associated issues that have arisen since then prepare for birth.
lack of equality
Worryingly, almost half of fathers believe they are treated unequally when it comes to flexibility in the workplace. As a result, more than a third of these new dads say their mental health has been negatively impacted by juggling work stress and the emotional toll of missed key moments in parenthood.
Other research shows that career opportunities for women returning to work after having a child are significantly reduced compared to those of their male counterparts.
Employers who seek to mitigate the reduced productivity of dissatisfied employees have a responsibility to create policies that provide equal opportunity to balance work and parenting responsibilities and support career advancement for all new parents and carers.
This can include general interventions such as regular meetings with new parents to discuss current challenges and solutions – such as delegating workloads – as well as more significant offerings such as equal parental leave policies or tailored ‘phased returns’. Every household is different, so the focus should be on helping families balance work and childcare.
Children’s Mental Health
Despite their own emotional demands, two in five (42 percent) parents admit they have become more concerned about their child’s mental health since the pandemic began, according to Nuffield Health Research.
Social relationships and education were among the top disruptions during repeated lockdowns that affected young people’s emotional well-being. And it’s no surprise that when children struggle — be it social, emotional, or academic — it takes a toll on their parents’ job performance as well. And when it comes to parenting concerns, it’s often the uncertainty and lack of control that amplifies the anxiety. So education is the key.
Employers can therefore support parents with relevant resources, for example by offering formal learning courses that cover key issues in understanding and managing children’s mental health. These can be provided to employees along with the assurance that they can work through the modules at their own pace during working hours.
Employers who support new parents and carers with family-friendly policies and approaches often report significant benefits, such as:
Gosia Bowling is the national director of mental health at Nuffield Health