Managing a healthy work-life balance has always been a challenge, but today’s working parents have more on their plate than ever. With the pressures of the housing shortage, rising inflation, and more Americans taking on multiple jobs in order to make ends meet, it can seem almost impossible to successfully balance responsibilities at work and at home.

Organizations can support working parents by demonstrating the empathy and flexibility that will help their employees be successful in every part of their lives. Here’s what employers need to know about improving work-life balance for working parents: 

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is the management of time spent working compared with the time spent doing things outside of work. Much of the conversation around work-life balance centers on how hard it is to achieve and puts the onus on the individual to correct the imbalance—when the truth is, some people just have too much work, too many responsibilities, or not enough support. 

Work-life balance looks different for everyone depending on their role, job flexibility, commitments outside of work, and support network. It’s also subject to change. There may be times when work looms larger and other times when employees can focus more on what they enjoy outside of work. However, with remote work as the new normal, your employees can feel constantly tethered to their work—which makes prioritizing work-life balance more important than ever.  

Making remote work work 

Especially over the past two years, ensuring employees are able to have a healthy work-life balance has been a key part of creating a healthy work environment. When work and life aren’t balanced, there can be major ramifications, ranging from burnout and lower productivity to physical illness and higher rates of attrition. The pandemic has already taken a toll on Americans' physical and mental health, and a lack of work-life balance may be contributing to the major increase in stress and anxiety over the last two years. Research shows that remote workers are more likely to work longer hours and work nights and weekends—unable to disconnect fully from their jobs on their devices. 

Poor work-life balance may also be contributing to trends in employment and attrition. As the Great Resignation continues, record numbers of workers are still leaving their jobs—and many are citing burnout and a lack of flexibility as key reasons for quitting.       

The challenges employees with families face

While many people struggle with the complexities of work-life balance, working parents face a unique set of difficulties, often compromising to be able to “do it all.” Working parents have to navigate the constantly changing status of the pandemic, uncertainty about school and childcare schedules, the costs of childcare among a shortage, and financial anxiety. This lack of support at home has serious consequences—a new Pew Research study found that roughly half of workers who recently quit their jobs point to childcare issues as the reason. 

Because women bear more of the childcare burden, their work-life balance has been disproportionately affected. This intensified second shift has led to acute attrition among working moms, with a 6.5% decline in working mothers in the labor force between 2020 and 2021. 

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Recognizing the signs of work-life imbalance

If your employees have a work-life imbalance, they’re not alone—a recent survey showed that more than half of employees are feeling burnt out from work and more than two-thirds think their burnout has gotten worse through the pandemic. Here are the signs of work-life imbalance to look for in employees: 

Bringing work home

If employees are logging on early and working late, it’s a sign there may be a lack of boundaries with their work. The rise in remote work has had many benefits—less time commuting, more flexibility, and a more personalized work schedule. But these benefits have also made it harder to create a clear division between working hours and personal hours.

Physical symptoms of exhaustion or distress

Stress and burnout don’t just affect mood and emotional state—there can be physical consequences as well. When people are experiencing work-life imbalance, it can lead to consistently elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have detrimental effects on health including: 

  • Digestive problems 
  • Sleep issues
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Weight gain

Employees may mention physical symptoms of stress or that they are feeling drained or tired during meetings, which may indicate a risk of work-life imbalance and burnout. 

A constant feeling of stress 

A warning that someone’s work-life balance is in jeopardy is a nonstop sense of urgency and stress. This can take the form of stress dreams about work, increased anxiety before the work week or “Sunday scaries,” or difficulty focusing on non-work friends and family. Work stress has been normalized, but that doesn’t mean it should go unaddressed.  

How to support work-life balance for employees with families

Despite the focus on self-care in conversations around work-life balance, these issues required much more thoughtful and proactive solutions. Employees need better working conditions, clearer communication around expectations, and improved mental health support. Here are some innovative ideas to help improve your employees’ work-life balance:  

  1. Encourage employees to define what balance means for them

If employees are feeling burnt out, it can help to brainstorm better working conditions and communicate about what would be most beneficial for their specific needs. 

  1. Negotiating family-friendly work arrangements

To make sure employees have time to focus and complete their work, offering flexibility for employees with children at home or even having no meeting days weekly can give your employees some much-needed time back in the day.

  1. Cultivate a culture of leaving work behind at the end of the day 

Set firm boundaries with work to ensure time for family, friends, and fun, and proactively encourage your employees to do the same. There may be times when an employee has to work late or take on more work, but these instances should be exceptions to the rule, not the norm.  

  1. Create space to ask for help 

Set the tone that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Especially for working parents, it is normal to get overwhelmed. Being open to providing support and assistance when they ask will make them feel seen in a difficult time. 

  1. Check in often about workload and burnout

Set up a recurring meeting with employees to discuss how they’re feeling about their workload—what they like, what they would rather not have on their plate, and if they’re experiencing any signs of burnout. These meetings should be an open conversation in which the employee can bring up any concerns or questions about their assignments. 

  1. Offer virtual mental and physical health support

To provide comprehensive support for parents, employers can offer virtual mental and physical healthcare with providers who can meet them when they need them—whenever that is. Health support that is accessible and easy to use is crucial for working parents who may be pressed for time and not have room in their schedule to make it to a doctor’s office.

  1. Give employees PTO for vacations and mental health days

55% of Americans don’t use all their vacation days, adding to an unhealthy cycle of burnout and hyper fixation on work. Encourage and model behavior of taking time off from work, enabling others to leave their work behind. 

  1. Ask employees to disconnect when they’re not at work 

Be clear that taking breaks is an essential part of being a good employee. Being “always-on” isn’t healthy—and it doesn’t make anyone more productive. In fact, a 2019 study showed that people who were able to fully disconnect after work had more energy and felt better at concentrating.  

  1. Advocate for parents in the workplace with parent-focused ERGs

Create a safe space for working parents to build community at work by starting an employee resource group (ERG) for parents at your organization. A working parent ERG can provide the resources, emotional support, and networking ERG members may need. 

  1. Provide parenting and career coaching

 Employees juggling the many responsibilities of both work and family may be looking for additional support and guidance. Providing access to specialists who can help working parents navigate how to succeed in both realms of their life can lead to a healthier work-life balance. 

Support Your Employees With Maven

Providing employees with support like virtual mental and physical healthcare that offers parenting-specific coaching and content can help teams in their mission to achieve work-life balance. Maven is the leading digital health platform for reproductive and family health, helping companies support employees through the everyday challenges and joys of the family-building journey, from planning to pediatrics. Our global network of providers is accessible 24/7 through our virtual care platform, offering advice and support from experts in parenting, career coaching, and much more. To find out how Maven can support your employees find their work-life balance, contact us today.

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