When it comes to what to do about workplace burnout, much of the advice in the popular press can be boiled down to superficial advice: go to a spa, take a nap, treat yourself. Burnout is often portrayed as an individual problem and self-care to reduce stress is the only antidote to manage it. Yet workplace burnout is an organizational problem that requires systemic solutions, especially for one group in particular: single parents.
The United States has the one of the highest rates of children living in single-parent households in the world, with nearly one in four children – about 22 million – living with a solo parent, whether that parent is divorced, separated, or widowed; never married; or has an absent spouse. Forty-two percent of solo parents are white, and 28% are Black. About 80% of children live with solo mothers, and most of these mothers work: 81% of single mothers were working before the pandemic in January 2020, though their labor force participation dropped more steeply than other parental groups during the pandemic and has been the slowest to recover.
“Companies need to acknowledge that single parents exist,” said Tanzina Vega, a solo parent, journalist, and host of The Takeaway public radio show on WNYC. “A lot of organizations still assume that all parents are in couples, so there’s an assumption that your partner will be there at home if you can’t be. Companies have to acknowledge there are unique issues that single parents will run into.”
When organizations presume all employees have support system in place, they make demands on time that single parents especially can’t meet. Single parents end up pulled in all directions — juggling the responsibilities at home and with their children while attending to work commitments 24/7. All of this takes a toll on emotional and physical well-being. And when it comes to burnout — feeling depleted, cynical, and ineffective – research shows that organizations and work cultures, not individuals, are the root of the problem. Systemic change is the only real solution.
To address this burnout, here are a few things companies need to keep in mind:
Make an effort to hire and promote solo parents.
During the pandemic, many women and single mothers were forced out of the workforce or had to cut back hours. Companies must make an effort to rehire these people, as well as find a way to measure their work and chance for promotion without penalizing them for the care they had to provide during the pandemic. For instance, most workplace norms are based on an outmoded “ideal worker” standard of someone who is always available. Workers with caregiving responsibilities (particularly single parents) are seen as lesser workers in need of “accommodation.” Companies instead should design work systems and processes from the start that recognize all workers have care responsibilities and lives outside of work. Use structured interviews with questions tied to job requirements to disrupt confirmation bias. If organizations …….