Closing The Gap

4.8 million working parents have 'preventable' burnout—here are 5 things that can ease the stress

Belinda Howell | Getty Images

Roughly 1 in 4 working parents is experiencing burnout at work, according to a new survey of nearly 500,000 workers conducted by Maven, a virtual clinic for women's and family health, and Great Place to Work, a global firm that researches workplace culture.

The result is an estimated 4.8 million cases of "preventable" burnout across the country, the report states, as parents continue to juggle home and workplace challenges two years into the pandemic.

Even as schools and child care centers reopened across the country, parents continue to navigate additional health and safety precautions for their kids, says Karsten Vagner, senior vice president of people for Maven. And the latest omicron variant adds another layer of uncertainty for the outlook of in-person learning and child care. While kids and teens have been cleared to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in recent months, children under 5 still can't be vaccinated.

Simply put, Vagner tells CNBC Make It, "parents continue to burn out and experience exhaustion from the pandemic, which is not over."

5 key drivers to attract, retain and support working parents

Burned out workers are more than twice as likely to quit their job, the report says, which could spell trouble for employers during the Great Resignation. Some 64% of working parents are considering a career change, including leaving their jobs, according to one estimate from Catalyst. 

But taking a closer look at employees who said they were not experiencing burnout, Maven and Great Place to Work identified five characteristics of a workplace that helped parents feel more supported, which could boost hiring and retention efforts.

Working parents are less likely to report feelings of work burnout when they:

  1. See benefits as special and unique for their needs
  2. Feel able to be themselves at work
  3. Experience a psychologically healthy work environment
  4. Believe leaders genuinely care for them as people
  5. Feel treated as a full member regardless of their job role

It makes sense that supporting working parents starts with providing holistic, flexible and inclusive benefits, Vagner says.

In order to address the nuanced and evolving challenges of working parents, business leaders should gather specific data and "not treat parents as a monolith," Vagner says. For example, the parent of a child with a disability will have different concerns from the parent of a child who is adopted. Further, parents of a newborn may need different resources compared with parents of a teenager.

Leaders must also approach the challenges, and solutions, from an intersectional lens: Working moms experience higher levels of burnout than working dads, and moms of color most of all.

All of this — providing good benefits, considering employee needs, creating a supportive and caring work environment — is good for retaining employees and attracting new ones, Vagner adds, which can reduce burnout even further. One of the biggest drivers of burnout during the pandemic has been simply too much work among too few people, which has been made worse during times of high turnover beginning in the spring of 2021.

Supporting working moms throughout their careers

The best workplaces for parents, as recognized by Great Place to Work, are more likely to offer a variety of benefits that support family planning and child-care decisions: 75% provide fertility support programs, 66% offer adoption support, 58% cover egg-freezing costs, 44% subsidize child care expenses, and 43% provide surrogacy coverage.

But supporting employees goes far beyond helping new parents return to the workplace and manage care responsibilities for young kids. Working mothers, and mothers who are Black, Hispanic, Asian and Indigenous in particular, are more likely to experience burnout due to lack of support and recognition in their career, ranging from unequal pay to stalled promotions.

According to the report, moms in managerial roles are less likely than dads in managerial roles to report they feel they are paid fairly, recognized for opportunities, promoted or involved in decision-making. The opportunity gap between moms and dads only grows as they move up in managerial responsibility, from front-line to middle managers and especially at the executive level.

While workplaces must support new moms returning to the workplace after childbirth, Vagner says, they must also do a better job supporting the careers of working moms long after. In addition to a flexible work environment that accommodates their family life, that could include more learning and development opportunities, stretch assignments, clear paths to promotion, and mentorship and sponsorship at work.

Check out:

Companies prioritized mental health during Covid, so why are we still so burned out?

Nearly 2 in 3 women who left the workforce during Covid plan to return—and most want to enter this field

3 ways employers can better support parents and caregivers at work

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How this 25-year-old earns and spends $33,000 a year in Chicago
How this 25-year-old earns and spends $33,000 a year in Chicago