Colin Grange, UK Clinical Director at LifeWorks discusses an emerging issue that’s affecting more working parents.

The stress of juggling childrearing with the demands of work already takes a toll on working parents.  The Modern Families Index 2017 says a third feel burnt out and up to 90% find balancing work and parenting stressful.

As with any employee, personal issues don’t disappear when they walk through the office door. Parenting stress gets carried to work, impacting on concentration and productivity, and even more so if the employee is parenting a challenged or challenging child.

Most parents face challenges from their children at some point, whether it’s at the terrible twos stage or the terrible teens. It goes with the job.  Indeed, it’s often said that parenting is the hardest job in the world; research by Barnardo’s shows that 61% of British parents describe parenting as fairly, or very difficult.  And that’s on a good day!

Unfortunately, parents of children whose behaviour challenges have high levels of stress and often have emotional or physical health problems of their own.

Research by Sandy Lim, Associate Professor in the Department of Management Organisation at NUS Business School says that the impact of incivility – rude or disrespectful behaviour – in the family environment on job performance receives too little attention.

Her research amongst 200 families found that as well as creating a toxic family environment where self-worth is undermined and family ties damaged, experiencing disrespect within the family can create psychological distress at work, resulting in lower work performance.

She says that individuals who face family incivility often worry and feel anxious why they have such issues and agonise over how to resolve them. When this anxiety is carried over to the workplace, it drains them of their energy, making them less able to concentrate on their work – fuelling a cycle of unhappiness and unproductivity.

Given 1 in 3 homes now have both parents working full-time, a significant number of workers will be dealing with challenging parental situations at home.  Sadly, that includes mental health and the issue is growing.   According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there is a growing crisis in children and young people’s mental health.

Rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years. The number of children and young people turning up in A&E with a psychiatric condition has more than doubled since 2009 and, in the past three years, hospital admissions for teenagers with eating disorders have also almost doubled. A Girl Guides’ attitudes survey found that mental health was one of the most pressing concerns, with 62% of those surveyed knowing a girl their age who has struggled with mental-health problems. NHS data also shows a 68% increase in girls under 17 self-harming over the last decade and that 1 in 3 teen girls suffer from anxiety or depression.

These difficulties of a challenged or challenging child are often made worse by the problems many families experience in getting effective help and support. Basic parenting classes are hard to come by and more specialist support is woefully inadequate. The money isn’t there and the waiting lists are long.  For example, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) received less than 0.6 per cent of the total NHS budget.  Alarmingly, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

According to Parenting UK, parenting education and support in the workplace can help parents to manage family issues before they turn into problems that might affect their workplace performance. The employers of parents who get support via parenting classes and other support can reap huge benefits in terms of productivity, workplace attendance, employee retention, morale and confidence. Barnardo’s research shows that 94% of parents say it is helpful to talk to another person about parenting problems and Parenting UK claim that 85% of working parents think that parenting support at work should be made available.

But parents are worried about discussing family and work-related issues with their employers. According to The Modern Families Index, 41% of working parents said they had lied or bent the truth to their employer about family life conflicting with work.

Companies must be more aware of employees with child rearing stresses and can be more supportive in a number of ways:


  • Train managers to look out for signs of employees with parenting stresses and issues and open the conversation.
  • Make managers and staff aware of parenting services available from employee assistance programmes.
  • These include provision of and signposting to resources and support organisations, including parenting groups and classes that can help with specialist issues such as behavioural, ADHD or mental health or just the everyday challenges.  These will be national organisations and local resources so parents can reach out for support.

EAPs will also offer counselling for parents affected by children’s behaviour if clinically appropriate.

  • Encourage employees to open up. Once they do, the relief can be palpable.  Unfortunately, there is stigma attached to parents who have children with mental health issues or challenging behaviour
  • Be flexible about working hours and remote working if a parent is having a difficult time.


Of course, there’s another reason why employers should help. Employer’s children are the next generation workforce.  If parents are better equipped in supporting their challenged or challenging children, the mental wellbeing outcome for the young person, and its future, will be better, benefiting society and their future workplaces.