The Elusive Work-Life Balance: How to Support Working Parents Achieve Equilibrium

April 2, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-clocktime

A genuine work-life balance is something most of us are chasing throughout our careers. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that values its employees you are halfway there, but there are many factors that contribute to achieving an equilibrium.

For most professionals in today’s 24/7 digital age, the pressure to be available around the clock is real. TIme is a precious commodity, with many people struggling to cope with the resulting stress and growing demands on their time within and outside of the workplace.

Covid drew work-life balance to the attention of us all and many people found that their roles were simply unsustainable in the face of other demands on their lives, while others found that remote working made things much easier. 

It is undeniable that the way we work has changed dramatically over the past few years, and has undoubtedly transformed the traditional working day for most people forever. New working practices after the pandemic resulted in many positive steps towards a better work-life balance, particularly for working parents who are constantly juggling childcare, working hours and the parental guilt of not being present for key milestones and occasions. 

In a recent EY global survey, one-third of working professionals say that managing work, life and family responsibilities has become more difficult over the past five years, with millennials and parents under particular pressure. Millennials are almost twice as likely as boomers to have a spouse or a partner who also works at least full-time. ‘Finding time for me’ is the biggest challenge faced by millennial parents (76%), followed by ‘Getting enough sleep’ and ‘Managing personal and professional life’ (67%). 

So, what can employers do to support working parents to achieve a work-life balance? The answer is likely a combination of several things. Each employee requires different support strategies so this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach.

In ACCA’s Global Talent Trends Report 2024, we found that flexible working arrangements is one of the most sought after employee benefits. Most businesses now offer flexible working arrangements. Whether it is job sharing, flexi-time, working from home, part-time working, or staggered start and finish times, many employers are looking to increase staff retention and satisfaction by embracing flexible working environments. 

Flexible working schedules also have a role in supporting women’s participation in the workplace, given that managing parental and caring responsibilities still often fall primarily to mothers. A 2022 study by YouGov in the US, for example, found 57% of female respondents agreed that work flexibility is very important for a business to offer, compared with 44% of male respondents.

However, in the Middle East, employers need to do better to support hybrid working. Our report shows that 76% of employees say hybrid working is their preferred arrangement but 77% of respondents indicated that they are now fully office-based, approximately 3% report they have fully remote working patterns, and 20% report hybrid working arrangements.

This contrasts with the global outlook, where 49% of respondents declare themselves to be working either in hybrid working arrangements or in a fully home-based environment. 

While flexible working arrangements is a key factor for parents, there are other factors that have a significant effect on work-life balance.

Wellbeing and mental health in MENA

In our report, wellbeing and mental health ranked among the top four work-related concerns for Middle East respondents, with 57% of respondents indicating that work pressures are damaging their mental health, and 70% expressing a desire for greater support from their organisation in managing mental health. Moreover, 57% do not believe their organisation considers employee mental health to be a priority. 

The mental strain created by multiple demands on time may be exacerbated for groups whose voices tend to fall between the gaps, such as working women, parents with mental health conditions, or who are supporting children with mental health concerns.

Primary factors of poor mental wellbeing among employees are high pressure, unmanageable workloads, unrealistic expectations, and unsuitable working hours. These stressors are especially felt by working parents balancing responsibilities at home. 

While there are many complex situations and factors that play into the wellbeing of parents in the workforce, it’s important that employers show flexibility, not just in working hours, but in benefits that may help with childcare costs, as well as creating policies that ensure flexibility around doctor and medical appointments for employees and their children.

According to REC Parenting, full time and part time working mothers experience 40% and 30% more stress than working women with no children. Providing emotional support and tools for working parents that they can use to support their mental health outside of the workplace is crucial. These tools can help parents develop awareness around their own mental health and the impact it’s having on their work and life. 

Implementing strategies for working parents such as flexible working and wellbeing initiatives also show that as a company, employees come first. This goes a long way in making employees feel that they are valued, which has been proven to increase morale and talent retention. From individual employees to leaders and CEOs, we must collectively put tools and infrastructure in place that genuinely empower working parents. It is everyone’s role to support working parents to achieve a work-life balance that allows them to succeed in all areas of life. 

Fazeela Gopalani

Head of Eurasia and Middle East, ACCA

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