Juggling a busy home life with a full-time career is much easier said than done. And, back in 2020, the Modern Families Index showed that people with kids were being stretched to the breaking point. So, let’s dive into the impact of parent job stress. And we’ll also be looking at the most recent iteration of the report, to see what’s changed in the last few years.

Jobs need to be “human-sized”…in order to produce happier, healthier workers.

Jane van Zyl, CEO – Working Families

Looking back on the Modern Families Index

For the average employee, there’s often no greater feeling than turning off your work computer at the end of the day. Saying goodbye to the avalanche of emails, direct messages and task lists and going home. However, we all know too well that it’s not always that easy. Especially not when it comes to parent job stress, blurring the line between work and our home lives.

What is the Modern Families Index?

The Modern Families Index is an annual survey conducted by Working Families and Bright Horizons, and the results for the 2020 iteration were very concerning. The study found that 44% of parents felt compelled to carry on with their work in the evenings. And three-quarters of those said they felt they had no choice. Meanwhile, a staggering 58% worked additional hours without pay.

The Modern Families Index surveys around 3000 working parents each year, across a range of incomes and family structures. The goal is to assess the most pressing and prevalent issues facing parents in the workplace. In their 2020 report, prior to the full impact of the Pandemic, they focused on parent job stress. That’s why it’s relevant today.

The report’s conclusion was that the pervasive communications technology which defines the modern-day created a situation where parents felt they couldn’t “switch off” after work. 47% of participants say it has blurred the line between their work and home life.

Parents working from home

It would seem that the ability to work from home may sometimes increase pressure rather than cutting it down. As many of us learned for ourselves, working from home has its own challenges, kids or no kids.

Nearly half of participants claimed they had actually increased the amount of time they spent working. The report describes so-called “family friendly” or “flexible” working hours as a double-edged sword.

The report made it clear that this wasn’t necessarily a direct result of flexible working, however. Remote work can be great for employee wellbeing. Personal autonomy can be just the thing to help manage parent job stress. However, the 2020 Index showed the potential benefits were ‘…being undermined by poor job design and workplaces where working extra hours is part of the culture.’

  • 60% of parents said extra hours were the only way to handle their workloads.
  • Extra hours doubled the likelihood of employees struggling to get their minds off work.

Of those struggling to unplug in the evenings:

  • 54% said it resulted in arguments with their children.
  • 57% said it caused arguments with their partner.
  • 72% of parents stuck in “work mode” complain of stress, versus 1 in 5 parents able to switch off.

According to the CEO of Working Families, Jane van Zyl, ‘Flexible working is crucial to supporting parents in balancing their working and caring responsibilities. However, flexibility alone is not enough. Companies should ensure that their staff have “human-sized” roles, with managers who lead by example and keep their own work-life boundaries distinct.’

The consequences of parental burnout

Overburdening employees with more work than can be done in a day may seem like an effective short-term measure of bolstering productivity. But it doesn’t take a genius to see the flaw in that logic. Burnout isn’t a bell you can unring. So, if you value your people, HR and management need to be able to do something about it.

We know how parent job stress can cause problems with home life. Arguments with kids and partners. Difficulty engaging with our work. But the truth is that it can be just as bad for the organisation as it is for the employee and their family. When your people don’t think you’ll support them, it disincentivizes honesty.

More than a third of parents in 2020 admitted to lying to their employer about family commitments that could interfere with work. A similar amount also admitted to pretending to be sick in order to meet family responsibilities. When employees can’t square their professional commitments with their personal lives, one side will inevitably be let down.

But, if you can’t curb parent job stress for employees with families, then dishonesty and disengagement will only be the start. Busy parents are especially vulnerable to burnout due to the demands of balancing responsibilities. Burnout will make productivity plummet. And that’s if your people don’t just quit outright. In fact, even for employees who aren’t burned out, parent job stress can still motivate them to find work elsewhere.

The state of parent job stress in 2023

Employers have started doing more to prevent parent burnout since 2020. For starters, it seems that communication has improved significantly. According to the 2023 Modern Families Index, more employees than ever feel employers care about their work/life balance (66%). And 69% say the same of their manager in particular.

And, on top of that:

  • Three quarters feel confident that their employer will take their family responsibilities into account and treat them fairly.
  • Over 70% feel confident discussing family-related issues with their employer.
  • 75% feel confident discussing work-related issues with their employer.

Obviously, this is great. Employers have taken big strides in terms of enabling two-way feedback. Communication feeds into awareness, which enables action against parent job stress. But, as the latest report from Bright Horizons points out, increased support raises the bar of employee expectations. With these policies becoming more of a standard, failure to provide them can drive employees away to greener pastures. According to the report, nearly 40% of respondents are planning to seek new employment in 2023.

The hassle of arranging childcare

At the moment, childcare arrangements are one of the the biggest parental stressors on the board. The Parents Under Pressure survey from 2022 found that more than half of working parents are occasionally or regularly doing without childcare.

Job flexibility has continued to play an essential role in helping HR to tackle parent job stress, especially when it comes to care arrangements. Among working parents, childcare was the most commonly reported reason for engaging in flexible work (47%). Many employees also reported working flexibly due to a shift in employer attitudes. But the third-most commonly reported reason was for personal wellbeing (29%).

Parents don’t get to switch off very often. Not with loud, messy, hyperactive kids around. So it makes sense some parents are taking measures to practice self-care. Even if it’s just dropping some of their daily commutes for a little extra sleep and an early start on dinner.

Of course, that’s not to say working from home has been the perfect solution. Nearly 40% of parents balancing childcare with remote work have reported it impacting their productivity. This seems to impact senior leadership the most, affecting over three quarters of Partners and Board Directors, as well as almost half of senior managers, directors and middle managers.

Remote staff are already particularly vulnerable to overwork. Add in the pressure to compensate for kid-related disruptions, and you have a serious recipe for parent job stress and burnout. So, what can we do?

How can you support working parents?

As the 2023 Modern Families Index points out, employers need to do more to support parents. Childcare is part of the cost of work, so you need to provide options for working parents. But it’s vital to give your people options they can actually benefit from.

So, rather than create policy blindly, figure out what your people want. That might mean connections to nurseries in the area, ad-hoc or even on-site childcare. You won’t know until you talk to them. Vague open door policies aren’t enough. To combat burnout of any kind, you need to be more proactive. Fortunately, that’s where we come in.

Zensai is centered around a regular, light-touch check-in, allowing staff to share successes and issues in equal measure, with their direct managers and beyond. Questions are customizable down to the individual level, so asking parents in your organisation what they need should be a breeze.

Check-ins don’t just have to be about monitoring employee performance. It’s a system of two-way feedback to ensure you’re always up-to-date on what your people need. Employees can even schedule ad-hoc check-ins if an issue just can’t wait. And, with how unpredictable kids are, we’re sure working parents will appreciate that feature!

If you want to see how your workplace culture is boosting or holding back your people, why not book in a free demo and see how we can help.