Evidence is only just starting to emerge regarding the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on wellbeing. Working from home for months on end, a lack of in-person interaction and concerns about job security have left many people’s mental health at a low point. Not only have working parents faced these challenges, but they’ve had the addition of caring for their children, often resulting in a lack of self-care and depleted mental wellbeing.
There is a ripe opportunity now for businesses to rethink how they’re supporting their working parents and learn from the lessons of lockdown. Employers can make a significant impact to working parents' lives by implementing support structures to help them bounce back stronger, and better equipped to address future difficulties when they arise. With Kami in the pockets of employees, they will only be a few taps away from parental and wellbeing support.
The effect of Covid-19 on mental health
One of the groups most affected by the pandemic has been working parents, especially those from single adult and low-income families who were already suffering from compromised wellbeing. A busy workday can get the best of us, throwing school closures and caring for a toddler into the mix and these tiresome days feel like a mountain to climb.
A lack of access to instant, expert support left parents spread too thin to give much attention to their own wellbeing, instead concerned with meeting their children’s needs and professional demands. Indeed, parents with younger children reported particularly high stress levels, with 36% substantially worried about their children's behaviour.
The stress of juggling home and work life was exacerbated by parents fearing to ask for workplace support, believing that if they did, they would be penalised, or even lose their job. With over 90 percent of fathers and 75 percent of mothers employed in the UK, providing accessible and effective wellbeing support to working parents should be more widespread, yet 23% of parents did not feel that their employer understands the demands on their time as parents.
For real improvements to parental mental health and wellbeing, businesses should be transparent about the benefits on offer, alongside improving the specialist parental support available. People don’t deserve to feel like they are looked down upon by managers because they are parents, they deserve empathy and real action to support them. Let’s use the lessons learnt from the pandemic to inform how we approach mental health for working parents.
The impact of Covid-19 on childcare and how parenting needs have changed
A recent study from Oxford University has found that parental stress, depression and anxiety have increased since the beginning of the pandemic. This has been exacerbated by the lack of access to flexible and affordable childcare, as many employees have struggled in their ability to manage their workload and parenting duties.
Providing childcare support to employees is often seen as expensive and so isn’t provided at all, but there are some efficient, low-cost solutions. Childcare subsidies are moderately inexpensive and very helpful to parents struggling to meet the demands of work and home. If businesses want to stay ahead of the competition, they are going to need to offer flexible working, which allows parents to get their work completed while not missing out on their children’s activities and responsibilities.
Ensure you are highlighting and providing childcare benefits to all employees, not just women, since every parent deserves to be supported. Childcare support can provide a particularly significant boost to women however, since working mothers have been majorly affected by this pandemic.
It’s estimated that around 35% of working mothers in the UK have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare support during this past year and are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. Offering all employees childcare support helps everyone out, both in the short and long term, and results in happier and healthier families, letting parents bring their best self to work.
How employers can help and how to seek change as a working parent
The pandemic has accelerated workplace trends, such as remote working, with 9 out of 10 employees wanting to maintain flexible working post-COVID and especially true of parents. As a business, don’t give up on this style of working with lockdown easing, in fact you should be continuing to offer remote and flexible work to working parents, as it allows employees to complete work well, while easing the pressure of childcare duties.
Many employees have become parents during lockdown and are apprehensive about returning to work. This concern, on top of the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic brings, means that conditions for developing perinatal mental illness are heightened. Currently 1-in-5 UK mothers and 1-in-8 partners develop perinatal mental health problems each year.
For parents it’s important to communicate with your manager so they are aware of your needs, otherwise it’s hard for them to be met. Assess what would make things easier for you. Do you need more flexibility in your working hours? Or maybe you are unable to turn around last-minute assignments, so need to establish a minimum lead time. Painting a picture to your manager of your current work life will help them understand the challenges you are facing and is likely to lead to more empathy from them and thus more accommodation.
Being specific in your needs is hugely important. Employers are managing hundreds of different employees and trying to support their requirements, so clearly outlining what would help you specifically is likely to have the most beneficial outcome for everyone. Whatever your requirements are, it’s important to make your employer aware of them and any good business should help to implement a framework which supports them.
So, is Covid-19 a turning point for working parents’ mental health support? At Kami we think it should be. The pandemic has been challenging for large numbers of people, but there is now an opening to ease the struggle of juggling work life with home life. Through employers actively reaching out and listening to their employees, and employees being comfortable enough to share their needs with managers, not only will businesses function more efficiently, but mental ill-health in working parents can be reduced.