Balancing work and family life isn’t an easy task for anyone, and many working parents understand this the best. This Parental Mental Health Day, it’s worth taking a look at how you are actively supporting those with parental responsibilities in your business, to prioritise their mental health and well-being and foster a healthy workplace culture.

In this article, we will delve into the signs that an employee with parental responsibilities is struggling to balance work and life, the disadvantages this can cause, and the solutions employers can implement to make a real impact.

Parental Mental Health Day – recognising the struggles

Being aware of and recognising the signs that a parent in your workforce is struggling to balance work and life, is the first step towards offering support. Common signs include difficulties with timekeeping, pushing back or missing deadlines and meetings; frequent absences or tardiness in the office; not taking regular breaks; decreased productivity, and noticeable changes in behaviour or mood. These signs can manifest differently in each person, but it’s important to recognise them as a burden to that individual rather than the business and take empathetic action where possible.

When someone is struggling to find balance, it not only affects their personal life but also their performance at work. The stress and pressure of juggling multiple responsibilities can impact on their engagement and performance, lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and ultimately, burn-out. This not only impacts the individual but has a knock-on effect on the wider team.

When you consider there are around eight million families with dependent children in the UK, with over 73% of those having both parents in employment[1], it’s essential for employers to understand the impact these challenges have on their employees and provide the necessary support to help them overcome these difficulties – for the sake of the individual, their colleagues and the organisation as a whole.

What are the key barriers your employees are facing?

Working parents face numerous barriers when trying to balance work and family life. One of the primary obstacles is the lack of flexible work arrangements. According to ONS data[2], around 3 in 10 mothers (28.9%) and fathers (30.9%) report facing some sort of obstacle in fulfilling childcare responsibilities within their work life.

Many struggle to find a work schedule that accommodates their family needs, around childcare or school drop-offs, especially if work is expected to be undertaken within certain hours of the day. Similarly, capped annual leave and paid time off, especially over periods like the summer holidays, can create real issues.

Employers can address this barrier by offering flexible work options, such as remote work, flexible hours, or compressed work weeks. At the start of this year, we implemented a reduction in hours across the business. Where hours used to be irregular and longer (8.30-17.30 on Monday, 9.00 – 17.30 Tuesday through Thursday, and 9.00-17.00 on Friday), we’ve now established a routine of 9.00-17.00 daily with an hour for lunch, which was previously 45 minutes). We’re anticipating this will boost morale and give our team a stronger sense of work-life balance, and one that doesn’t chop and change for those reliant on routine, such as parents.

Solutions that make a real impact

To make a real impact, employers need to implement a range of solutions and not just offer a blanket fix. Not all working parents have the same childcare arrangements or schedules, so a generic policy won’t work for all. Also, be mindful to not just single working parents out; offer flexibility to all employees across the board to create an inclusive culture.

This could include allowing employees to work from home, adjusting their schedules to accommodate family needs, or providing options for job-sharing. Nurturing a workplace culture which acknowledges outputs and results rather than hours worked or time spent working, can both motivate more valuable work and allow individuals to negotiate their workload with their working habits.

Beyond all this, don’t forget that the most valuable thing to a parent is more time – offer varied types of leave, paid where possible, to alleviate time crunches between personal life and working life.

The role of leadership and taking the initiative to foster a healthy workplace culture

Leadership plays a crucial role in fostering a healthy workplace culture that supports employees with parental responsibilities. It starts with setting an example and leading by empathy.

Managers and supervisors should, first and foremost, be understanding and as flexible as possible when it comes to their employees’ family responsibilities. Allow your team to work in the way they are most productive and recognise that fulfilling a job role can’t be one-size-fits-all. Support those who need it and ensure that any arrangements work for both the employee and the business.

However, depending on the nature of your work, it may also be necessary to manage expectations. If certain flexibility isn’t achievable, explain why, and offer an alternative where possible. Offering that empathy and commitment to support is an important step in building a healthy relationship between your employees’ needs and actualisation of solutions. Keep an open mind and explore all possibilities on a case-by-case basis. It’s crucial not to judge based on past experiences with similar situations – as highlighted, individual needs are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution!

What difficulties might you not know about?

While some difficulties faced by working parents may be visible, there are also hidden challenges that employers may not be aware of. Some may have partners or extended family who live or work overseas. For individuals who rely on this family for childcare, this can have a knock-on effect for the duration these carers are away from home. Similarly, for those with long distance families, they might want to spend extended time abroad with their family, but are limited by their holiday allowance, particularly with the knock-on effect of covering school holidays due to the lack of affordable and quality childcare options.

To support working parents, especially those with complex family arrangements, employers can introduce flexible working arrangements like flextime and remote work options. Extended and flexible leave policies, including extended family leave and options for longer unpaid leaves, can also provide much-needed relief. Additionally, subsidised childcare, on-site childcare facilities, and assistance during school holidays can alleviate the burden of childcare costs and logistics. Crucially, it is important that the introduction of new policies do not hinder professional development, allowing employees to balance their personal and professional lives without compromising career progression.

What else can be done?

In addition to flexible working arrangements, employers should provide mental health resources, such as access to counselling services, parenting workshops, or online resources to equip parents with the tools and support they need to navigate the challenges they face and maintain their mental well-being.

This sort of offering fosters an open culture, where employees feel comfortable asking for what they need. For example, we have employee health plans available which include mental health support to everyone should they need it. One initiative we have introduced specifically to create a supportive network within the business, is a parent group chat which includes all parents within the company. This has become a place where parents share advice and activities, from the best soft play areas to upcoming family friendly events – essentially banding them together to share experiences and solidarity in their individual situations.

Don’t overlook Parental Mental Health Day

Implementing strategies to support working parents should be an integral part of any business. Not only does it create a positive and nurturing work environment, but it also yields numerous benefits for both the employees and the organisation. Supporting working parents can lead to increased employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity. It also helps attract top talent by showcasing a family-friendly work culture.

If you take a moment to think about anything today, let it be if you’re doing enough for the sake of the parents in your workplace, and whether you could be doing more to improve their situation, and the care of employees broadly in your business.


[1] ONS Data Families and the labour market, UK: 2019

[2] ONS Data Families and the labour market, UK: 2019

Sinead Hall
Chief People Officer at durhamlane | Website | + posts

With over 16 years of HR, People, and Business Operations experience across various sectors, Sinead Hall is a CIPD Associate and the Chief People Officer at durhamlane, a sales performance and business growth consultancy. Her role involves aligning the current 5-year business strategy with an industry-leading employer of choice HR&D Strategy, covering areas such as budgeting, resourcing, HRIS, succession planning, employer brand, performance management, and data-driven people metrics and analytics.