Burnout isn’t always about work. That new mom for whom you just threw a “welcome back” party – the one with the increasingly dark circles around her eyes? And that dad with three kids under 10, who looks like he’s struggling to stay awake during afternoon meetings? Parenting burnout, not work burnout, is what’s hurting these people.
A recent study of parental burnout published in Frontiers in Psychology found that the symptoms mirrored that of work burnout: exhaustion, emotional withdrawal, and feelings of inadequacy. The study found that 12% of parents surveyed suffered from high levels of burnout – that is, experiencing all of these symptoms in a single week.
While you can’t solve all your employees’ parenting challenges (unless you want to show up for 2am feedings), there are good arguments for giving parents support and resources for coping with parenting burnout. Employees who suffer from parental burnout may be disengaged from everything in life, and that includes their work. You don’t want great employees losing their passion for work – or worse, leaving the job – because balancing parenting and work becomes too overwhelming.
Here are four ways you can help parents address burnout:
Allow employees to convert sick time or vacation days to PTO. Provide extra days for on-the-edge parents to take kids to the doctor, catch up on sleep, or simply get laundry done. Time away from the desk may be one the best benefits you can give to a parent. In fact, it can also be a good recruitment tool if talent in your market is scarce.
Offer places to vent – in person or online. If you see enough parents suffering from burnout, the time may be right to start a weekly brown-bag support group. Beyond just blowing off steam, a group can allow parents to glean ideas from those who are farther along on the parenting journey. “Connecting employees with others dealing with similar issues can help troubleshoot work-life struggles and alleviate some of the stress of being a working parent,” reports the Care.com blog, which offers tips on creating support groups. For example, the group can check with HR periodically to bring up ideas for work-life balance initiatives.
Grokker customer Pinterest has an employee group for moms that includes time for a “mom share,” where members can talk about their personal experiences in a supportive environment. (For more employee-centric ideas like the “mom share,” download Grokker CEO Lorna Borenstein’s ebook on “7 Tips To Cultivate An Amazing Culture.”)
If in-person meetups aren’t practical for your company, consider setting up a Slack channel or Google group and seed it with discussion ideas. Slack suggests setting up a private channel if employees are talking about sensitive issues.
Help parents recognize the signs of burnout. By doing this, parents may be more likely to ask for assistance before the burnout gets out of hand. Psychology Today writer and stress expert Paula Davis-Laack offers a list of parent burnout warning signs, including feeling overly cynical or becoming emotionally detached from their kids and others around them. Davis-Laack also lists situations that contribute to burnout, like work overload and lack of connection with colleagues. These are areas where parental burnout and job burnout can intersect.
Ask leaders to share their “war stories.” When leaders are open about their own struggles with balancing work and family, employees are encouraged to open up about their own challenges — and even ask for help. When Lorna’s mother was undergoing cancer treatment, “I didn’t pretend this wasn’t happening,” she says. “It was a big part of my life, and I wasn’t hiding it from my employees, my partners, or our investors.” And when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in 2015 that he was taking a two-month parental leave after the birth of his daughter, it offered a good example of a business leader recognizing the value of balancing work with family needs.
In your own organization, are there parents in leadership positions who can raise the profile of their struggles? They can take part in a brown-bag parent support group, or talk about HR benefits like family leave in the context of their own challenges. These stories can give parents confidence to seek assistance if burnout is affecting their well-being.