Flexible working models best for mental health of parents, research claims

flexible working and mental healthEmployees who are able to split their working time between home and a formal workplace are 40 percent less likely to experience mental health difficulties, new research has shown. Wellbeing charity stem4 surveyed 1038 working parents and carers across the UK to mark Parent Mental Health Day (27th January). It suggests that four in ten overall (39 percent) were experiencing problems – most commonly stress (62 percent), depression (54 percent) and anxiety (50 percent).

When asked what had negatively impacted their mental health during the pandemic, 29 percent identified work pressures – more than the number who cited factors such as relationship difficulties (15 percent). One in five (20 percent) said not being able to work had affected their mental wellbeing.

Four in ten (40 percent) people working from home, and the same number of those working outside their home, were experiencing mental wellbeing difficulties. However, those whose working pattern combined time at home with time at a formal workplace were significantly less likely to experience problems with their mental health (29 percent). Only one in five (19 percent) working parents say their employer currently allows hybrid working. Six in ten (57 percent) work solely from home, and one in four (23 percent) in a formal workplace (23 percent).


Parent groups most likely to have mental health problems

With so many people now struggling to find balance in their lives, the preliminary survey findings show that certain groups are now more likely to be experiencing mental wellbeing difficulties. These include: carers and parents of adopted children (63 percent); single parents (52 percent); people on a low household hold income, i.e. £30k a year or less (49 percent); parents of children under the age of three (47 percent), and working parents on temporary contracts (46 percent).

  • “I felt like I was being swallowed, going down a never-ending hole. Having just gone back to work after 10 months of maternity leave, and then thrown into lockdown, I couldn’t cope.”
  • “My partner and I are in the same job – emergency workers. We haven’t had a pay rise for at least 7 years. With rising costs, even with all our overtime, we can’t afford to complete the necessary works needed to our home and I can’t afford childcare.  No wonder I am depressed!”
  • “The pandemic has affected the mental health of my 16-year-old, who struggles to leave the house and I can’t leave her alone for more than two hours. She’s still waiting for treatment, and I have to work.  I’m so stressed, but no one cares.”

The survey also explored the levels of support workers felt that they were receiving. Almost half (49 percent) said their employer had supported their mental wellbeing somewhat during the pandemic, with 23 percent saying they had received a lot of support. However, 28 percent said their employers had not supported their mental health at all.

People working in journalism or the media were the most likely to say their employer had supported their mental health and wellbeing a lot (68 percent). This was in stark contrast with healthcare (15 percent), social care (11 percent) and creative arts (10 percent). Workers in the leisure and tourism industries were the most likely to say that their employer had not supported their mental health at all (87 percent).


What has negatively impacted parents’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic

  1. Effect of lockdowns, e.g., home schooling, loss of income (45 percent)
  2. Fear of a family member becoming ill (36 percent)
  3. Fear they (the parent) would become ill (33 percent)
  4. Work pressures (29 percent)
  5. Financial worries (28 percent)
  6. Effect of not being able to work (20 percent)
  7. Loneliness (19 percent)
  8. No time for their own mental health (18 percent)
  9. Family relationship difficulties (15 percent)
  10. Putting family first (14 percent)


What would improve parents’ mental health and wellbeing going forward

  1. Increase monthly income to pay essential bills (36 percent)
  2. A guarantee that schools will remain open over the next year (32 percent)
  3. Better work-life balance (28 percent)
  4. More time to look after their own mental health (26 percent)
  5. Better access to health services generally: GP, mental health services, and hospital appointments (25 percent)
  6. Free/affordable childcare (23 percent)
  7. Equal distribution of unpaid chores in the home (21 percent)
  8. Better home living conditions (19 percent)
  9. Access to more paid work (17 percent)
  10. Better access to children’s mental health services (17 percent)