Managing people

Working parent's stress levels are on the rise

In recent years, parents and carers have had increased stress due to the challenge of balancing work and family commitments, a trend that has particularly affected women, according to a new study.   

22 May 2024

Commissioned by Parents at Work and UNICEF Australia, the 2024 National Working Families survey found a significant rise in stress levels among working parents and carers while trying to manage their careers and caregiving responsibilities outside of work over the past five years.

Women, who make up over 70% of carers in Australia, experience this increased stress disproportionately.

The recent survey of over 6,200 working parents and carers in Australia revealed that nearly three-quarters (74%) of female carers and mothers felt overwhelmed while balancing work and family commitments, compared to 57% of fathers and men with caregiving responsibilities.

These figures show a significant increase since 2019 when just over half (51%) of women and just over a third (34%) of men with caregiving responsibilities struggled to achieve work-life balance.

A large portion of the stress experienced by parents and carers stems from caregiving responsibilities outside of work, with 65% of women and 55% of men citing these responsibilities as a significant contributor to their stress levels.

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, emphasised the overlooked stress experienced by workers in various workplaces. The research revealed a significant discrepancy, with women still shouldering the majority of caring responsibilities and household duties, nearly double that of men, despite similar working hours.

Walsh highlighted the persistent view of women as the traditional caregivers, reflected in unequal parental leave policies for men and women. The survey indicated that nearly half (48%) of men took less than a month of parental leave for their last child, while 91% of women took more than four months.

Over half (51%) of men who took less than a month of parental leave attributed it to their employer's policies not allowing for more time off. Walsh emphasised that this workplace culture perpetuates gendered stereotypes regarding caring responsibilities and is highly problematic.

The findings suggest that workplace cultures favour supporting men as primary income earners and women as primary caregivers, which disadvantages both genders. These factors negatively impact working families, especially women, affecting their physical and mental health, often cited as the top challenge outside the workplace.

In light of this compelling evidence, Walsh urged Australian workplaces, policymakers, and stakeholders to collaborate and reverse these alarming trends, considering the detrimental impact on working families, particularly women.

What employers can do

Parents at work certify employers, enabling them to become Family-Friendly Workplaces (FFW). This certification signifies that the employer has implemented adequate workplace policies fostering inclusivity for all employees.

The National Working Families Survey revealed a positive outcome: 65% of respondents experienced improved work-life balance due to their employment in a certified FFW workplace.

However, a cultural challenge prevents many employees, particularly male carers, from accessing these workplace benefits, potentially reducing work-life stress.

The survey results indicate a troubling trend: 50% of respondents believe employees' commitment to their jobs is questioned when they utilise family-friendly workplace policies.

These negative attitudes are particularly pronounced among men, with 56% of respondents agreeing that it is more socially acceptable for women than men to use family-friendly workplace options.

Although this represents a decrease compared to 2019 (64%), it contributes to the disproportionate burden of caregiving falling on women, leading to heightened stress levels.

Nicole Breeze, UNICEF Australia's Chief Advocate for Children, emphasised the urgent need to normalise family-friendly workplace policies to address the rising stress related to work-life balance.

Breeze highlighted the challenges working parents face who often worry about their job commitment being questioned or feel too drained to contribute to their families after work.

She stressed the importance of family-friendly policies such as flexible work and parental leave for working parents' wellbeing and their children's health and happiness.

Georgie Dent, CEO of The Parenthood, echoed these sentiments, emphasising the need for workplace policies to adapt to the realities faced by working parents and address gender disparities.

Dent advocated for comprehensive measures, including one year of paid parental leave shared between parents at full pay, universal access to affordable early childhood education and care, and a well-supported and adequately paid workforce.

By implementing these policies, workplaces can promote gender equality, safeguard the wellbeing of children and families, and contribute to a thriving society.

Catherine Ngo

Content writer, presenter and podcaster

Catherine is passionate about unravelling the latest news and insights to help HR managers, business owners, and employers.

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