Last week was a challenging week for me. With my partner away, it was my first time juggling the combination of school and childcare drop-offs while working my part-time job, managing our home, and negotiating the sleep disruptions that accompany life with young children. As the week came to an end, I felt grateful on two counts: firstly, that this had been a temporary arrangement, and secondly, that I worked for a flexible employer.
My situation reminded me of a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health that explored how different work situations affect parents of small children—specifically parents’ stress, wellbeing, fatigue, work engagement, and work-family conflict.
The study of 1,562 Swedish parents found that workplaces that were flexible and had a positive attitude toward parenting were particularly important for working parents’ wellbeing, stress, and work engagement.
Managers and colleagues' positive attitudes toward parenting was related to all of the outcomes examined (i.e., stress, wellbeing, fatigue, work engagement, and work-family conflict). These findings reflected an earlier report in which parents ranked "understanding from managers and colleagues" as the most important factor in achieving a work-family balance. The benefits of having an understanding manager were stronger for women than men, suggesting that social support and interaction may be particularly important for females.
For both genders, the ability to work from home was associated with higher work engagement and work-related control. However, the option of working from home was also associated with higher work-family conflict, with spill-over effects of both work on family life, and family obligations on work.
For the most part, workplace flexibility and positive attitude also appeared to be more important to parents than the presence of "benefits," such as salary compensation during parental leave and subsidised childcare.
As noted by the authors, factors affecting working parents’ health will vary depending on individual situations and personalities. Workplace factors that suit one person may work against another. Generally speaking however, workplaces that have the capacity to adopt flexible and family-friendly policies may help to prevent the development of more severe health problems in working parents. Given the week I’ve had, I can’t help but agree.
Eek F. & Axmon A. Attitude and flexibility are the most important work place factors for working parents’ mental wellbeing, stress, and work engagement. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2013; 41:692.