More than a third (34 per cent) of parents feel balancing work commitments with family responsibilities has taken a toll on their health or mental wellbeing, a new study has discovered.
The research by Willis Towers Watson also revealed that a similar proportion (30 per cent) of workers felt that employers should be doing more to help staff with childcare, while only 27 per cent of the 1,123 employees surveyed said their employer currently offers childcare support or benefits.
“Supporting working parents can have a positive impact for organisations in a number of key areas,” said Mike Blake, director in Willis Towers Watson’s health and benefits division. “By looking after their financial and emotional wellbeing, incidents of sickness absence can be reduced and productivity can be increased through improved levels of motivation and engagement. Furthermore, support for this important workforce demographic can reinforce an organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice and, in turn, help boost recruitment and retention.”
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday revealed that the number of mothers in employment increased by 11.8 percentage points to 73.7 per cent between 1996 and 2017, the equivalent of 1.2 million additional women in work.
“The continuing rise in the number of working mothers has been a major feature of the labour market in England in the last two decades,” said Emily Glastonbury, ONS statistician. “Reasons for this might include more flexible working practices, shared parental leave and changes to government policy on the availability of childcare.”
Successive governments have made strides in recent years to introduce new rights and benefits for working parents, but there is evidence to suggest that they may be underused. For example, shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015 to allow parents of newborn children to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay between them. However, figures obtained by law firm EMW earlier this month suggested that fewer than 9,000 parents took advantage of the leave in the year to March 2017.
Meanwhile, experts warned People Management last month that the 30 hours a week of free childcare, which has been available for three and four-year-olds since the start of this month, did not offer a “complete solution” for working parents.
And research published by Crossland Employment Solicitors in July found that working parents could be unnecessarily spending £1,800 a year on childcare because they were unaware they had a right to unpaid parental leave if they had been with the same employer for a year or more.
But Julia Waltham, head of policy and communications at Working Families, told People Management that government intervention alone wouldn’t solve working parents woes. “Support around childcare is only one piece of the work-life balance jigsaw,” she said. “Without more decent part-time and flexible jobs, policies aimed at helping working parents with childcare… won't help them feel less stressed and burnt out.”