In 2019 the World Health organisation defined burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. They characterised the three main dimensions of this as:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

A McKinsey report unsurprisingly revealed that compared with non-parents, employed parents are 2x as likely to strongly agree that they’re worn out at the end of the day.

As rates of burnout drastically increased for parents and non-parents throughout the pandemic many people and authorities rushed to offer solutions to burnout. Jonathan Malesic, in a piece for the muse, argued that while advice about self-care or learning to say no can be helpful and is often well intentioned, this can send the subtle message that burnout is your problem and you are responsible for solving it.

Jonathan instead proposes that

“your individual actions aren’t what cause your burnout. Rather, burnout arises from a gap between what you expect work will or should look like and what you actually do at your job. That means society and culture (where widely-shared, lofty ideals about work as a site of meaning and purpose come from) and your specific workplace play much bigger roles than you do in whether or not you burn out.”

As individuals we are not completely off the hook, if we are prone to overworking and over-efforting, due to all manner of the reasons that we coach around. A ‘pleasing’, ‘compliant’, ‘perfecting’ personality coupled with a high expectation environment is a recipe for burnout where the individual is rewarded by the organisation and the vicious cycle ensues. Think of the ‘over industrious, striver shape’ and how and whether that exists in you.

However, it is such an important overarching message that until systems and cultures are changed then it is impossible for individuals to save themselves from burning out. We are so proud to work with organisations that lead the way in supporting working parents – and those that aspire to be there but aren’t there yet. This isn’t an easy tick box challenge, but we applaud our clients who involve their working parents in conversations around how they would appreciate employer support, to hear it from there communities of parents.

What helps? All manner of things but perhaps the most important solution to working parent burnout is not to fall into the tick box culture that espouses the veneer of wellbeing, but instead to change the conditions in which burnout thrives.

To do this involve your working parents, listen to them, we need to applaud cultures where leaders are rewarded for managing with compassion and trust, where flexibility means flexibility in how employees control their time (not just where they work but when they work and how), where workloads are realistic and human sized, roles and boundaries are clear, there are working family support processes in place not just around key transitions such as parental leave and people feel valued and appreciated – and not just by external coaches!