4.8 million cases of workplace burnout among U.S. parents could have been avoided, report finds

December 2, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

Nearly one in four parents employed in the U.S., or more than 10 million workers, are experiencing some form of burnout. Yet millions of those cases of exhaustion were likely preventable. 

That’s according to a new report released Thursday from Great Place to Work, a company specializing in data and rankings focused on workplace culture, and the virtual health clinic company Maven. The two partnered on a deep dive into workplace burnout among parents and found that 4.8 million cases may have been avoided.  

Based on a recent survey of 500,000 parents across more than 1,700 companies fielded as part of Thursday’s report, researchers found that working mothers and fathers employed at the Best Workplaces for Parents, a list of companies compiled by Great Place to Work, experienced a 45% lower rate of burnout compared with their counterparts at other companies. 

Applying that difference to the total population of working parents in the U.S. last year—approximately 50 million—the report estimates that about 4.8 million of the roughly 10 million cases of working parents experiencing burnout may have been preventable. 

Overall, the report found that burnout was much higher among mothers, especially mothers of color, and among young parents who are hourly workers. 

It comes as burnout rates among U.S. workers have reached epic levels. Overall, about 61% of workers report feeling exhausted by work, according to a survey from the Hartford, an insurance company. 

Experts say that burnout is playing a meaningful role in the current labor market woes. About 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, a record high, according to the Labor Department. Among working parents, a recent report from Catalyst found that 64% are considering a career change due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including leaving their jobs. 

That can have a significant impact on employers. At those levels of resignation, Thursday’s report estimates that a 5,000-employee company could be eventually forced to replace as many as 1,000 workers. The cost to backfill a position varies by industry and employment level, but Gallup conservatively estimates that it can cost one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates it costs companies $37,500 to replace a worker earning $60,000 a year. 

When people are burned out and resigning, it's often not just because of what they're doing day to day or their compensation, it's really about feeling they’re valued, says Maven CEO Kate Ryder. But if it’s a preventable case of burnout, you can actually start to talk about ways to combat it, she adds. 

"Burnout comes in a lot of different forms,” Ryder says. “Working parents need to be valued, and valued at work for who they are, and valued for what they're bringing, particularly in spite of the many challenges they've had to face this year.” 

The most effective support that companies can provide to parents can span the spectrum of parental needs at different stages, Ryder says. Among the Best Workplaces for Parents—which have much lower rates of burnout among parents—44% subsidize childcare costs in some way compared with just 14% of other organizations. Additionally, a majority of the Best Workplaces for Parents offer support for adoption, fertility treatments, and egg freezing, according to Thursday’s report. 

Over the past year or so, it’s become apparent that parents have a lot on their plate, and if employers can support them, they can unlock these really hardworking, smart people and let them bring their best selves to work, says Marcus Erb, vice president of data science and innovation at Great Place to Work. 

"A lot of what we're seeing among the best workplaces for parents is when you keep that focus, you can lower parents’ experiences of burnout and help them come to work in a better way that helps not just them and their families, but also their coworkers. The whole company is better as a result,” Erb says. 

But the survey found that while 82% of the Best Workplaces for Parents plan to make parental support a priority next year, only 52% of other companies say the same. "That was a little bit disappointing,” Erb says. “It was great to see the Best Workplaces for Parents are continuing to support parents, but this idea of support is still one that's not getting enough support.”

Beyond specific policies like childcare subsidies and fertility support programs, Ryder says it’s important for companies to evaluate whether they have an adequate level of resources to help and support employees right now, from the number of staff in the HR department to how managers ensure working parents feel included in the workplace. 

"That sense of corporate social responsibility has never been more important to help combat burnout,” Ryder says. 

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