Multitasking Moms and Dads Suffer Silently in the Workplace

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Why do they remain quiet even as they drive themselves insane trying to keep all the balls in the air?

There’s a growing disconnect between working parents who say juggling home and office duties is driving them crazy and their managers who don’t seem to understand the magnitude of the problem, according to a new survey.

That 98 percent of working parents say they have experienced burnout is no surprise. The other 2 percent probably fell asleep while taking the survey. Working parents are the very definition of Restless, the kind of people I am writing about in The Restless Project.

But before I get to the nitty-gritty of the survey results, released Monday by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, two things stand out.

Suffering in silence

Many managers tell me that workers often let things slide to the breaking point before speaking up to say there’s a problem — and that’s the real problem. Certainly in a tough economy, it’s hard for workers to complain but not impossible.

In all my research on overwork, it’s become clear than many workers are at least partly to blame for doing it to themselves. Did you really have to send that email on Sunday night? Did you really have to pull out your smartphone at dinner? Workers are struggling to keep up with expectations, but you should always question the source of those expectations — is it your boss, or yourself?

This came up in the Bright Horizons data: 64 percent of parents said their employers weren’t attentive to their needs as working parents, while less than 30 percent of managers worried that parents they supervise felt that way. That’s a huge disconnect.

How could that be? Well, 75 percent of parents said they wouldn’t speak up about their concerns. There might be logical reasons for this. In shops that reward overwork, many employees might be worried that even expressing concerns could put them at a disadvantage to younger workers with few family obligations. Still, you’d have to think a sizable part of the problem is under-communication. You don’t know until you ask.

Working dads feeling the pain

The survey found that dads worried more about spending time with family (52 percent) than trying to advance in their jobs (37 percent), while managers had that backwards, with 60 percent assuming their male parents’ chief concern was advancement. Dads who are involved in taking care of the kids face a new set of challenges that employers might be missing if they don’t update old gender assumptions.

Both men and women tell surveyors that flexible time or more time off is more important than money; that’s valuable insight for managers and corporations trying to attract and keep top talent.

Here are some other data points from the Bright Horizons research:

  • 48 percent of working parents are stressed about managing their health today, an increase from 41 percent in 2014.
  • Almost 8 in 10 (77 percent) working parents say burnout has caused them to become depressed or anxious or get sick more often.
  • Around 8 in 10 working parents (79 percent) and managers (77 percent) agree a change needs to be made at the office, not at home, to curb burnout.
  • A minority of managers have concern that working moms (37 percent) and dads (31 percent) struggle to balance work and life, while an even smaller number of managers worry working moms (36 percent) and dads (25 percent) believe their employer isn’t attentive to their needs as parents

Meanwhile, despite the sense that parents are less available for round-the-clock work than young people without kids, there are plenty of reasons for corporations to respect employees who are parents. Asked “in which areas working parents were stronger than their non-parent counterparts,” survey takers said:

  • Nearly half (41 percent) of managers say working parents are better multitaskers.
  • More than a third of managers (34 percent) say working parents are more effective in time management.
  • A third of managers (33 percent) say working parents are calmer in a crisis.
  • 28 percent say working parents are more financially responsible on the job.

What do you think is the solution for burned out working parents? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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