Balancing work and family life is taking a real toll on personal wellbeing, study finds

by Freya Lucas

November 04, 2019

Over 60 per cent of parents and carers report difficulties in looking after their own physical and mental health, as they try to balance competing work and family pressures, a new national survey has found. 

 

The penalties are not only personal, with one third of parents reporting that the combination of managing work and family is contributing to stress and tension in their relationships with partners and children, suggesting that more children than previously considered are living with high levels of stress in their home environments. 

 

The National Working Families Report,released last week, analysed data from more than 6,000 Australian parents and carers. Commissioned by Parents At Work with the support of a national network of employers and parenting advocacy group, Karitane, the findings will be of interest not only to early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector members who are parents, but also to those who are seeking to better partner with families in creating optimal environments in which children can grow and thrive. 

 

Parents At Work CEO Emma Walsh said that the majority of working parents and carers reported difficulty striking the right balance between their work and family commitments, something she says has “important implications” for both families and employers. 

 

“One in four parents and carers reported an increased intention to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, because they struggle to combine caring with their job,” she said. 

 

Working parents and carers also find it difficult to manage household chores and caring for family, with half of all women, and one third of men who were parenting or caring reported they were under “a lot or a great deal” of stress when juggling work and family roles. 

 

Two thirds of respondents said they felt too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family, while half had missed out on family activities in the past month, due to time they had to spend at work, the survey found. 

 

Ms Walsh said most individuals reported that their job helped them feel personally fulfilled, but highlighted the need for more support to better manage the pressures of work and care demands. 

 

“Top priorities included a need for more flexibility over when and where they worked, reduction in job pressure and overall workload, and help with care services such as having access to child care at work, or being offered child care rebates from their employer,” she said. 

 

Respondents wanted more models in their workplace, seeking inspiration from others, or feeling that there was a workplace ‘champion’ who would advocate for, and foster, a family-friendly workplace culture, as well as personal health and well-being and parenting education programs at work. 

 

Speaking on the gender lines in terms of worklife balance, the report found that women continue to carry the ‘caring load’ and that employers could do more to support men to use flexible work and parental leave. Report authors called on employers to “address the financial, social and cultural barriers that prevent men sharing the caring load to level the playing field for both women and men to contribute at work and home.” 

 

Karitane CEO Grainne O’Loughlin said parents taking stress home from work impacts on their personal and family wellbeing, particularly when there is a lack of employer support. Half of all parents returning to work after parental leave report significant fatigue; a third are worried and anxious; and one in five report feeling depressed. 

 

Additional key findings in the report include: 

 

  • Flexible work is still seen as being primarily for women, with more than two thirds of survey respondents agreeing that it is more acceptable for women to use family-friendly work options than men. 

 

  • Those not using flexible working arrangements were concerned about negative career impacts if they did use flexible work. 

 

  • Others were concerned their supervisor would be reluctant to allow them to take up flexible working arrangements even if offered by the organisation. 

 

  • One-third of parents and carers reported having missed out on opportunities for promotion due to their use of flexible work, although this was more common for women (35 per cent), than men (14 per cent). 

 

  • On return from parental leave, 28 per cent of mothers stayed with their employer but reported changes to their job. In comparison, 96 per cent of fathers returned to their same employer and only 6 per cent reported any job change. 

 

More information about Parents At Work and the 2019 National Working Families Report may be accessed here. 

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