Increasingly, managing stress levels and promoting wellbeing in the workplace are considered crucial to maintaining a productive workforce, yet stress is a still a major problem for many. Stress can be caused by many things but for working parents a major source of stress can be the ongoing struggle to balance the demands of work and home life. In addition to the ongoing need to arrange and pay for childcare, find workable arrangements during the school holidays, and sort out the daily school run and scheduling of after-school activities, many of the UK’s 11 million working parents feel a sense of guilt that they are not able to give their work or their home life as much time and energy as they would like.
- Half of parents say their work life balance (imbalance) is a source of stress.
- Seven out of ten parents work at home in the evenings and at weekends.
- Eight out of ten mothers and seven out of ten fathers say they would look at their childcare needs before accepting a new job or promotion.
- Only one third (34%) of working parents in the UK go home on time every day.
The issue is so significant that the charity ‘Working Families’ has launched National Work Life Week to raise awareness of the stresses faced by so many working parents.
Employers and work life balance for working parents
Employers need to be aware that workplace policies and the ethos of the organisation can have a significant impact on the lives of employees:
- Flexible working. Every employee who has been with an organisation for more than 26 weeks has the right to ask for flexible working, which can be beneficial to people who are struggling with stress. This could cover a variety of options including flexible start and finish times, working from home, adapting responsibilities at work, or not working every day.
- Part-time working. Working part-time could help parents juggle the demands of home life and work. Finances permitting, some parents might be happy to work less and reduce their income in return for more time to spend with their children.
- Creating a ‘family friendly’ ethos within the company by ensuring that managers are trained to understand how to support colleagues who are struggling to balance their work and home commitments. This might include allowing parents to take time off for school events and encouraging family-friendly social events.
- Promoting good practice. Managers should encourage staff to take regular breaks, stop for lunch, leave on time, and take their full holiday entitlement, and they should do the same themselves. Studies have found that people work less productively after a certain number of hours (between six and eight hours). Organisations that avoid promoting a culture of long working hours in 0rder to demonstrate commitment could help prevent burnout among staff and reduce staff turnover.
- Wellbeing initiatives. Staff should be encouraged to exercise regularly and eat healthily in order to maintain good mental health and physical wellbeing. Ideas in the workplace could include offering free fruit, promoting cycle loan schemes, offering reduced cost gym membership or supporting sponsored events such as 10k runs and bike rides.
- Supporting childcare. Some organisations offer childcare vouchers and some large employers provide on-site nurseries making it easier for working parents with younger children to be present at work whilst ensuring that their children are cared for.
- Seeking feedback and encouraging dialogue. Who best to provide insight into the support they need than the working parents themselves? Surveys and questionnaires can be used to inform employers about what can be done to make it easier for working parents achieve a good work life balance and continue contributing to the business.
The business benefits of good work life balance
Ensuring a good work life balance for staff is not only good for employees, but for the organisation they work for:
- Increased productivity – happy employees are likely to be more productive.
- Higher retention levels – working parents will be keen to stay with an organisation that supports them so recruitment, induction and training costs can be kept in check.
- Good reputation – family-friendly firms will attract the best staff.
Support from Fit for Work
Support and guidance about work and health can be sought from Fit for Work, which offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. The Fit for Work case manager can also provide recommendations about how the obstacles can be addressed and to potentially enable an early return to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).