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The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of working parents

A silhouette of a parent sat at a table working, with a cat and 2 children close by, taken from iHASCO's effective remote working training course.

Working parents across the UK are feeling the strain. In a constant struggle to carry on working, whilst balancing home schooling and child care responsibilities, it’s resulting in poor mental health for many. The lockdown at the start of this year for working parents was a huge blow, as the reality of a prolonged and unknown period of home schooling began. There is no doubt that stress, anxiety and depression are becoming more of a concern, as it is unrealistic for parents to continue juggling so many responsibilities. The pressure of trying to do it all is likely to result in an unhappy ending. 

Back in October 2020 it was predicted by The Centre for Mental Health that up to 10 million people will need new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, with 1.5 million of them being under 18. For families, the impact of this third lockdown on their mental health is causing concern and likely to increase those numbers further. Parents are facing long days trying to fit in work, school work and family time, let alone finding the time to relax and de-stress. 

With the announcement that English schools would not return until the 8th March at the earliest, working parents still have a while to find out when they can expect to get their kids back to the classroom. For those that were managing, the lockdown may be beginning to cause tiredness, lack of concentration and little motivation to carry on with work. The cold weather is making it difficult to get as much fresh air and exercise as needed, and with virtual meetings scheduled all day for someone or other in the household, there is little escape from the online working environment parents find themselves in. 

Employer support

These are unusual times, and employers need to recognise the difficulties facing working parents.

Though many of us like to think that we’re great at multitasking, science really isn’t on our side. At a neurological level our brains just can’t focus on more than one task at a time, instead they have to stop and start every time we switch focus. This is much less efficient than giving all of your attention to one task at a time.

Taken from iHASCO’s online Time Management Training Course

The myth of multitasking is highlighted in iHASCO’s Time Management course. This knowledge can be applied to help working parents understand that it is going to be impossible to tackle everything at once and time blocking is a possible way of managing demands. Completing a work report, while explaining a maths question to one child and helping another child with another piece of work is totally unrealistic. It is likely that parents will experience disruptions to their normal working day. Employers can help support staff by offering flexible working, encouraging annual leave requests if practical, offering a different role and even in some cases furloughing parents if after exploring other options there is no alternative. 

Employers can also help support working parents by keeping lines of communication open. Line managers should check-in with their staff who have children, to find out if there is anything they can do to help the working day run more smoothly. Often working parents feel they cannot keep up with their colleagues who do not have children. It can create a divide, not only between those staff with or without children, but between male and female colleagues. The TUC’s report has shown that working mothers are more likely to take on the responsibility of home schooling their children. In a survey of over 50,000 working mums, nine out of ten said their mental health had been negatively affected as a result of the disruption due to school closures. Plus 25% were worried about losing their job and 48% felt they would be treated negatively as a result of childcare difficulties. These statistics are not very encouraging for employee wellbeing. 

Working parents are all under a lot of stress, but this stress may look different depending on individual situations. Supporting working parents and openly recognising the challenges they face will go a long way. Balancing the needs of a family and meeting work obligations is not easy, but through openly discussing expectations, challenges and solutions, employers can help their employees feel more positive about the situation and help protect their mental health. Furthermore, employers who can continue to promote respect and wellbeing in the workplace, along with equality and diversity will gain a more positive and productive workforce too. 

Address employee mental health

Employers may already offer Employee Assistance Programmes, which often provide access to counsellors if parents are concerned about their mental health. Sharing fact sheets and resources about mental health is a good way to start initial conversations and remind working parents that as an employer you take their mental health and wellbeing very seriously. 

Training can be a simple and effective way of helping staff become more aware and feel better equipped to look after their mental health, deal with anxiety and build resilience. Start now with a free trial of our Mental Health & Wellbeing Training bundle to provide staff with the information and tools to support them in these incredibly difficult times. 

Building on skills such as resilience and managing anxiety can actually protect employees from mental health difficulties. It will help give your employees more confidence, not only now but in the future too, and provide them with a good sense of their wellbeing. These life skills are highly valuable skills to have in the workplace.

Boost wellbeing

Working parents across the country may well be familiar with meltdowns, feelings of frustration and complete despair, and that’s not just the kids! On top of work pressures, guilt has become a huge part of daily lives, from worrying about the effects of too much screen time on our children, to the concerns of getting behind with school work. However, this is not a perfect situation and parents should remember that things will not be perfect. 

Employers can let their workforce know that they actively support staff in improving their wellbeing. Sharing tips throughout the company can be a great way to give advice, support one another and build a caring culture.

Encouraging working parents to actively boost their family’s wellbeing could make a huge difference to coming out on the other side with better mental health.

Here’s some advice shared by the working parents at iHASCO:

The odd family film all cuddled up together really does help, when you can all find a film you agree on of course! Definitely try to stick to comedy or adventure!
I know it's hard, but sticking to a routine and a reasonable bedtime really helps you get through each day.

Zoe Hall, New Business Consultant

Tea... lots of tea. For me that is!
With the smaller ones, stop to play games and take garden play breaks - even if it is raining (or snowing!). Don’t feel guilty about more screen time than usual as needs must!! We bought a kindle as they have lots of educational games so less mum guilt!

Chloe Holland, HR Manager

Stay connected - make sure you chat to friends and family regularly. Talking to other working parents also helps you realise that they are experiencing the same struggles as you, which definitely helps you feel less alone! Also reach out to your child's teacher/s if they are struggling with homeschooling - they may even be able to help.

Caroline Williams, Marketing Executive

Give your teens some extra responsibility, like cooking one evening meal a week. It doesn’t need to be complicated and if they are not confident cooks choose something like fish and chips with peas - a bombproof recipe! This gives the whole family multiple benefits: an evening off food prep for parents, a boost to your teen’s wellbeing through contributing to something essential, as well as a break from YouTube! It also provides a refreshing change in family dynamics, now it's me who is being told off for being late to the dinner table!

Mike Brooks, Videographer & Creative Facilitator

Read our blog, there’s no better time to reach out to your workforce about their mental health, for further ideas to support employee mental health and wellbeing.

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