Working Mothers Are Essential
March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. It is a time to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women such as Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth, to United States’ history. Part of what makes these and many other women in our history remarkable is their ability to overcome adversity and achieve greatness.
Undoubtedly, they wrestled with work-life balancing issues just as modern women do. Work-life issues have reached a breaking point for today’s working mother given the added and unprecedented pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly, working fathers have struggled with work-life issues as well. However, from managing remote schooling while rearranging their workdays to fill childcare gaps, there is no question it’s working mothers who are, for the most part, shouldering the brunt of caring for children throughout the pandemic. A recent CNBC poll found 53% of parents say that mom is the primary caregiver in their home, and a recent UrbanSitter survey indicated less than a third of parents surveyed agree that caring for the children is split evenly among both parents.
It’s hard to quantify what this added burden is doing to our working mother workforce, but workplace burnout is certainly present. According to a new analysis conducted by Maven, a consulting company, of the roughly 35 million U.S. working mothers at 2019’s end, about 9.8 million are suffering from workplace burnout. Just by virtue of being a working mother, women are 28% more likely to experience burnout than fathers. Further, the analysis revealed cases of burnout are higher among Black, Asian and Latino mothers compared to their White counterparts.
It appears that among the factors contributing to burnout is lack of support. About 42% of parents surveyed by UrbanSitter say they do not currently have childcare, and 33% rely on family members to care for their children while they work. Being physically present at home during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily help. Of the 55% of parents surveyed who said they’ve transitioned to working from home during the pandemic, a majority stated they still need childcare in order to successfully perform their job and have found the situation very difficult to navigate.
The stress of multi-tasking family and work responsibilities has severely impacted the state of working mothers’ mental health. One recent Canadian study of new moms found that 40% had depressive symptoms, compared to 15% before the pandemic, and 72% experienced anxiety, a 43% increase from before the pandemic.
This is not a short-term issue. The pandemic and its effect on working mothers has far-reaching implications, the likes of which society hasn’t seen before. According to Katy Ryder, Maven CEO, about 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce entirely this year. That is a staggering number and should raise alarm bells for companies and our society as a whole.
In case anyone doubts “workplace burnout” is anything more than just a catchphrase, it should be noted the World Health Organization added it as a syndrome to the International Classification of Diseases last year. The condition is qualified as a “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the WHO. Clinical-level burnout is a serious condition with physical and mental symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, exhaustion, nausea, chest tightness, excessive crying and even hair loss. Working mothers need help, and they need it now.
There are concrete ways to reduce the burden being placed on working mothers during the pandemic including tapping into support systems. Gone are the days of maintaining a façade that “all is ok.” Parents can join forces with other working parents and share remote-school duties. In such a scenario, children rotate among several homes during the week for class and study time, giving working mothers alone time to get office work done or just to recharge.
Open lines of communication are essential. This could mean having a frank conversation with a working father or the spouse typically less encumbered by child-rearing duties about how they can help. Working fathers can assume an entire child-related task like monitoring homework, communicating with the school, managing doctor visits and other healthcare or planning social events like birthday parties and playdates.
Working mothers should cut out all excesses and extras from their schedules and take “self-care” seriously. This means telling employers they’d rather do a quick phone call or email exchange rather than a Zoom call. It means telling significant others or spouses they need to cover preparing and cleaning up after dinner. It means understanding and accepting all family members can sleep in an unmade bed every now and then. Differentiating between what tasks are essential and which ones can go by the wayside can make a world of difference when attempting to take back one’s time and do away with energy zapping activities.
It also helps for women to know what feeds them and invest in that activity. Dr. Lucia Ciciolla, a researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University, has found that there are four important factors that align with a mom’s well-being: satisfaction with friendships, authenticity, feeling seen and loved, and feeling comforted. Dr. Ciciolla says that the quality of our relationships is correlated with emotional health and satisfaction in life. She further hypothesizes that workplace burnout’s intensity can be lessened if women focus on nurturing the authenticity of life partnerships, family ties and friendships.
There are ways in which employers can, and should, address the workplace burnout crises among working mothers. Next week’s blog will focus on ways in which companies can support working mothers now and post-pandemic. Smart HR can help companies identify specific causes for workplace burnout among working mothers and the employee population as a whole and make recommendations for change. Call today.