Parents worry that child care is negatively impacting their work output

March 2, 2022 - 7 min read

Negative effects of child care on careers

 

More and more, the demands of the home and the demands of the office are coming into direct conflict with each other. 

In many companies, there’s a sense that we’re past the pandemic crisis. We aren’t “back” to any normal but business has a new steady state. Sure, there are inconveniences and travel is still an issue, but the difficult time is over. Yet, for many parents of young children, life doesn’t resemble anything near steady.

With schools and daycares still closed, or frequently shutting down, and a growing number of companies switching to full remote or hybrid work arrangements, working parents are still struggling to attain some measure of balance — a seemingly impossible task in today’s complicated world.

With so much being demanded of working parents, many feel something has to give. Faced with unpredictability and conflicting priorities around their schedules, child care arrangements, and hours of availability, many parents are forced to make difficult choices. The result is growing anxiety around their job security and career advancement

In December 2021, BetterUp Labs surveyed 584 full time working parents in the US to better understand what they are struggling with, how they are coping, and what employers can do to support them. We discovered that many working parents feel their work performance is suffering, but one group is struggling more than others.

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What the data say:

According to our survey, 16% of US parents say that their child care arrangement has had a negative impact on their quality of work. Of these, 23% work fully remote, 36% work in a hybrid arrangement, and 41% are entirely in-person for work.

Negative effects of child care2

More parents working outside of the home report their work suffering as a result of child care arrangements than those working inside the home. This was initially surprising, but has several possible explanations. Logistical issues put a higher burden on parents that work outside of the home. Shuttling children between schools and daycares, adapting to shifting operating hours, and adhering to strict safety protocols make it difficult for any parent to be productive, but the degree of coordination, mental load, and consequences of schedule changes and facility closures are far greater for parents working outside the home. 

Additionally, child care costs have skyrocketed. Parents working outside the home are more likely to need full-day care. Guilt about the quality of child care they can reasonably afford and negative cultural views of center-based care weigh heavy in parents’ minds long after they have dropped their children off. The frequent notifications of potential COVID exposure that parents get from schools and childcare facilities makes guilt and uncertainty about their choices even worse. 

When we look at these numbers through the lens of gender, it seems women report disproportionately negative impacts. Of those who reported a negative impact on their work, two-thirds are women and one-third are men. Women feel more guilt than men (21% of working mothers vs 14% of working fathers) and are suffering more of a negative toll on their work performance (30% of working mothers vs. 20% of working fathers) as a result of childcare challenges.

Working mothers have always felt “mom guilt,” but the pandemic has only added to that pressure. Stereotypical gender roles place the burdens of cooking, cleaning, virtual homeschooling, and parenting primarily on women. As a result, more women are feeling the effects of burnout and some are leaving the workforce entirely.

What organizations can do:

It’s no surprise that feelings of burnout are rampant today and affecting the productivity and work quality of millions of workers. Torn between the need of the home and the demands of the office, working parents are particularly at risk.

Navigating the challenges of parenthood is hard enough during “normal” times. With a shaky economy, political instability, and a still-present global pandemic, it can feel overwhelming. More than ever, working parents need to be shown empathy.

Whether they notice job performance slipping or not, organizations can show empathy for their working parents and mitigate the effects of the pressure they’re feeling. Acknowledge that life has not “moved past COVID” for many employees. By providing support and relief now, they may be able to prevent more serious issues from developing down the line and foster greater loyalty and commitment. Here are a few ways organizations can help:

  1. Offer flexible work arrangements
    Our data showed that parents in remote or hybrid work arrangements felt less guilt about the quality of their work performance than those who worked in person. Previous data has also revealed that changing work arrangements can boost innovation, creativity, and resilience.

    If possible, provide working parents options for remote and/or hybrid work. This helps reduce the strain logistical considerations are placing on them so they can focus more fully on their work while still caring for the needs of their families.
  2. Give parents autonomy over their schedules
    Focus on results instead of hours worked. After setting clear expectations and goals, give your employees the freedom to pursue them when and how they see fit. By allowing employees to manage their own time effectively, managers demonstrate trust and respect for their teams as well as give working parents the needed flexibility to deal with any unexpected needs that may come up in the home.

    The data shows that flexible hours not only results in increased productivity and effectiveness, it actually helps improve the  mental health and morale of employees as well.
  3. Provide professional coaching

    Working parents can often feel isolated and overwhelmed. One of the best things organizations can do is provide professional support by means of coaching. Specialist coaches from BetterUp have the training and experience to help working parents manage their feelings, improve their work-life balance, and keep up with the demands of work in a positive and sustainable way.

An employee’s ability to perform at their best will be hampered if they’re struggling to meet basic needs. When organizations take steps to support their working parents, the benefits are profound. Feeling supported at work is linked with a 28% boost in well-being for parents. The trust that is built results in increased loyalty as well — intent to stay scores for working parents jump by 13% when they feel supported by their employers.

With a thoughtful approach to work arrangements and benefits that balances the material and emotional needs of working parents, companies are in a position to give them needed relief while helping them maintain high levels of performance — a win-win for everyone involved.

 

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Published March 2, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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