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How to support employees with parental burnout 



Clare Price – Onebright

It can be hard for many parents to juggle their home and work life as well as unexpected issues, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety and being overwhelmed. In 2022, six in 10 parents said they had experienced burnout, and this figure is likely to have increased in 2023. How can an individual tell the difference between normal levels of stress and tiredness and burnout?

What is burnout?

When things are busy, or we have too much on our plate, it is natural to feel a certain amount of stress. But there is a difference between general stress, burnout, and parental burnout. Typically, stressed people can see a future where once they get everything under control, they’ll feel better. When we are left with relentless pressure, we may be unable to cope, resulting in burnout. 

Parental burnout which is directly related to someone’s role as a parent can result in feeling mentally and physically exhausted, distant from your children, having a sense that you are ineffective as a parent and feelings of being unsure of your ability to parent well. It is more common among working parents.

Research is not conclusive in this area with some suggesting that parental burnout has limited impacts on work performance and creates a renewed appreciation of one’s job, renewed engagement, and satisfaction. However, other research suggests symptoms of parental burnout can present themselves in other life domains and can impact work.

The signs and symptoms of parental burnout 

Given common experiences of parental burnout are physical and mental exhaustion, short temper, disrupted sleep patterns, feelings of anxiety or panic, low mood and depression often accompanied by not enjoying the things someone normally does, lack of motivation for everyday tasks, avoidance of responsibilities, a doubt in abilities and feelings of failure and finding decision making and taking action harder than normal, it stands to reason that this could impact in the following ways at work.

Behavioural signs and symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Taking out frustrations on those around you.
  • Skipping work
  • Being late for work or necessary appointments
  • Isolating from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

How employers can support employees 

Where someone is experiencing parental burnout, this may be a risk of associated burnout in the workplace, leading to lower productivity, performance issues, absenteeism and even a complete withdrawal from work for periods of time, impacting colleagues and the wider business. 

Research also suggests that if one parent is experiencing parental burnout, this can negatively impact the other parent, so feasibly they could also be at risk of burnout in the workplace.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ under UK law to protect employees’ health, safety, and welfare. It is important to recognise the parental demands of employees and evidence suggests that organisational parental support and family friendly working practices can facilitate better coping and subsequent work outcomes. 

Good communication

Good communication can help to address parental burnout and reduce absences. Remember to speak with the individual about how they are feeling and ask them how you as an employer can help. Could you provide more flexible working to help with childcare at home? Does the employee need some adaptations? Can you help them better manage their workload at work? Make sure communication is a two-way channel, so employees feel they can come and talk to you about their mental health at any time. 

Check-in regularly

Having regular one-to-ones with an individual can help you to spot the signs and symptoms of parental burnout before they become too much of an issue. Regular check-ins also show the employee that you have a genuine interest in their health and wellbeing and are keen to support them. 

Have an open culture 

There could be a culture of fear and stigma surrounding mental health issues in the workplace, meaning you avoid addressing mental health issues altogether. Create a company culture where talking about your mental health is as important as talking about your physical health. Break down the barriers and promote open conversations with line managers, HR professionals, or a mental health first aider.

Be flexible in your approach

Your employees will all have different ways of working and different ways of dealing with challenges. If an employee feels like they aren’t coping or need adaptations to their work, managers can be as flexible as possible so that they can best cater to the needs of their employees. Try to consider any modifications that can be made to your employee’s role, such as adjusting hours, workload, tactics, breaks, or perhaps providing a mentor.

It is important as an employer to spot the signs early on, as early detection can help prevent some of the symptoms and future-proof employee mental health. It is also important for employees to understand where and how they can seek the right support and help. 

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