Working parents in the US are losing a cumulative 720 million hours each week to stress, anxiety and caregiving
Since the beginning of the national shutdown, we’ve surveyed working parents to understand the unique problems the COVID-19 pandemic has created for them, how they’re coping with those problems, and how their relationship to working is changing as a result. In April we saw parents facing a childcare crisis, seeking strategies for more support. In June, that crisis became even more pronounced and we saw more parents leaving the workforce.
Over six months into the new world of WFH and remote learning that many parents are living in, we’re starting to see working parents (and their employers) adapt to the new normal. However, adapting to get by day-to-day has real tradeoffs. The pressure to balance work and family has never been stronger, and women are bearing the brunt of it. Stress and the demands of (often) full time caregiving are taking a major toll on working moms’ productivity. Without rapid intervention at the government- or employer-level, working parents, especially working moms, will be left behind and lose decades of progress towards equal representation for women in the workforce.
Our survey uncovered several themes that are critical for employers to watch closely and consider, including the following:
Read the full report below for details on our complete findings.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, lack of childcare support has been one of the most pressing challenges for working families. In June we found that 65% percent of families were without childcare coverage (compared to 50% in April)—with only 15% of families having consistent childcare coverage. 20% had some partial or temporary coverage.
The latest findings from our Q3 2020 survey show that the situation has gotten a bit better for families, but is still far from ideal. As of September 2020,
Both the husband and I work from home, with only one small office. When the children are here, it is so difficult to structure tasks, take clients call etc. Childcare in the home does not really resolve our issue.Working other of three children that range in age from 3 - 14 years old
Unfortunately, lack of sufficient childcare support puts additional burden on women. They report that they are often taking on a higher percentage of caregiving and parenting responsibilities when they have a man co-parent.
When the pandemic first started my husband worked full time from home while helping the kids with online learning. That couldn’t last. We hired a nanny. I work in healthcare. On my days off when I usually do stuff for the household I now help them with school and I have to do household stuff at other times. It’s very challenging.Working Mother of Three
Many working parents aren’t just managing a lack of childcare for young children, but are also navigating how to support caregiving and education for their older children. Roughly 75% of families indicated that their child(ren) aged 6 or older is currently doing remote learning and not attending school in person. As parents navigate securing childcare and education, the list of challenges and uncertainties can feel near infinite. The most common challenges we saw reported were:
Parents are now being tasked with taking on responsibilities that many used to outsource to professionals—trained early childhood educators, teachers, and school districts. Concerns about safety mean options that may have worked for families before are no longer viable. That places a burden on parents to do research and explore other options, time most of these parents do not have.
Our school system has allowed parents to choose between two bad options: part-time, irregular hybrid or fully remote. The system has made minimal efforts to improve remote learning or equip families with resources.”Working mother of three children that range from 3-14 years old
Many working parents are also under stress related to managing the health of everyone in their households. Concerns about health and safety were the most common challenges reported across all families.
My daughter has asthma and I won’t send her back to in-person school learning until COVID rates go down dramatically.Working mother of three children
Working parents were asked about other caregiving responsibilities: “Do you have caregiving responsibilities beyond being a parent to a child(ren) (e.g. caregiving responsibilities for a disabled, sick or elderly loved one)?”
We have an elderly parent living in my house. I’m responsible for all her medical and financial needs. She cannot physically help with household chores or schooling of my older teen. I don’t want my teenager back in in-person schooling as he might unwittingly bring COVID home from other kids.”Working mother of One TEENAGER
Several recent studies have reported on an increased rate of stress and anxiety among American adults during the pandemic. Historically, mental health challenges have impacted work productivity. The pandemic has been referred to as a “mental health crisis for working parents” – working parents are experiencing all of the same anxieties from the pandemic as non-parents, but have added stress and impact on productivity due to their caregiving responsibilities, lack of childcare, and concerns over children’s health and development during this unprecedented time.
Parents are losing time they normally would spend working to things like stress and anxiety about COVID-19 and their day to day caregiving obligations.
There are about 46 million working parents in the United States with children under 18 years old, so this loss in productivity is no small hit to the national economy. Taking care of working parents’ mental health and supporting their caregiving needs is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business and the economy as a whole.
Challenges related to childcare or remote learning are impacting how many working parents are approaching their work schedule and how much time they can dedicate to work obligations. While we see both men and women making changes to their schedules, overall women were more likely to make adjustments..
The stark reality is, some families were not able to balance their increase in caregiving and parenting responsibilities with their prior work schedule and a number of working parents have either moved to a part-time work schedule or left the workforce altogether.
A higher percentage of women indicated that they are adjusting their work schedules to better balance work and family obligations, but many are also providing near-full-time childcare for their children while continuing to work full-time. This is putting women on a direct path to burnout. A recent McKinsey study found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs, largely due to the pandemic’s effect of increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. We heard from many women respondents in the Cleo Working Parents survey that while many are “making it work” right now, they may leave their jobs if childcare support or in-person schooling does not get resolved soon.
We Struggle with no daycare and worked in the middle of the night. Then I was told to go back to the office. Trying to find a nanny you trust with no time to interview and trial was hard. A family member…was able to help with childcare. If these things didn’t align, I would be having a harder time and most likely would have quit my job due to no childcare.Working mother of two children (a toddler and elementary school-aged child)
A number of respondents indicated a shift to remote work has made it somewhat easier to ensure their childcare and caregiving needs are covered, but presents its own challenges of working while parenting. Working parents reported a mix of where they are currently working:
I am putting in more hours than I did in the office. I have back to back zoom meetings, then need to tend to lunch for kids, then pump/breastfeed when I can because meetings get scheduled over my blocked time, and then I need time to cook dinner. After the kids are asleep, I’m back online to try to finish my individual work that I was not able to get done because I was in meetings all day.Working mother of two young children
COVID-19 has not only increased the burden on working parents, but also ignited more conversations about the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce and how to support working parents. If employers weren’t aware before this year, they certainly are now.
One interesting trend we found was an increase in working parents feeling supported by their employers. Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, “My organization supports my dual role as a parent and as a professional.”
My company has been very affirming and empathetic to employees with caregiving responsibilities. This is reflected in their communication at all levels of leadership, as well as the policies and benefits they’ve offered to caregivers since COVID-19 started.Working father of 3 children, all under 6 years old
Even though a majority of respondents feel supported in a dual role as employee and parent by their employers, approximately 1 in 4 are considering finding a different job that better accommodates their dual role. Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, “I am considering leaving my current position to find a position that better accommodates being a parent while working.”
While I love my current company and work, it’s not an active family focused/friendly environment. I am considering leaving for a more traditional tech company, with more resources and support.Working mother of three young children
The reality is, as the pandemic has resumed, working parents have struck an unsustainable balance. Parents are continuing to struggle and the bulk of that struggle is on women. Despite the perceived challenges of supporting working families, if employers want to attract, retain, and engage working parents, there are several strategies that can support working parents now and as our world returns to “normal,” including:
For companies to maintain the diverse, inclusive workforces they’ve worked to build, it is imperative they step in to support their working parents. Failing to do so has dire consequences for our economy and for the march towards gender equality.
We surveyed 749 working parents with children from newborn to age 18, including Cleo members as well as non-members. Data is aggregated and anonymized. 75% of respondents work full time, 18% part time or contract, 2% currently on leave, and 5% “other.” Survey responses are representative of parents in the United States across cities/states, race & ethnicity, and income levels (~50% had total HH income less than $100,000 and 50% had total HH income above $100,000). We recognize that gender is not binary. 71% of respondents were women, 26% men, and 2% transgender, <1% nonbinary. Data for transgender and nonbinary parents was not statistically significant to report on anonymously. 90% of respondents represent a two-parent, man/woman home. 40% had one child, with 60% having more than one.
National hours lost was calculated using working parent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and applying current unemployment rates to estimate total number of working parents. GDP impact was calculated by applying GDP per hours worked in the United States from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ($106.1) to the total number of hours lost nationally.