Burnout is a type of exhaustion. When the stress and pressure of something is too excessive, this leads to physical and mental stress. Parental burnout is when this happens due to the stresses and strains of parenting. Working parent burnout is an offshoot of this, when the pressures of juggling work and family life create burnout.
Here, we look at how to deal with parental burnout in the workplace, but importantly, how to help your employees avoid parental burnout in the first place.
What is parental burnout
While there are smiles and giggles, fun days and pride to make you burst, parenting can also be relentless and tough. The practical tasks of parenting and the mental load of raising children from birth to fully-fledged adults are in many ways intense and unrelenting.
Parent burnout happens when a parent is completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the tasks and responsibilities of parenting. It takes its toll on the individual’s mental and physical health. It may be characterised by feeling drained, overwhelmed and unable to manage the demands of life. A parent may feel stuck, and unable to give any more.
For working parents, there is an added dimension. Not only are they juggling all of the demands of parenting, they also have additional stresses. There’s the enormous factor of managing childcare which can be complex, expensive, unreliable and difficult to manage. There are also the usual stresses of working life that all workers experience from commuting to difficult bosses.
This means that working parent burnout is perhaps a distinct form of burnout and one which employers should be aware of and know how to manage, alleviate and avoid.
Parental burnout amongst working parents is a huge problem. We don’t have UK statistics, but we can translate the US data available. Earlier this year, a study found that a staggering 66% of working parents meet the criteria for parental burnout. This form of chronic stress harms individuals, families and reduces the productivity, innovation and success of the individual for the business.
How to deal with parental burnout
As an employer, your people are your best resource. Working parents likely make up an important segment of your workforce and you need them to perform at their best.
It’s vital that organisations are parent friendly in order to reduce the likelihood of burnout and stress amongst working parents. The strategies involved need to be tailored to the individual workplace, but there are a range of things you can put in place to help your employees avoid parental burnout.
1. Enable flexible working
Flexible working enables parents to better manage their work-parenting balance. Working from home when children are sick, or regularly to reduce the commute, can help working parents balance different demands.
Enabling parents to work compressed hours or part-time allows working parents to continue giving their skills, without detriment to their family. Flexible working is connected with more highly motivated employees, improved engagement and better employee retention. In our post-lockdown world, it’s also important to allow parents to work from home wherever possible, supporting them to do so.
2. Parent-friendly premises
The workplace itself should be considered with parents in mind. Ensuring there is somewhere private for returning-to-work mothers to breastfeed and safely store breastmilk is a good example of how to make the workplace conducive to lowering return-to-work guilt and stress. Organising and supporting an onsite childcare facility may also be beneficial.
3. Autonomy not hours
The most productive employees are those who are treated with autonomy and respect, rather than rigid hours and structures. Judging and rewarding employees based on output rather than number of hours worked benefits both you as an employer and your employees. By giving your employees autonomy, a working parent can determine for themselves when and how to complete their work, ensuring they don’t become unnecessarily stressed about school pick-ups, the nativity play or doctor’s appointments.
It’s not possible in every workplace, but allowing parents to be their own time-keepers, as long as output is as expected, is a great way to help reduce employee parenting burnout. This helps parents avoid any guilt over not being able to give enough to either work or their children.
4. Hands-on education and support
There are key times when working parent burnout is more likely, such as returning to work after maternity, paternity or parental leaves. Other key times which are ripe for burnout include when children are young and parents are still experiencing broken nights, as well as at key transition stages to primary and secondary school. Preventing burnout is often about creating workable routines and at times of change, this is harder.
As a forward-thinking employer, you can help your employees to avoid parental burnout by offering additional support at these times. For example, you can offer 1:1 working parent coaching to help working parents navigate their work-life balance, or you can offer wellness workshops for parents at work.
5. Find out what matters to your employees
There are a number of different factors that make it difficult to balance work and parenting. It’s important that you speak to your employees with children directly to discover what their core concerns are, so that you can address these challenges and determine your priorities.
Speaking to parents also has the benefit of ensuring they feel heard and that they don’t need to struggle alone.
6. Offer above-legal time off
It’s not always possible for businesses to offer more than statutory maternity and parental leave. However, you should ensure that you have clear policies for everything, including dependency leave, and ensure that these are applied with fairness.
Where possible, extend time off that’s offered, for example, maternity leave with enhanced pay. This ensures that employees come back when they feel ready, not because they financially have to.
7. Foster an open culture around mental health
Awareness of mental health in the workplace is thankfully growing. By enabling open discussion of mental health in the workplace, you will be supporting working parents to talk about their issues and concerns.
Parental burnout in the workplace is very real and can have devastating impacts on everyone involved. Supporting parents to prevent working parent burnout should be on every employer’s agenda.
Give your employees access to helpful online courses and coaching with Bloss, such as our Burnout to Balance course.