Women have made massive strides over the last decades, demanding their workplace rights. However, new mothers are still experiencing huge discrimination, with a recent survey revealing 9 in 10 mothers faced issues when returning to work after maternity leave.
Now, more than ever, we should be looking to our employers to help us remedy burnout and support new working mums’ wellbeing.
I sat down with Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Mental Health at Nuffield Health to find out the issues impacting working mothers’ mental health the most, here she explains how your workplace can support you when you need help.
#1 Post-pandemic burnout
A study by Montreal University revealed women were more vulnerable to burnout than men. Burnout among women – particularly working mothers – continues to be an increasing issue with the pandemic heightening women’s risk.
Childcare demands at home soared during the pandemic, but men and women did not split the challenge equally, with women doing three times more unpaid childcare.
When we’re unable to switch off from the ‘fight or flight’ as a result of chronic stress we can experience physical symptoms including nausea, fatigue, and musculoskeletal problems, as well as mental health difficulties like anxiety and depression.
The most important consideration for employers looking to support overwhelmed parents is help with the workload and role flexibility. Other support includes clearly outlining working expectations. When we understand exactly what is expected of us, we are better able to show resilience during stressful times.
This means speaking to your manager and agreeing on working hours, capacity, and contact hours – both in the office and working remotely.
#2 Worries around job security
Almost half of working pregnant women worry about job security after maternity leave. It’s important your employer schedules various ‘keeping in touch” check in’s with individuals when they are on parental leave.
A good manager should already have these steps in place, but if you have concerns, speak to them to ensure these plans are on their agenda.
Regular meetings are essential to keep you informed on any business changes to the workplace, career opportunities and keep you up to date on company life.
#3 Financial concerns
One of the main parental challenges is covering childcare costs. Make sure you’re clued up on any financial help your company can offer.
Options like private medical insurance, emergency childcare and employee assistance programmes are often offered through a core benefits package. You could ask your employers to consider extending some offerings – like private medical insurance – to other family members too.
Even smaller perks can be helpful, like being aware of employee discount programmes to save money on things like the weekly shop.
#4 Sleep deprivation
Research shows sleep quality and duration rapidly worsen when parenthood starts.
This is a big challenge for new parents and their employers, as poor-quality sleep affects individual wellbeing and work performance.
Defining your agreed working hours and any adjustments with your boss will help. Try to work around your natural sleep patterns where possible, for example, avoiding scheduling early-morning or late-evening calls. Check to see if your organisation provides any education or resources around sleep which can also be beneficial.
If you are really struggling with sleep disturbances, check if your workplace offers cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is an evidence-based approach that helps people recognise and break unhelpful patterns which can result in disturbed sleep.
#5 Perinatal mental health issues
Some new parents experience perinatal mental health issues like postnatal depression or anxiety and up to nine per cent of women who give birth experience PTSD. Postnatal depression is not only a concern for new mothers – but it can also affect fathers and other caregivers.
If struggling with the experience of a traumatic birth, your workplace may offer specialist trauma support services which you can access like a specialist employee assistance programme (EAP).
If your organisation doesn’t have access to qualified trauma specialists or perinatal mental health specialists, ask if they have a list of specialist charities you can call for support instead.
#6 Lack of equality
Studies highlight how gendered employment patterns are, following childbirth and are one of the reasons for the gender pay and career gap.
Speak to your employer about whether they are providing enough career support and recognition for working parents of all genders. And ensure there is company-wide awareness of these and self-promotion opportunities.
Read the small print of your employment and benefits policies. Are things like length of leave, payment levels, flexibility, eligibility rules and coordination with childcare services the same for across genders?
Every household is different, so the focus should be on helping families reconcile work and childcare responsibilities, ensuring factors which influence involvement in the labour support gender equality.
These are all important factors to consider and ones you can raise to HR or senior leadership if you feel like they are not being met.
#7 Their children’s mental health
79 percent of parents have concerns about their child’s mental health. When children are experiencing difficulties socially, emotionally, or academically, it can impact on parents’ wellbeing and work performances.
Your employers can help by offering more flexible scheduling and alerting employees to existing mental health support. For example, Nuffield Health recently launched its ‘Parenting an anxious child’ and ‘Space from anxiety’ modules, in partnership with Silvercloud.
These modules provide online mental health support for caregivers of children and young people. For example, there are modules like Changing Anxiety, which teaches parents how to use CBT skills to help their child make changes to reduce their anxiety.