Life Wellbeing Working parents are stressed and fatigued, research finds

Working parents are stressed and fatigued, research finds

Working parent
Australian parents have reported feeling stressed and unsupported when it comes to managing a work-life balance. Photo: Getty
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Working parents are struggling to juggle their time between work and home, and it’s having an enormous effect on their families and their employers.

Only 15 per cent of young Aussie workers (aged 16 to 40) surveyed in one project strongly agreed they could find the right balance between work and family responsibilities.

This survey, from the University of Sydney, also identified a glaring gap between the perceptions of young men without childhood, opposed to men with children, as to what childcare support was available for working fathers.

While the expectations of fathers in the workforce might be changing, there’s still a lot of status quo remaining for mothers returning to employment.

The rate of women in full-time jobs hasn’t changed over the past 40 years, co-author Professor Marian Baird said.

“Over the same time, we’ve seen mothers working part-time to accommodate caring responsibility,” Professor Baird wrote of the findings, in Journal of Sociology.

“The fact that women make up almost 70 per cent of all part-time employees shows how gendered caring is.”

Stressed and strained

The National Working Families report summary was also released this week, which takes in the experiences and attitudes of 6000 parents and carers.

It found a lack of balance between work and home life was affecting individuals on many fronts, as well as reducing their work productivity – parents were commonly feeling stressed, anxious, fatigued and depressed from trying to juggle responsibilities.

Head of Parents at Work and report author Emma Walsh said there were organisations that offered flexible, family-friendly working conditions – but the rollout of these kinds of practices varied.

“The results clearly reveal that parents and carers across Australia are finding it difficult to balance their work and family commitments and report their personal wellbeing and family relationships suffer as a result,” Ms Walsh said.

“The study found nearly half of all participants said that a worker’s commitment to their job was questioned if they used family-friendly work arrangements.”

Two-thirds of respondents said when they got home from work, they felt too emotionally drained to engage with their families.

One-third said their relationships with partners or children had been strained from spending too much time at work.

Almost half (44 per cent) of surveyed parents said more flexibility in working hours and locations would help them find a fairer balance, and be happier at home and at work.

Thirty eight per cent want their work to offer improved childcare access or rebates, 36 per cent say they’d benefit from ‘family-friendly’ champions in the workplace, 29 per cent would just like their workload reduced, and 27 per cent want their managers to have training on how to develop family-friendly policies.

Less work, more play

The UK’s Labour Party is vowing to segue to four-day working weeks within the next decade, if it’s elected.

The argument supporting a reduction is that it gives people more time to do what they want to do – as opposed to what they’re obligated to do – which boosts happiness levels and increases productivity.

The New Daily spoke in September to CEO Kath Blackham, whose digital marketing business Versa claims to be the first Australian company to bring in the 32-hour week.

Ms Blackham made the change in July last year in a bid to mitigate the amount of stress and burnout in her employees.

She said the company’s productivity hadn’t changed in the 12-plus months, but they’d seen a positive change in staff retention, rising from 77 per cent to 88 per cent.

“The biggest issue that our industry is facing is anxiety and depression, so we need to face that head on – otherwise we’re going to lose people from the industry, and lose people altogether,” Ms Blackham told The New Daily.

Macquarie University professor of philosophy Nicholas Smith wrote this week that there’s still one big flaw with dropping a work day: It doesn’t mean we will automatically get to spend it how we choose.

There’s still family matters and housework to tend to – the majority of which is done by women.

“(Studies) show free time is unequally distributed between the sexes. Men enjoy a larger share of socially available free time, because women spend more time outside paid work on duties related to child rearing and care giving,” Professor Smith published in The Conversation.

“Working fewer hours might give women more free time. But it won’t of itself distribute free and unfree time more equally. To address the injustice in the unequal apportionment of free time, some equalising redistribution is needed.

“It could be that men, given more free time, will do more non-autonomous activity in the domestic sphere. But that’s a presumption. If a man is putting his feet up on Saturday and Sunday, why expect something different if he also gets Friday off?”

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