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When it comes to caregiving benefits, parents value time and money most
The pandemic both revealed and exacerbated the stress working parents face. With school and care facilities closed, parents had to find a way to combine work and family life — all while protecting the health and safety of their household.
The results were disastrous for parents’ mental health. While 31% of adults reported their mental health worsened during the pandemic, 47% of mothers said their well-being had declined, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association. Only thirty percent of fathers said the same. Three-quarters of parents said they needed more emotional support than they received since March 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, many employers have demonstrated a willingness to help working parents. Nearly 80% of companies reported that supporting parents was a top priority in their benefits strategy. But fewer than half of employers in a 2020 Willis Towers Watson survey felt that their programs and policies were effective in supporting parents, despite it being a priority for 75% of respondents.
As employers continue to grapple with the stressors of working parents, they’re turning to a slate of support options, from remote work and subsidized childcare to extra days off and flexible scheduling. With employers’ responses growing more creative to support the mental health of working parents, it’s important to point out that not all benefits are created equal. Some are more effective than others. And demographic differences vary the level of impact on mental health.
The benefits parents care about most: time and money
In May 2022, BetterUp Labs collected data from 502 parents working full-time in the U.S. with one or more children living in their households. We asked respondents to select the benefits they find valuable in supporting their mental health. Benefits designed to provide parents money, time, and flexibility drew the most votes. These findings remained consistent across age groups.
Better pay was the most popular choice, drawing 64% of votes from all respondents. Wages are, in fact, on the rise: They’re currently growing faster than they have since the mid-1980s, according to CNN Business. But inflation is surging, too, which means cost-of-living expenses eat into the extras.
Included in surging expenses are childcare fees. Childcare costs for kids under 5 accounted for 17-20% of the average American worker’s annual earnings in 2020, according to a report from LendingTree. And care expenses rose 5% for infants and toddlers between 2018 and 2020.
Parents also value more vacation time and flexibility. Flexible work hours (62%), augmented PTO/vacation time (58%), flexible work arrangements (54%), and mental health days (48%) rounded out the top five responses. Paid parental leave came in seventh, at 36%.
Preferred benefits reveal unique challenges
In the sample, mothers represented 69% of respondents, and fathers represented 31%. Both groups tended to express value for benefits in similar numbers — better pay, flexible work, and augmented time off were still the top three benefits among both groups. But the groups showed preferences for certain options. More mothers than fathers valued mental health days and on-site childcare, for instance. And more fathers than mothers valued in-office snacks, meals and parties.
The difference in preferences may speak to challenges that are unique to mothers and fathers. Though caregiving tasks are more equally distributed between parents today, women complete more caregiving tasks than men. This reality may cause more women to place value on benefits that directly impact their ability to balance parenting duties against workplace responsibilities. As the historical breadwinners, fathers may be more inclined to value office parties and social events due to a growing sense of loneliness among workers.
Split preferences existed across age groups, as well. The majority of the sample group (62%) were millennial, and 33% were boomers or older and 4% hailed from Gen-Z. More millennial parents valued work-life balance than older parents, as displayed by the group’s interest in the 4-day workweek. Meanwhile, older parents valued better pay and onsite childcare more than millennials. This highlights the mindset shift of millennials compared to boomers when it comes to mental health and lifestyle.
While our sample was made up of working parents, the insights gained from the data may apply to all working adults. It wasn’t just parents whose mental health suffered during the pandemic; COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Employers took note. Companies big and small are coming up with benefits to lessen burnout, stress, and other indicators of mental health problems.
As the data highlighted, workers will value some benefits more than others, and demographic factors may influence their preferences. The onus is on employers to listen to workers and determine which benefits deliver the most support to a hurting workforce.
Sr. Insights Manager