The Pandemic’s Lingering Effects on Working Parents
As it enters its third year, the COVID-19 epidemic has transformed the workplace as we knew it. The pandemic not only displayed how family and work constantly intertwine, but it also revealed to all employers that supporting the mental health of their employees requires more than just leaving them to struggle with balancing the two.
A child’s mental health problems can profoundly affect every aspect of their parents’ work performance. From absenteeism to presenteeism, parents are increasingly finding it difficult to juggle the demands of work and home. Mental illness can also be isolating because of the stigma, leaving employees to feel alone and unsupported.
Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism can be hard to measure. While it’s obvious when someone misses a day of work, presenteeism is much more illusive, making it hard to tell whether a team member is fully present mentally.
What is presenteeism?
The Harvard Business Review defines presenteeism as “the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning” and estimates that it can cut an employee’s productivity by a third or more.
Presenteeism can be affected by a range of factors from seasonal allergies, to arthritus to supporting a child who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
In fact, in a recent study done by Nationwide for On Our Sleeves, over 56% of respondents stated that the strains of their job were much more difficult to deal with because of their child’s emotional well-being and development.
Why employers should care:
Many HR leaders focus on absenteeism when it comes to employee productivity, but studies have shown presenteeism is a much larger issue and can cost U.S. companies over 150 billion annually- much more than absenteeism.
Depression alone cost U.S. employers $35 billion a year in reduced work performance and productivity. The studies’ lead author, Walter F. (“Buzz”) Stewart, said “Pain, no matter what the cause, will always translate into lost time at work”. The sooner we begin supporting our workforce, the better.
In fact, researchers discovered less time is wasted when people stay home compared to them showing up but not performing at their full potential. We all need time for maintenance and rejuvenation, but for working parents, their time is already divided.
How to support parents working from home:
While we can’t make parenting less demanding, we can support parents in their efforts to meet the necessary demands that come with raising a child.
Flexible Hours: Although covid restrictions have eased in most places, schools are not the same. A massive teacher exodus has left classrooms suffering from a loss of connection and constant school closures due to outbreaks force parents to take unexpected time off or scramble to find a solution. Flexible hours can help parents fill necessary gaps as need without dipping into their PTO.
Create a virtual parent/caregiver ERG: Taking care of children comes with many unexpected challenges. Having a place to connect can help team members find solutions and reduce the feeling that they are alone, while helping to build deeper connections with coworkers.
Preventative Care: Many benefits models are based around reactive care models, and there are consequences to this. Hospitals have seen an increase in children coming in with suicidal thoughts. These challenges can be mitigated with preventative care models that intervene before the problem becomes a crisis, which reduces the overall cost of health care in turn.
In closing, employees with children have faced a unique set of challenges through the pandemic. From online schooling to working from home, parents have been forced to find creative solutions to get through this unprecedented and ongoing pandemic. Although companies can’t make parenting less challenging, they can create a workplace culture of support by providing their employees with the tools to tackle those challenges with confidence and builds stronger teams.