With job stress rising and the cost of living increasing, it’s a challenging time to be a working parent. Balancing childcare with self-care is never easy. Not to mention the addition of a full-time career. But HR can do more to lighten the load, and it all starts with communication. So, let’s look at how an employee check-in can help you do more when it comes to employee engagement and working parents.

These days, it’s inevitable that professional employment and active parenthood will coincide. Gone are the days when pretty much every family had a stay-at-home parent to watch the kids. And, while that’s partially the result of positive social changes, it’s also due to economic hardship.

According to ONS stats, more than 50% of UK families had both parents working full-time in 2021. And, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that same year, both parents in 62.3% of married families were employed.

But that’s to say nothing of single-parent households, or families with vulnerable members besides children. With uncertain times ahead, HR must do more. It’s imperative we support employee engagement and working parents from all backgrounds.

Without a doubt, the first step must be communication. To that end, a weekly employee check-in is the ideal tool for supporting employee engagement and working parents. But, first, let’s look at the personal and professional obstacles parents are facing.

The big challenges for working parents

Working parents have a lot on their plates right now. But a lot of those difficulties are the same ones facing us all. Economic and geopolitical uncertainty, mounting job stress, and a rapidly shifting technological landscape. Plus the looming threat of environmental disaster as the anxiety-flavored icing on the cake.

If you need an example, look at the 2022 iteration of Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report. Employee job stress has hit record-breaking highs once again. 44% of employees reported high daily stress in 2021, edging out the previous record set by the COVID-19 Pandemic. But how do issues like like apply to parents specifically?

Burnout affects two thirds of parents at work

In May of 2022, The Ohio State University published a report. Pandemic Parenting: Examining the Epidemic of Working Parental Burnout and Strategies to help.

At the heart of it all is the fact 66% of parents reported burnout. This is alarming, because it means the vast majority of parents with jobs are at risk of seriously damaging their long-term wellbeing. They’re endangering their mental health, and are thoroughly disengaged at work. Burnout often drives employee turnover. But, for employees with kids to think about, their job isn’t just something they can walk away from. Something’s got to give, and the end result is usually messy.

Parental burnout and mental health

The Pandemic Parenting report found there to be a strong relationship between burnout and depression, anxiety, and even alcohol consumption. Additionally, parental burnout may exacerbate pre-existing conditions. 77% of parents with a history of personal anxiety reported being burned out.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising. A full-time job by itself means many of our waking hours aren’t our own. And being a parent means doubling down on that. Managing employee engagement and working parents means supporting a very demanding balancing act.

Burnout impacts parental behavior and child development

It would be bad enough if the consequences of this only impacted the workplace. But these things rarely exist in a vacuum. When stressed-out parents get pushed to their breaking point, it can often be the kids who suffer – this is one of the most impactful challenges for working parents.

According to the Pandemic Parenting report, burnout ‘…is also associated with dramatic increases in the likelihood that parents may insult, criticize, scream at, curse at and/or physically harm their children (i.e. spanking).’

On top of that, children of burned-out parents are more likely to display:

  • Internalizing behaviors: Worry, sadness and self-doubt.
  • Externalizing behaviors: Fighting, disobedience, bullying.
  • Attention-seeking behaviors: Distraction, difficulty sitting still or concentrating.

More women are reporting burnout than men

We’ve come a long way as a society from the view of women as obligate home-makers. But, for all that progress, women are still more likely to shoulder more of the parental burden than men. 68% of mothers reported burnout compared to 42% of fathers.

This is only one example of why HR must do more to support women at work. Your strategy for employee engagement and working parents must be able to help everyone.

What do working parents want?

Ultimately, supporting employee engagement and working parents means providing a better work/life balance. Every hour of overtime, every minute stuck in traffic is time away from their family. Or even the time they’d normally take for themselves.

Job flexibility

In the age of remote work, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that parents want to work flexibly. Remote work is probably the first thing you’d think of, and with good reason. It eliminates the costs of a babysitter or a nursery, for one thing.

But flexibility can also mean any other formal arrangement, like core hours. It can even be the informal understanding that, sometimes, emergencies happen. In fact, understanding is actually the next thing on this list!

Understanding management

People want employers that understand and respect the pressures they face. When it comes to challenges for working parents, that means reasonable expectations, adjustments and manageable workloads that keep their family front and center as much as possible.

But it’s also about the way you treat employees for being parents. This is an issue for working mothers in particular, who can often feel judged. According to one study, 85% of women leave the workplace within three years of having their first child. Roughly a fifth leave work altogether.

Childcare support

For parents of young kids in particular, childcare arrangements are vital. Even for parents with school-aged children, holidays are bound to be disruptive. Supporting employee engagement and working parents means making sure employees don’t have to worry where their kids are. Otherwise they won’t be able to give their role their full attention.

Of course, it’s not realistic for every business to start having in-office nurseries. But there are still plenty of ways you can support working parents:

  • Cost coverage for babysitting or daycare.
  • Connect working parents with local nurseries.
  • Help parents find activities providers.

Engage working parents with an employee check-in

So, at this point, you might be wondering how a regular employee check-in can help with challenges for working parents. Well, the whole point of our check-in is to help manage employee engagement, and working parents can benefit too.

Frequent feedback

Providing a regular check-in is one of the best things HR can do for managers of working parents. The personalized feedback questions make sure managers know what stressors their team members are dealing with. It also means employees have a channel to let their boss know when they’re having a work/life balance issue. They can even use it to request support measures as needed using an ad-hoc check-in.

For HR, these check-ins provide a rich volume of sentiment data from working parents. While managers tackle things on an individual level, HR can look at the bigger picture. And, since they’re weekly, it’s a real moving picture of parental engagement.

Regular wellbeing checks

If there’s one thing skyrocketing stress levels tell us, it’s that HR can’t ignore employee wellbeing. When you’re a parent, everything you want gets put on hold in service of someone else. And the same pretty much applies professionally, too. Between those two things, there’s not a whole lot of time leftover for self-care.

Sometimes, it takes a nudge from a friend, colleague or manager for us to realize how close to burnout we actually are. Check-ins are a great way to do that. Partly because they’re a personalized interaction. But also because the questions invite employees to self-reflect.

Always be sure to include at least a couple of wellbeing-related questions in every employee’s check-in. You never know when someone is suffering in silence.

Check-ins support work/life balance

It isn’t just about feedback and monitoring wellbeing. A check-in can support employee engagement and working parents in other ways too. It’s about the little ways it enables better work/life balance.

For one thing, check-ins can streamline your workday so that things get done on time. Face-to-face conversations can be good, but checking in asynchronously means you can save those moments for what matters. Then there are the benefits of goal-setting.

Goal-setting benefits work/life balance in a couple of ways. First, it can curb micromanagement impulses. We’ve all had those nightmare bosses demanding progress updates well into the evening. On a weekend. Weekly updates are habit-forming and reduce the need to chase things up.

Second, SMART Goals enable employees to break down large or complex tasks into simpler milestones. That way, employees can progress at a steady rate by working through tasks. It makes it much easier to find a stopping point without running into overtime.

Managers may handle a lot of the groundwork supporting employee engagement and reducing the challenges for working parents. But it’s down to HR to give them the tools to succeed.