HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Family Separation Anxiety: The Silent Struggle of Parents Returning to the Office

A recent survey has revealed that nearly half of parents (46%) are concerned about missing key moments in their children’s development when they return to working in the office.

Source: Chatchai.wa / shutterstock

School and office closures have left many parents juggling work and child care during lockdowns. Although maintaining work/life balance has proved challenging for most parents, working from home has provided a rare opportunity for many to spend more time at home with loved ones.

A new study from Love Energy Savings of over 1,000 U.K. employees has revealed concerns held by parents ahead of a full return to the office.

The Data

In addition to worries about missing their children’s development, some parents are concerned that their relationship with their children may change post-pandemic.

One-third of parents (30%) said they are worried they will lose a degree of closeness with their children over the next year once they return to a normal routine, and 61% of parents also state they will miss seeing their children as often post-lockdown.

This possibly explains why 60% of parents are not in favor of the government’s suggestion of extending school hours.

It seems many fear returning to pre-COVID levels of intimacy when many parents spent fewer than 30 minutes of quality time with their children every day.

The prospect of returning to the office and not spending the majority of the week with their children is proving overwhelming for some parents and could have a real impact on mental health, exacerbating or creating conditions like anxiety and depression.

Love Energy Savings research found that 1 in 8 parents have admitted to worrying about their mental health being affected when their children return to their post-lockdown routine, with 1 in 7 men expressing concerns compared with 1 in 10 women. Because children are now back at school, many parents could already be suffering in silence.

After a year of increased involvement, it isn’t just their own mental health parents are worried about; 1 in 6 parents have also admitted they are worried about their children’s mental health suffering over the next year as they return to a normal post-lockdown routine.

However, emotions felt by parents are multifaceted, and it’s no surprise that many are looking forward to the freedom provided post-lockdown. Fifty-seven percent of parents expressed the need for space from their children.

Many also feel that a return to some form of normality will have a positive impact on children, with 96% of parents saying it will be good for their offspring to interact with a wider pool of people again.

The Return to the Office

As staff begin to return to the office, employers must take steps to ease their employees’ concerns, especially as research has suggested that companies have not been sensitive to the challenges faced by working parents throughout the pandemic.

A study conducted by Working Families in October 2020 found that 1 in 5 U.K. working parents feel they have been treated less fairly at work due to their childcare responsibilities since the onset of the pandemic. That figure equates to around 2.6 million working parents who feel they have been treated less fairly at work.

To successfully manage the return to the office and maintain an effective workforce, employers must become more empathetic toward working parents.

HR professionals at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) had this suggestion for employers to become more family-friendly:

“It is important that senior leaders let working parents know that they understand the challenges they are facing and are empathetic and supportive.

“This will help to make working parents feel valued and will also give line managers greater confidence in supporting their individual team members.”

Eve Crabtree works as a PR Executive for several brands in the energy industry. She focuses on educating businesses on the best ways to reduce their energy costs by offering advice and top tips. She also explores HR and employee-focused topics to highlight the benefits of a diverse, inclusive, and supportive work environment.