Mother working while holding a child

While most of us have adapted to parenting and working as part of our normal everyday life, throwing a global pandemic into the mix is nothing short of confusing and chaotic.

The pandemic has changed the way we parent, as well as the way we work.  The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of schools and most daycare centres, as well as the cancellation of extracurricular activities and social events. Offices closed in order to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, forcing parents to establish new working-from-home routines. New social guidelines meant that parents and children were cut off from extended families and friends.  This new way of life has led to dramatic changes in work-life balance, and in many cases, has negatively impacted parents’ mental health.[1]

In a survey conducted between May 5 and June 19, 2020 by the Offord Centre for Child Studies and McMaster University, 60 per cent of caregivers reported on symptoms that met the criteria for depression.[2] This survey received noteworthy participation from 7,434 Parents/Caregivers, representing 14,000 children across Ontario.

The report states that “According to data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, this reported rate during the COVID-19 pandemic is 10 times the rate of mood disorders in adults over a 12-month period and more than five times lifetime prevalence rates. One-third of caregivers reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety within the last two weeks.”[3]

Chart 1

Figure 1: Offord Centre for Child Studies & McMaster University. (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ontario Families with Children: Findings from the Initial Lockdown. Retrieved from https://strongfamilies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/OPS-Executive-Report-v6-FINAL.pdf

While an employee’s home-life is typically viewed as off limits by employers, there is strong evidence to show that stepping up support from the workplace to ease some of the stress and anxiety that parents are experiencing at home, in turn benefits an organization.

Workplace Contribution to Parents’ Mental Well-being

Mental health is an issue that impacts every workplace in Canada. The workplace can contribute positively or negatively to a person’s mental health.

Employees were not the only ones reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Employers were faced with major shifts in workplace routines and productivity levels. How the workplace responds to these challenges is imperative in keeping its workforce strong and competitive.

Now more than ever, employers must focus on building a supportive work environment that promotes mental well-being for everyone. A special focus on parents, however, is important to consider. In a survey conducted by the Business Performance Innovation Network (BPI Network), 63% survey respondents claim they had experienced parental burnout – with 40% of those cases being described as “significant”.[4] The impacts of parental burnout can really harm the performance and overall health of employees.[5]

Organizations committed to cultivating a mentally safe and healthy work environment see marked improvement in:

  • employee engagement
  • communication effectiveness
  • process and risk management
  • prevention vs. correction

Failure to do so is also a costly mistake for Canadian organizations. According to CAMH, poor mental health is considered “a top cost driver” for employers.[6]  The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated to be approximately $51 billion each year, with $6.3 billion resulting from lost productivity. By 2041, it is estimated that the cumulative cost of poor mental health to the Canadian economy will exceed $2.5 trillion.[7]  It is important to note that these projections were made prior to the pandemic, and now it is reasonably assumed to be a much higher figure.

So what can we do?

Employee Check-In’s

Employers: Simply ask your employees how they are doing. Ask, “what can we do to support you?”

Parents: Check in with your colleagues. Have a virtual “water cooler” meeting. Form a tight support network; offer to complete a task for a colleague whose child is learning at home, or home sick from school or daycare.

A supportive culture yields more a more engaged workforce.

Embrace Work-Life Balance

Employers: Embrace flex hours. Remember that 9-5 is likely not feasible, especially for parents whose children are in full-time virtual school, or for parents whose children are home sick from school or daycare. In Ontario, it is currently a long endeavor to get them back to school/daycare after an illness!

Parents: Create a schedule. Sit with your children at lunch. Plan for interruptions. Manage your expectations. Be gentle with yourself.

Team Building Activities

Participate in a virtual cause.  Create physical challenges (a walking challenge, for example; who can log the most steps in a month for a gift card to a local business).  Join Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month.

Surveys

Conduct an Employee Engagement survey to better understand the challenges your team is facing. Learn where your strengths lie as a team, and share the good news. Understand what gaps exist, and share your plans for improvement.

Training

Employers: Invest in virtual training for your team to build common skill-sets, and develop your team’s confidence.

Team building is about providing the skills, training and resources that your employees need, so that they can work in harmony. But, to be truly effective, it needs to be a continual process, embedded into your team and organization’s culture.  Consider a training program, such as Master Certificate Program in the Management of Workplace Mental Health and Psychological Safety, or the Certificate in Process Management, that provide the opportunity for your employees to work towards a common goal during ‘regular’ business hours.

Parents: Consider a training course or program that provides the ability to work at your own pace.  Programs with pre-recorded modules will give you the flexibility you need, while enhancing your skill set.

Employee Assistance Programs

We need each other during these uncertain times. Business needs to continue, but with a renewed focus on employee well-being. Parents/caregivers are dealing with a lot right now, with more responsibilities at home and less opportunities for support.

Employers: Ensure your employees have access to help if they need it.

Parents: Take advantage of the benefits and resources made available to you through your employer.  Seek support to guard your mental health: https://www.ontario.ca/page/find-mental-health-support


[1] Offord Centre for Child Studies & McMaster University. (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ontario Families with Children:
Findings from the Initial Lockdown. Retrieved from https://strongfamilies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/OPS-Executive-Report-v6-FINAL.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Whalen, R. (2018, June 28). What Employers Should Know About Parental Burnout in the Workplace.
Retrieved from https://info.totalwellnesshealth.com/blog/what-employers-should-know-about-parental-burnout-in-the-workplace
[5] Ibid.
[6] CAMH. (2020). Workplace Mental Health – A Review and Recommendations, p.6.
[7] Ibid.

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