Peter Caddy from Medibank enjoyed his Parental Leave.
Peter Caddy from Medibank enjoyed his Parental Leave.

The 2019 National Working Families Report key findings released last week revealed some confronting results when it comes to the health and wellbeing of employees juggling work and family life that are hard to ignore.

The survey of over 6,000 participants provided feedback on the impact of managing work and caring responsibilities – it found that:

  • 62% of parents and carers said the most challenging issue is looking after their personal physical and mental wellbeing.
  • ½ of all women and a 1/3 of men who were parenting or caring said they were under ‘a lot’ of stress or ‘a great deal’ of stress.
  • 2/3 reported feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family.
  • 1/3 reported that the combination of work and family responsibilities contributed to stress and tension in the relationship with their partners and with their children.

The impact of this stress and exhaustion not only affects individuals, it also has serious implications for the wellbeing of children, workplaces and the communities in which we all live and work. There’s no easy fix – it requires us to examine how we value the role of caring for family, who does the caring and the interplay with work and what’s considered culturally acceptable and supported.

There is both an individual and a business imperative to address wellbeing at work and at home.

The Business Imperative in Having a Healthy Workforce

Employees taking work-stress home impacts their whole family, particularly when there is a lack of employer support to meet work and caring responsibilities.

The 2019 National Working Families Survey found that 1 in 4 parents and carers are considering or actively intending on leaving their job in the next 12 months due to challenges managing work and family.

62% of parents and carers said they struggled with their physical and mental wellbeing.

Increasingly, individuals require organisations to be flexible and supportive of their caring responsibilities by fostering a culture that is inclusive and family friendly.

In particular, for millennial employees, their work-life balance expectations are high, and they place an emphasis on self-care. They understand that these contribute to their health and wellbeing and this positively impacts productivity and engagement.

There’s a clear return on investment – it is estimated that every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health actions help generate $2.30 in benefits to an organisation. These benefits are derived from a reduction in presenteeism, absenteeism and compensation claims. (Reference: Heads Up)

What’s more, when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work-life balance, they are more inclined to stay with their companies and more likely to recommend them as places to work. (Watson Wyatt, Boston College)

Taking action

Here are five ways your workplace can start investing work and family wellbeing:

1. Understand the business case for action – measure employee wellbeing in your workplace

Understand the financial and engagement implications that a lack of employee wellbeing has on your business. Review your employee turnover and engagement data, how many employees have caring commitments in your workplace? Who has left your employment due to work life balance and wellbeing issues? What’s been the cost to replace these employees and the impact on morale?

2. Talk to your people

What are their top challenges when it comes to maintaining their work and family wellbeing? What could your workplace do to better support their wellbeing at work and at home? Given 1 in 4 parents and carers reported that they are considering a job change, it’s critical for all employers to review how they are currently attracting and retaining people.

3. Be flexible

Whilst many employers have a flexible work policy in place, requests by employees to work flexibly can still be tied up in ‘red-tape’. Review your flexible work policy to ensure it’s easy to understand and implement, and supported by your leaders.,

4. Tackle stigma & break down stereotypes

Many employees, particularly men, feel that taking time off or working flexibly to care for children is career limiting.  Normalising the fact that both men and women need understanding and support from their employer to meet caring commitments is critical to achieving an inclusive culture and to closing the gender equality gap.

5. Be Supportive – be a friendly-friendly employer

People want to work for organisations that support both their work and family responsibilities. Lead loudly – make employee wellbeing a priority by looking for ways to support employees with their own self-care and to meet their wider caregiving needs outside of work. Train managers on the importance embedding flexible work, supporting with parental leave transitions and helping employees to create wellbeing plans that sustain work life balance.

Case Example: Medibank

Medibank made history in March 2018 when they rewrote the rulebook with its approach to Parental Leave with its new policy, ‘FamilyFlex’. Family Flex offered greater choice to new parents regardless of gender. It’s also flexible - parents can choose to take their 14 weeks leave across two different periods within the first 24 months.

Before Family Flex was introduced, only 2.5% of employees taking parental leave longer than two weeks were male. This figure is now sitting at 33% and on average males are taking eight weeks of parental leave and 76% of their employees now work flexibly to accommodate their other life responsibilities.

“We know those who do are more highly engaged and therefore productive, than their counterparts. So there is absolutely a business case for it - you have to think about it in the whole employee life cycle – from talent acquisition to retention."

- Kylie Bishop, Medibank's Group Executive of People and Culture

Peter Caddy with his wife and daughter.

Peter Caddy, Head of Digital at Medibank talks to his experience working for a family friendly organisation: “The parental leave program at Medibank allowed me to take time off when my daughter Sofia was born, and again when she was old enough to run around the house. It was invaluable the uninterrupted quality time I spent with my daughter and wife, playing, cooking, building cubbies and creating memories.

Working for a company that is flexible and supportive of families meant my decision to step away from work for my parental leave wasn’t as challenging or daunting. The flexibility has had a flow on effect, where I’m finding I’m more efficient at work and at my best when with my family.”



Read more about the 2019 National Working Families Report here.

The full report will be available on December 2, 2019.