Parental Mental Health Day (27th January), founded by stem4, is an important reminder to reflect on the challenges parents may face with their mental wellbeing; it also marks a prime opportunity for employers to ensure they know the signs that could indicate a working parent is struggling and how to provide them with the support they need.

Signs a working parent might be struggling

Working parents often have multiple responsibilities to juggle which can lead to high levels of stress, eventually having a detrimental impact on their mental health. Being a parent is hard and worrying about your children can really take its toll on mental wellbeing.

The telltale signs a working parent could be struggling with their mental health are no different to any member of staff who could be suffering with poor mental health. It’s important to look out for any changes from a person’s normal self which could be physical, emotional or behavioural. Examples of changes that could indicate an employee is experiencing poor wellbeing include, but are not limited to, a lack of motivation and productivity, unusual lateness, an unhealthy change in appearance and being abnormally quiet or withdrawn.

Workplace mental health first aiders are a great way for organisations to provide support. Mental health first aiders are trained in the art of identifying telltale signs and are in a qualified position to listen if an employee is open to talking about how they feel. They can provide empathy and crucially direct staff to where they can receive help if they need it.

Creating a mental health first aid community is effective for ensuring an organisation has staff at all different levels of the business who understand the common types of mental health struggles and how these might be displayed at work.

Another positive outcome of mental health first aid training is to help reduce the stigma surrounding poor mental health and to create an open dialogue around the struggles we’re all vulnerable to go through as human beings and as parents: a key way to do this is to nurture a genuine wellbeing culture.

How to create an authentic wellbeing culture

Whilst specific days targeted at important causes help raise awareness and prompt open discussions, it’s crucial to keep mental health on the agenda every month. Employers should prioritise establishing a clear, consistent and continuous message about their commitment to supporting the mental wellbeing of their staff, so employees feel comfortable talking about whether they are struggling throughout the year.

Employers should strive to normalise talking about mental health; we will all go through challenges in life, such as bereavement or menopause, which will undoubtedly impact our mental wellbeing. If we encourage an acceptance of how normal it is to experience ups and downs in our mental wellbeing, staff are more likely to talk when something has gone wrong and they need help or support.

If employees feel open to doing so, storytelling is a powerful way to create transparency and communication when it comes to the lived experience professionals have had with their mental health and how they navigated this. It’s also a great idea to invite external experts into an organisation, to tell their mental health stories and inspire others to speak out and realise they are not alone.

The more professionals who are upskilled in understanding mental health, the better; at Hays, we run a manager-specific training course called ‘Managing Well’, which is aimed at line managers for improving their own, as well as their team’s, wellbeing. This is a great way to ensure people managers feel equipped with the right knowledge, skills and tools to support their staff, which significantly contributes to a positive wellbeing culture.

How to support working parents with their mental health

With the right foundations that are laid by an authentic wellbeing culture, a working parent who is struggling should feel comfortable discussing this with their employer, and the most important way to support them is to listen and show empathy. It’s rarely the words a person uses when supporting someone in a time of need that make them feel better, but rather the way they make them feel heard by showing a real sense of empathy. Employers should listen to concerns from employees and, where relevant, talk through the options with a working parent who is suffering with their mental health. This could include counselling services available through the organisation, a temporary adjustment to their role or they may need time off to recover.

Employers ought to recognise presenteeism, when people work despite being ill, and help to create a level playing field when it comes to mental and physical health. Just as someone is likely to take time off work and get the help they need for a physical concern, employers should encourage the same if a member of staff is suffering with their mental health.

It’s important to recognise the difference between stress and pressure, and to ensure professionals have the skills and resources they need to do the job at hand. Therefore, employers could focus on upskilling working parents who are feeling overwhelmed to prioritise their workload and manage stress, which is also an effective way to prevent mental health struggles from cropping up in the long run.

Employee networks are an effective way of acknowledging and understanding the challenges different groups of professionals face and hearing from these people firsthand how they feel their employer could support them. For example, establish a ‘Parents Network’, so the resources offered can be shaped around the feedback given from working parents and encourages a continuous dialogue across all areas of the business. This way, employers can make sure the initiatives they have in place are fit for purpose.

Having said that, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in terms of supporting staff with their mental health, so it’s about listening to the different needs of individuals and offering a wide range of support to reflect this.

Final thoughts

Whilst there are many ways employers can support working parents with their mental health, it’s also important to empower people to make positive changes to protect their mental health. On top of this, not everyone will be open to engaging in mental health initiatives all the time and that’s okay too. It’s crucial for employers to be there when a member of staff is struggling and to create a sense of openness, so that working parents feel assured they will be adequately supported, and not judged, for speaking out when times get tough.

Hannah Pearsall
Head of Wellbeing at Hays | Website | + posts

Hannah Pearsall, with 22 years at Hays, currently serves as the Head of Wellbeing. She leads a UK&I network of HUMAN champions and a global wellbeing forum, focusing on improving workplace wellbeing. Involved in the leadership team at Let’s Improve Workplace Wellbeing, she also participates in a government group supporting women in the workplace. Hannah is a licensed Mental Health First Aid Instructor, accredited Wellbeing Coach, and is pursuing an MSc. in Workplace Health and Wellbeing.