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null Heightened stress, soaring costs and missed opportunities: A work-life balance isn’t working for mothers


Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10th October, we reflect on the challenges that still face women in the workforce.
Just a few years ago, the coronavirus pandemic - and the subsequent school closures, sick family members and organisational inflexibility - compounded to push almost 12 million womenout of the workforce, the vast majority of which were working mothers. This departure resulted in the lowest workforce participation ratesfor women since 1988, with a loss of over $800 billion in wages. The impact of this increased burden was bleak, with one global survey indicating that 75% of mothers are struggling with mental health concerns.
But fast forward to today’s world of work, and more recent data paints an equally concerning picture. Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2023 report stated that a ‘significant number’ of women reported experiencing burnout, non-inclusive behaviours in a workplace and challenges while hybrid working. In response, more women left their employer in the past 12 months than in 2020 and 2021 combined.
In our latest blog, we offer three top tips to help leaders unlock the value added by working mothers.

Set the tone  

Is it time to retire the phrase ‘work-life balance’?
‘Balancing’ implies that both elements must be equally prioritised, with clear boundaries and a rigid schedule dictating the shift between personal and professional. Traditionally, this has meant that mothers are expected to be fully present within their working environment, before heading home to take on second half of their ‘double shift’.
But the reality is that the various commitments of a working mother do not exist in isolation. Project deadlines, international calls and networking events often eat into precious time that should be spent at home. While illnesses, holidays and enforced closures have prompted a number of women to juggle their career with homeschooling and caregiving.
Quite simply, a work-life balance isn’t working.
Instead, leaders must advocate for a state of integration, blending elements of the personal and professional. For many working mothers, this may take the form of flexible working hours or dedicated remote working days to ease the burden of the school run, for example. Bringing these elements closer together allows them to coexist, rather than compete for attention.
The organisations who promise flexibility – and deliver – are set to capture the potential of working mothers. Deloitte found that flexibility is the ‘top reason’ citied by women who are currently looking to leave their employer.

Use data to recognise difference  

Single mothers, first-time mothers, mothers of differing ethnicities and young mothers, to name just a few, will face unique challenges as they attempt to combine their career with caregiving.
Disaggregated data on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) will be vital in helping companies to identify drop offs in the promotion and retention of working mothers. And transforming this data into actionable insights can shape relevant childcare policies. Rather than implementing a ‘one-size-fits-all' approach, information drawn from pulse surveys and one-to-one meetings can be used to develop solutions that more closely match the caregiving commitments of your workforce, such as meal kits or cleaning services.
These insights can also help to identify the support structures needed to help working mothers thrive professionally.‘Returner’, mentoring and ‘on-ramp’ programmes create a valuable support network that enable women to bring, and celebrate, their ‘whole self’ while at work.
Collecting accurate data can prove challenging, but forward-thinking organisations will be reviewing their processes in a bid to capture better information, drive forward DE&I initiatives – and attract and retain working mothers.

Consider your culture

 While a discounted gym membership and a steady stream of social events may constitute an appealing Employer Value Proposition for many members of your workforce, the mothers who are already struggling with a busy schedule will likely view these perks as surplus to requirement.
Organisations will need to create a culture that embraces and supports parents. Benefits such as ‘radical flexibility’ and affordable childcare will be vital in averting another mass exodus of women from the workforce.
Granting additional paternal or paid parental leave has been proven to help level the playing field for working mothers, reducing the gender wage gap within households and setting the foundation for a more equal distribution of responsibilities in the future.
And for the one in three mothers forced to take time off after having a child due to soaring cost of care, a range of onsite, fully flexible, heavily or fully subsidised childcare options could help to stem the tide of post-pregnancy resignations. This investment in the parents within your organisation will likely be reciprocated with renewed enthusiasm and loyalty. Clothing company Patagonia, for example, boasts a near-perfect retention rate of working mothers, crediting their on-site child development centre for the low turnover of staff.

The time is now

Organisations are being offered an exciting opportunity to do the right thing for working mothers, implementing long overdue policies and processes that will mitigate burnout and help top talent to thrive.
Those leaders who seize this opportunity will likely benefit from richer talent networks, a decrease in departures and a renewed sense of passion from the people within their organisation.
However, to do so will require an honest reflection of current company practices, as well as an understanding of the changing expectations of candidates. A workforce solutions partner such as Hays can help you to identify, develop and deliver a strategy fit for the new world of work.

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