Under Pressure – How we can support working parents to manage stress?
How can we support working parents to manage stress during stress awareness month this year.
April is ‘Stress Awareness Month’ and in this blog we examine how stress impacts working parents and how HR can support working parents to manage stress.
What is Stress?
Stress is a reaction to feeling pressured or threatened and often occurs when we feel unable to control or manage our situation. Although small amounts are natural, intense or prolonged stress can negatively affect our mental health, potentially leading to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Hormones released in response to stress can also impact us physically, causing problems with breathing, sleep, digestion, vision and high blood pressure. In extreme cases, stress may cause more severe or long-term physical health problems.1
What causes parents to feel stressed at work?
Employees, with children or not, can suffer from stress around workload, priorities and deadlines. Difficult relationships with co-workers or managers can also be stressful and challenging. Stress levels can become problematic when issues are significant and ongoing, making it feel harder to cope at work.
Working-parents often have additional stresses regarding concerns for their kids, such as physical health, mental-wellbeing, behavioural issues or school challenges. These worries can’t necessarily be ‘switched off’ the moment they begin work which can add to stress levels for this demographic. In a study of over 6000 employees, full-time working mums of two kids were found to be 40% more stressed than those without children.2 The parental role is a hugely significant part of one’s life and identity and when its associated concerns are added to work difficulties, these employees can often feel overwhelmed. Parents worrying about their children is nothing new, but evidence suggests that stress around child development is particularly high since the pandemic. The American Psychological Association carried out a study last year and found that over 70% of parents were worried about the long- and short-term impact of disruptions to their children’s social, academic and emotional development3.
Conflicting demands of work and parenting are associated with higher levels of stress and lower levels of well-being for parents.2 A recent review of research, exploring mental health among U.S working mothers, highlighted this challenge as workers attempt to balance employee and parental responsibilities and fully meet the needs of both roles.4 The distress when a child’s appointment clashes with an important presentation, or when an over-running meeting delays a nursery pick-up can be all too familiar and such conflict can cause parents to feel as though they are falling short in all areas. The addition of guilt and performance insecurities from the perception that they are “not doing enough” can also add to the stress.5
The recent ‘cost of living crisis’ is increasing the financial stress of the British workforce, with prices of everyday items and services rising at the fastest rate in 30 years.6 In a recent survey of over 2000 employees (almost half working parents), 59% said they were worried about money and this stress can be exacerbated for parents with the responsibility of children to provide for.
MIND, a leading UK mental health charity, states that causes of stress include “discrimination, significant life-changes, overwhelming responsibility and uncertainty”1 – factors certainly relevant to many working parents. It is not surprising, then, that stress commonly affects this demographic as they balance families and careers. McCardel et al4 suggest that individuals can adopt strategies to support their mental health at work, but state that organizational policies will ultimately have the greatest impact and that workplaces need to be intentional in addressing parental mental health.
5 Top Tips for HR to support working parents to manage stress
The following tips are suitable for supporting all employees to manage stress, not necessarily working parents.
1. Know your people
Use company data analytics tools to fully understand your workforce. Examine the demographics, absence patterns and employee feedback to get a more detailed view of the factors that impact your employees. This will enable you to address specific concerns, such as stress, and be proactive in supporting the parents within your organisation.
2. Communicate and care
Clearly communicate and demonstrate an empathetic, supportive culture where employees are listened to and cared for. It’s not enough to just outline these values on infrequently-read policy documents; parents need to clearly hear the message that they are not alone, they are understood and they have the right people available to reach out to if they are struggling. They need to experience a working environment where they can express their needs and be confident that they will be heard and supported.
3. Lose the stigma
Parents need to feel able to access the support networks in place. A recent survey showed that nearly half of respondents still feel uncomfortable discussing mental health in the workplace.6 This stigma must be openly addressed and dispelled and a structure where these conversations can take place must be created. HR is also key in helping managers to be the first line of support for their teams and has an important role in training and equipping them for such discussions.
4. Promote Flexibility
Parenting demands can be unpredictable, therefore rigid work structures that fail to accommodate these can increase stress for working parents. HR can help ease the pressure by promoting flexible working, both regarding timings and location. They can also work with individuals to support them in developing effective flexible-working approaches that are beneficial for their managers and teams.
5. Be proactive and preventative
Taking practical, proactive steps to prevent stress from impacting employees is crucial. Offering parents space and opportunity to talk and share concerns can help address problems before they escalate. These could include parental support groups, buddy systems and regular 1-1s for managers to check-in with parents on their teams. Offering tailored resources, such as parental coaching sessions or webinars, gives them the tools and confidence to reflect, strategise, plan and potentially prevent stress from becoming unmanageable.
Parent and Professional – supporting stress management
Parent and Professional specialise in enabling organisations to establish healthy cultures that promote employee well-being and effectively support working parents in managing stress. They also provide coaching for parents focusing on minimising and managing stress as they balance work and family. P&P’s training and coaching programmes are recognised to have significant benefit for both individuals and the organisations to which they belong. A sixty-minute work-family balance webinar, drawing from specialist research and expertise, has been shown to deliver particularly positive outcomes around stress management. It is a calming, reflective coaching-style space, enabling employees to embrace new ways of thinking about achieving a sense of balance, well-being and purpose.
Contact Us for more information.
Andi Simmons, Professional Coach and Psychologist
Individual stress test https://www.stress.org.uk/individual-stress-test
Corporate stress test https://www.stress.org.uk/corporate-stress-test
Recognising stress in the workplace https://www.stress.org.uk/recognising-workplace-stress
HSE guidelines for workplaces https://www.stress.org.uk/hse-guidelines
Legislation guidelines for the workplace https://www.stress.org.uk/legal-requirements
3.American Psychological Association (2022) Stress in America: two year pandemic anniversary survey. The Harris Poll on behalf of the APA. Survey of 3012 adults, 7-14 February, 2022,
4.McCardel, R.E., Loedding, E.H., Padilla, H.M. Examining the Relationship Between Return to Work After Giving Birth and Maternal Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 2022; 26 (9)
5.Asare, T (2023) The Blend: how to successfully manage a career and a family. Headline:London
6.Wellness at work report (2022). Employment hero survey – 2,056 participants (U.K. employees), inc 838 working parents