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Covid Wasn’t the Problem: Why Working Parent Burnout Is a Key Threat

While the pandemic was undoubtedly a catalyst for the conversation about overwhelmed working parents, it wasn’t the cause of that reality. The fact is, working parents were feeling burned out long before the pandemic. 

As early as 2015, research from Pew showed that for 56% of working parents with a child under 18, balancing jobs and family was a challenge. By 2019, an International Workplace Group survey found 80% of employee respondents would choose jobs with flexible work options; and a FlexJobs survey found that 61% of respondents with kids thought a job with flexibility would help them be a better parent.

It didn't take long for employers to realize that flexible work policies were a top consideration in the war for top talent, especially for employees with some form of caregiving responsibilities. Between 2009 and 2019, the IWG study found that 83% of U.S. businesses had introduced or considered some form of flexible workspace policy.

By 2021, COVID had achieved – globally – what the good intentions of executive leadership could not. Almost every employer worldwide was forced to offer remote work options – overnight – just to keep the wheels of business turning. 

And while flexibility may seem like the answer to every working parent's prayers, it wasn't enough.

On the contrary, the incidence of working parents' burnout intensified during the pandemic.

Over 90% of employers found, to their surprise and possibly delight, that employee productivity and performance either improved or remained unaffected by the shift to remote work during the pandemic. 

On the other hand, working parents found to their dismay that ‘work-from-home plus ‘kids-at-home’ was the formula for faster parental burnout than ever before. In fact, new research shows that moms with access to remote work were most likely to leave their jobs in the pandemic. A work-from-home option alone isn’t enough. Parents need support – not just flexible work location or hours. 

As we approach the post-pandemic phase, over 70% of employers, including the world’s largest employers, plan to adopt a hybrid work model. In general, this increased flexibility is good news for working parents. But the world has changed. And the way families evaluate career benefits has changed.

82% of working parents now say work/life balance is the most important factor when considering a new job, unlike 80% of non-parents who rank salary first.

As a result, flexible work, as a standalone policy, is no longer enough to retain the best talent, especially caregiving responsibilities. Flexible hours don’t automatically translate to a better work/life balance. So, what else can employers do?

Retention and Benefits That Work for Working Parents

Despite schools reopening and student schedules limping back to normalcy, parents need more than flexible work or more money to cope with the continued pressures of looking after the kids, their work, the home, and, when possible, themselves. To make matters worst, 1 in 5 parents of school-aged kids did NOT get what they wanted from school last year, so families are facing a stressful struggle to catch up and bridge the gap. 

Here’s what working parents really need — an ally. 

If HR can help them identify and access solutions that simply make daily life easier, better, and safer, it would go a long way in helping juggle a hundred balls, lockdown, or no lockdown.

For example, parents constantly struggle to find effective ways to keep their kids engaged. While more screen time or video games don’t feel like an option, they become the default option when faced with a busy calendar. Employers can support working parents by providing access to handpicked learning solutions that offer valuable digital enrichment   without the negative fallout of unguided screen time. For example, on platforms such as Outschool, not only are the courses engaging, educational, and in many cases, physically active. They are also taught by vetted educators, with no violence or ads. 

In this context, HBR found that access to credible childcare options is as much of a business issue as an employee issue. The report confirms that inadequate childcare costs working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity even before the pandemic. Supporting working parents with practical alternatives to traditional childcare that also promise tangible learning benefits to their children can be a powerful way to address these endemic losses.

Working parents could also do with more of feeling in control.

Lack of control has been a major contributor to feeling burnt out during the pandemic. Parents need options that let them take charge of themselves, their professional goals, and their children’s learning goals equally and decisively. 

A good start is to give employees control over their time by focusing on outcomes rather than hours clocked. Employers can also give parents access to high-quality learning resources for their children. Resources that both supplement kids' education and give parents some time back.

With over 150,000+ live, online, small-group classes for kids ages 3-18, Outschool is an easy and effective solution. Outschool lets parents choose topics that interest their child and class times that fit their schedule. Plus, it's a simple way to access hard-to-find extracurricular classes and tutoring without leaving the comfort and safety of home.

Stepping up to Support Evolving Priorities of Working Parents

2021 will be remembered as a time of great realization, reprioritization, and also The Great Resignation. As families continue to reassess what truly matters to them, their career options are becoming more open than ever. For example, geographical barriers are disappearing with the adoption of remote work and contract opportunities. And employers are being forced to become more accommodating to retain experienced mid-career employees. Simply put, it’s going to get harder to find and keep good talent.  

HR and business leaders must create inclusive, responsive, and sensitive employee benefit and retention packages and compelling employee experiences for talent that money alone can no longer buy.

Now is the time for HR executives and business leaders to step up and help working parents reframe what a healthy work-life balance can look like, even amidst a dynamic and disruptive environment. 

Rather than playing catch up, a proactive approach facilitates employee productivity and offers practical support and resources when and where they are most needed. It's a powerful way to attract and retain experienced talent. Talent you could easily lose to competitors who understand what it takes to be a happy and healthy parent, employee, and individual in our rapidly evolving world.

To explore how Outschool for Employers can help you demonstrate your commitment to the success and belonging of parents, request a demo. We’d love to answer any questions you have. Join forward-thinking companies like Alto Pharmacy, Twitter, and Axis Capital, who are doing their part to support working parents with solutions they genuinely need and value.