Despite all workers having the right to request flexible hours since 2014, striking a work-life balance is causing stress and anxiety for working parents, a new study by CIPHR finds
The term ‘work-life balance’ is quite a modern concept, having only been around since the 1980s. As technology advances and workplaces change, it seems as though striking a work-life balance is becoming more difficult than ever. Having immediate, 24/7 access to emails, instant messages, and business tech such as HR systems via mobile devices is just one reason why the work-life balance goalposts have shifted. Of course, having all this technology at our fingertips also allows for more flexible conditions in some workplaces, with remote working becoming increasingly popular. Unfortunately, not all organisations are embracing this concept, leading to many working parents feeling unduly stressed as they try to juggle their work and home lives. CIPHR’s recent survey of 1,400 working parents has uncovered some interesting statistics about the concerns people have with finding this balance, giving interesting insights into how organisations could support and promote a healthier work-life balance.
Stress and anxiety
One of the most profound results from our survey is the sheer number of working parents who are feeling overwhelmed by their efforts to juggle working and family life. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said that balancing work and family life left them feeling stressed and anxious. This proportion rose to 77% for working parents with two children.
A third of working parents said the most significant difficulties in trying to strike the perfect work-life balance were children’s sickness and school holidays. The former is quite an obvious one; those who have children will know how difficult it is to juggle an unwell child and work. However, holiday also plays a big part in the stress and anxiety of being a working parent. Ensuring you are able to enjoy enough time with your family, particularly in long school breaks such as summer holidays, becomes difficult when you are afforded little to no flexible working.
A worrying discovery in our survey was how many people felt as though they are being judged for trying to balance their home and work lives. More than half (53%) of respondents said that they felt judged by their colleagues or bosses, with this proportion rising to 59% of parents with two children. The findings suggest that working parents who are trying to balance their careers and family lives face a social stigma at work – or, at at least, that’s what it feels like for some.
It also appears as though there is a concern about senior colleagues who have greater access to childcare resources, who many feel are less understanding about the need for flexible working. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents admitted they felt that senior colleagues with greater childcare resources are sometimes less understanding about flexible working and parenting issues. With working parents already feeling stressed and anxious about trying to find the balance between work and home life, the fact that they also feel judged – particularly with senior colleagues who have greater access to childcare – is likely to add even more to their plates.
Finally, nearly half (49%) of all respondents were concerned that being a working parent was hindering their career prospects. This proportion rose for parents with two or three children, to 52% and 55% respectively.
Finding the right support
While many of the results of our survey paint a bleak picture of the stresses of working parents, there are some key takeaways that can help HR departments unravel the work-life balance conundrum. Firstly, more than half (55%) of respondents said they had a flexible working agreement in place with their employer – this is undoubtedly a good start. However, it seems as though there is more that can be done to ensure that this does not create any kind of judgement or stigma. Two-thirds (61%) of survey respondents said that their employer does a good job of supporting working parents; again, another positive statistic.
Some working parents may be having difficulty finding a sympathetic ear for their work-life balance difficulties. Almost half (49%) of survey respondents said there was no difference in the understanding and support they received from male and female managers. Two-fifths (40%) said female managers were more supportive and understanding, compared with just 11% of respondents who said male managers were the ones to turn to for help. Meanwhile, two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they found colleagues and managers with children of their own to be more supportive of their need to balance work and family demands than colleagues and managers who aren’t parents. It appears there is more to be done in this area to ensure working parents don’t feel isolated if they don’t have a sympathetic colleague or manager to talk to.
What can be done?
Flexible working can open up so many doors to a talent pool that was once considered ‘stay-at-home.’ With more parents working than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that workplaces create a culture in which these valuable members of the team feel less stressed, anxious and judged. On top of this, employers need to consider what kind of support network they have available for working parents. Who do your staff feel comfortable talking to about flexitime and parenting issues? Do they feel as though they are unable to manage their work-life balance when it comes to children’s sickness and holidays?
Perhaps it’s time to conduct your own research and find out how you may be able to help alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with being a working parent. With an average of 12.4 million working days lost in the UK every year because of workplace stress, depression or anxiety, small changes can make a big difference to the general wellbeing and productivity of your employees. Prevention is better than cure, and our survey certainly shows that something needs to change if HR teams are to help working parents be happy, healthy and productive.