Parent Mental Health Day 2024: Ways to support employees with parental burnout

It can be hard for many parents to juggle their home and work life as well as the numerous unplanned and ad-hoc events and tasks, which can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and being overwhelmed.

A UNICEF report in 2023 found that millions of parents are struggling with their mental health, with over two-thirds (70%) of parents surveyed in the report finding it increasingly difficult every year to raise their young children.

Ahead of Parent Mental Health Day on Saturday 27 January, we look at how you can differentiate between normal levels of stress and tiredness, and burnout in working parents.

What is burnout?

When things are busy, or we have too much on our plate, it is natural to feel a certain amount of stress. But there is a difference between general stress, burnout, and parental burnout. Typically, stressed people can see a future where once they get everything under control, they will feel better. However when the demands on us consistently exceed our mental and physical capacities, and we experience relentless pressure, we can start to feel unable to cope, resulting in burnout. 

Parental burnout is directly related to the role of being a parent. Typical symptoms include feeling mentally and physically exhausted, distant from your children, having a sense that you are ineffective and lacking in confidence in your ability to parent. It is more common amongst working parents.

The signs and symptoms of parental burnout

The symptoms of parental burnout mentioned above can lead to the following feelings and behaviours, short temper, disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety or panic, low mood and depression, not enjoying activities usually enjoyed, lack of motivation for everyday tasks, avoidance of responsibilities, feelings of failure and finding decision making harder than normal. In a workplace environment, these symptoms may present as follows:

Behavioural signs and symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Taking out frustrations on those around you
  • Skipping work
  • Being late for work or necessary appointments
  • Isolating from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope 

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Emotional signs and symptoms:
  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment 

How employers can support employees 

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ under UK law to protect employees’ health, safety, and welfare. It is important to recognise the parental demands of employees and evidence suggests that organisational parental support and family-friendly working practices can facilitate better coping and subsequent work outcomes.

Where someone is experiencing parental burnout, this can negatively impact the other parent, so feasibly they could also be at risk of burnout in the workplace too. Both parties may benefit from support to avoid lower productivity, performance issues, absenteeism and even a complete withdrawal from work for periods of time, which has an impact on colleagues and the wider business. 

Good communication

Good communication can help to address parental burnout and reduce absences. Remember to speak with the individual about how they are feeling and ask them how you as an employer can help. Could you provide more flexible working to help with childcare at home? Does the employee need some adaptations? Can you help them better manage their workload at work? Make sure communication is a two-way channel, so employees feel they can come and talk to you about their mental health when needed.

Check-in regularly

Having regular one-to-ones with an individual can help you to spot the signs and symptoms of parental burnout before they become a significant issue. Individuals experiencing parental burnout may feel isolated in their difficulties by connecting with them regularly, you can help them to recognise they are not alone and support is available. Regular check-ins also foster good relationships and show the employee that you have a genuine interest in their health and wellbeing and are keen to support them.

Have an open culture

There could be a culture of fear and stigma surrounding mental health issues in the workplace, meaning you avoid addressing mental health issues altogether. Create a company culture where talking about your mental health is as important as talking about your physical health. Break down the barriers and promote open conversations with line managers, HR professionals, or a mental health first aider.

Be flexible in your approach

Your employees will all have different ways of working and different ways of dealing with challenges. If an employee feels like they aren’t coping or need adaptations to their work, managers can be as flexible as possible so that they can best cater to the needs of their employees. Try to consider any modifications that can be made to your employee’s role, such as adjusting hours, workload, tactics, breaks, or perhaps providing a mentor.

It is important as an employer to be proactive in your approach towards parental burnout. Early detection can help prevent more severe and widespread issues from developing. By empowering employees to seek the right support and help we can help problems become more manageable and improve overall wellbeing.