Although the rise of remote work has been hailed for providing a greater work-life balance, many parents are finding that being away from the office can also have serious disadvantages, according to a new study shared exclusively with USA TODAY.
Nearly 4 in 10 parents say that when they work from home, there are times when they go days without leaving their home, while 33% say they “feel very isolated” when working remotely, according to the ninth annual Modern Family Index, which was conducted by By The Harris Poll for Bright Horizons, a global provider of early education, childcare and workforce education services.
Their concern comes at a time when employers have waning sympathy for the challenges of juggling parenting and work, says Stephen Kramer, CEO of Bright Horizons, leading more moms and dads to worry again about finding affordable, accessible childcare with anxiety. That family responsibilities can get in the way. They climb the career ladder.
“There needs to be a real concern about the mental health impact and the feelings of isolation that employees feel due to remote working,” says Kramer. “I think ultimately early in the pandemic, employers felt they were doing a good job of supporting working parents by offering more. Flexible schedules come at a cost, but this comes at a cost and we are in a place where providing real support to working parents is more important than flexible work schedules.”
Flexibility is important but some worry about the job
To be sure, many parents cherish the flexibility a remote or hybrid work schedule offers them.
Among working parents, 36% said they felt somewhat more satisfied in their current job than they did three years ago, and 58% of that group said flexible schedules were a factor in that satisfaction.
But 35% of parents who work from home part-time think their hybrid schedule is negatively affecting their careers, and 40% of their managers would like their managers to advise them on how much time they should spend in the office.
Parents were particularly concerned, as 44% of working parents feared that if they used benefits aimed at achieving work-life balance, it could negatively affect their performance ratings.
Some may be right to be concerned. “In the early stages of the pandemic and during the hardest parts… employers were actually quite sympathetic to the challenges of working parents when all child care centers closed and schools became remote,” says Kramer. “The expectation today is that employees will be productive for their employers and in At this point they will have figured out how to carry out their family responsibilities.”
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Juggling jobs and family
Nearly 8 in 10 parents who work remotely at least part-time juggle jobs and their family responsibilities during the workday, with 47% running their children on activities and 44% helping their children with homework.
A quarter of working dads who do this double duty rarely mention workday parenting tasks to their supervisors, while 41% say they sometimes think they need to hide their personal responsibilities from their co-workers.
Such multitasking is necessary, Kramer said, because the search for child care — already difficult before the pandemic — has become even more difficult during the health crisis and has yet to recover.
“Because childcare is so scarce, there is a real concern about access to and where childcare is located,” he says. In addition to concerns about the quality of service providers, “there is also a real challenge around affordability.”
Essential workers or frontline workers who are often on site during the pandemic are being hit hard, as the Bright Horizons report found that 44% say it is more difficult to reconcile their work schedules around childcare compared to 28% of their peers. Only 49% of these workers said their employers had changed or added benefits that better support them, while 57% of their working parent counterparts said they had such additional help.
Child care is a constant struggle
But while essential workers face more struggles, child care and services for older children remain problematic for working parents across the board.
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“Whether you work from home or an office, the truth is that you can’t be a productive employee as well as a full-time caregiver,” says Kramer.
Employers are taking heed. Those who provide on-site child care centers “find that it was an incentive for them to bring their employees back to the office because those employees who use the center see the workplace not only as a place to work but also as a place to bring their children.”
Stand-by child care has also become increasingly popular, with more than 200 employers working with Bright Horizons starting to offer the benefit during the pandemic, their biggest increase in two years.
JP Morgan Chase employees have a mix of schedules, with senior employees returning full time, others who can do their jobs a mixed schedule on site at least three days a week, and half have worked in their locations throughout the pandemic.
The company has 13 on-site childcare centers, and since the pandemic has expanded childcare offerings both at corporate locations and near where employees live.
“The needs of our people have really changed, so we’ve pivoted our strategy,” says Lilly Wittenbach, head of global wellness at JPMorgan Chase.
One major change is to enable employees whose children no longer require childcare to access other services. For example, the company offers subsidized backup child care to employees 20 days a year. Now they can use four of those hours for their kids to take virtual tutoring.
“We launched this benefit of standby childcare that tends to be for younger children for more parents,” Wettenbach said, adding that the feature is used by blended parents and in the office full time. Children continue to catch up academically after being left behind during the pandemic.
Standby childcare has been a lifeline for Neha Mehrotra, 32, a marketing executive at PayPal and a married mother of two daughters, aged six years and six months.
During a two-week period when her parents or mother-in-law weren’t available to watch her infant, “the caretaker stood by for us,” she says. Without the in-house provider who was able to help outside, “a mixed working environment becomes very difficult and in-office working becomes impossible. So in this case, this feature really helped.”
Unlike some parents, Mehrotra found her hybrid schedule, which allows her to go to the office one day a week and work the rest of the time from home, to be ideal.
“I thoroughly enjoy the flexibility of working from home and also having the opportunity to see my colleagues and spend some adult time,” says Mehrotra, who lives in San Jose, California. Having a largely remote schedule after the birth of her second daughter is a sharp contrast to the experience she had full-time at an office after the birth of her first child.
She says, “This time around my daughter came post-pandemic and I was in this new hybrid work culture. I can see the huge difference in my mental health. I have time for myself. I give my commute hours to yoga and meditation and…at the end of the day, when I’m done From that, I open the door and see my children.”
Mental health services
However, for others, who struggle emotionally, mental health support is another key benefit that workers are looking for and some employers aim to provide.
JP Morgan Chase has a new partnership with Spring Health that will provide customized mental health care plans, free training and free treatment that can be scheduled at any time for its American employees and their family members.
“The pandemic has exacerbated access and affordability issues,” says Wyttenbach, adding that the company has provided off-site and on-site physicians and counseling for years, but now enables employees to see therapists who are part of their health plans. network without paying a discount.
Kramer says these benefits are essential.
“There are working parents… who say they go days without stepping out of their house,” he says. “Obviously that’s not healthy. Others are really concerned about their job mobility given their hybrid or remote schedule… Ultimately there are things that employers need to Doing them to make that balance more realistic for the staff Providing child support, respite care support and mental health support are all the things they need to do as they start to emerge from the pandemic.
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