Employees are over burnout culture—here are 7 ways to prioritize the things working families need
Millions of people have left their jobs since the start of the pandemic, and many of you in the HR community are feeling the impact. Pundits and business leaders are calling it The Great Resignation, but I think they may be missing the most important point. It’s a reassessment. Instead of focusing on how many people are leaving, we need to look at why it’s so hard for people to stay.
It started when the global pandemic changed everything. Employees were forced to reconsider their careers, their priorities, and what they can manage. This past spring, Heather Long at The Washington Post was trying to make sense of the newest numbers—millions were out of work, but employers couldn’t find candidates to fill their jobs. Instead of accepting it as an economic “anomaly,” Long realized we were in the middle of a great reassessment—people were reconsidering their jobs, and re-thinking what they wanted to do with their lives.
At Ovia, we’ve seen this Great Reassessment up close. We’re a research-driven, family-building solution, and we’ve helped over 17 million families navigate fertility, pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Over the last two years, we’ve supported families through COVID-19, and we’ve shared in their struggles.
We’ve also surveyed parents, and our findings are clear—in a post-pandemic world, organizations need strong family benefits to retain (and attract) employees, help working parents develop into leaders, and meet growing DEI needs.
I’d like to share what we’ve learned—especially why family benefits matter more now, which benefits employees need most, and how to assess your organization so you can make the most cost-effective, impactful changes.
How the pandemic hit families—especially moms—so hard
Since February 2020, more than 3.5 million mothers of school-age children have left their jobs1. This number is so huge that women’s workforce participation levels are now lower than we’ve seen since the 1980s2.
This seismic shift didn’t come out of nowhere. Mothers have always done a disproportionate amount of the labor when it comes to childcare, and many women struggle to balance families and their work lives on a daily basis. During COVID-19, it just became immeasurably harder.
This struggle is evident everywhere. In a recent study of childbearing-age employees, 60% of respondents said they’ve experienced burnout—or are experiencing it right now3. We’ve seen the signs of distress among our members, too. Ovia offers a digital screener for perinatal mood disorders, and since the pandemic we’ve found a drastic increase in conditions such as postpartum depression. We also offer, through our enterprise solution, one-to-one coaching to support parents, and there we’ve seen a 200% increase in demand for services. It’s clear that parents are desperate for support and guidance.
Among parents who decided to leave their jobs, a few main factors seemed to tip the scales:
- Childcare. Without affordable, accessible, and dependable childcare, many parents found that they couldn’t care for their children while they work, or that they couldn’t be as productive as they needed to be.
- Health and balance. The remote office blurred the lines between work and home. Without any sense of separation or balance, parents’ mental health suffered.
- Culture. COVID-19 reminded parents that family matters most, so they re-prioritized, and left for jobs that allow them to focus more on their families.
- Inclusion. While many companies are putting more resources toward DEI, parents often feel that their companies don’t have policies and benefits that understand and fit their needs.
- Competition. Companies are fighting for in-demand employees, so those who are already re-thinking their priorities—and hoping for more family-friendly benefits—are being poached.
It’s clear that mothers aren’t resigning because they’re sick of working. They’re just sick of working jobs that don’t fit their needs and the needs of their families. They’ve reached the breaking point, so they’re reassessing what matters most and taking action to align their work life and their family priorities.
What matters most for a family-friendly workplace amidst The Great Reassessment
If you’re an organization that wants to retain and attract the best employees during The Great Reassessment, here’s what you need to ask: How can we build a culture—and provide benefits—that allow parents to balance their lives, stay engaged, and be productive?
We surveyed 2,919 parents to find the answers. In our soon-to-be published Future of Family Friendly Report, we asked many of our 2 million active daily members—a diverse group of mostly female-identifying professionals—how happy they are with their current benefits, which benefits are most meaningful to them, and what they’re hoping for in the future.
One of our most definitive findings was that family-friendly benefits matter—a lot—when it comes to retaining employees. 90% of our respondents said they’d leave their employer for one with better benefits. They’re no longer content to stay put for traditional, unimpressive packages.
So what do better benefits look like? We asked parents to rank more than 40 options. You can see from the top five responses that employees want a workplace that truly supports the unique needs of working parents:
- Better leave policies
- A family-friendly culture
- Flexible schedules and remote or hybrid work options
- Return-to-work prep and flexibility
- Easy-to-understand benefits
Here’s something that might surprise you about the top five: most of them don’t have a hefty price tag. While better leave policies top the list, the rest are about building a flexible workplace where employees are accepted, and comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. This is the fundamental message of The Great Reassessment —employees are leaving because the human aspects matter. They want to work in a place where their relationships, inside and outside of work, are valued.
The top ten also included the types of benefits that can really make a company stand out as family-friendly: child care assistance, better lactation rooms, mental health support, pregnancy care management, and coaching for new parents.
Our findings don’t just show what parents are looking for, they show that parents still don’t have the basic benefits and cultural support they need to stay at their jobs. In their reassessment, they’re choosing work that allows them to live in a different, more sustainable, way.
How to assess your benefits and build a more family-friendly workplace
If you’re ready to make family-friendly benefits a priority, I’ve got good news. Most of the high-demand, employee-retaining benefits are absolutely do-able. Let’s take them one-by-one.
1. Create a family-friendly culture.
Culture can feel vague and hard to measure, but there are lots of big and small ways to let your employees know that your organization values families. At Ovia, family-friendly means that it’s okay to block your calendar to pick up your kids in the afternoon, take a morning off for a pediatrician appointment, and leave early a day or two to get the kids to soccer practice. There’s no stigma to these basic accommodations.
Being family-friendly can also mean improving lactation rooms, training managers to understand the needs of parents, creating resource groups to support parents, offering parental leave planning, and just making it okay for employees to talk about their children. In fact, in my own career, I always ensure that my manager knows my kids’ names—if they don’t, I know they’re not invested in me and what matters most in my life.
There’s also a more concrete side to building a family-friendly culture. To show that parents are a top concern, you can invest in benefits that meet parents where they are. Tools and programs (like Ovia) that support parents on their journey make a huge difference for employee retention.
2. Help your employees know and understand their benefits.
Most of us aren’t benefits experts, so there’s a lot organizations can do to help people understand—and take advantage of—key programs:
- Talk about benefits often. Train managers to talk about benefits in employee one-on-ones and block time for teams to talk about benefits together.
- Create a benefits checklist. Benefits can be confusing, and they can get lost in the shuffle. You can make sure employees know about all the benefits you offer by circulating a simple checklist several times a year. (The Ovia solutions include a benefits checklist tailored to each employer.)
- Make benefits accessible and easy to understand. Review invitations, enrollment guides, and plan comparisons to make sure they are clear, simple, and inclusive of all employees.
- Tap into community groups. Work with existing groups of employees who are going through similar life experiences to help explain and enroll benefits.
3. Create return-to-work programs for parents.
Returning from parental leave can be physically and emotionally overwhelming for parents, even when they have a generous leave program. I was fortunate enough when I had my children—many years ago—to have 20 weeks of paid leave. But once I came back, my company’s corporate culture was far from family-friendly. I had to pump in a storage closet, sneak out to get my baby from daycare before they closed, and then jump back into work after my baby went to sleep. It was stressful and exhausting.
There are a few key return-to-work initiatives that can make this transition so much easier:
- Offer a gradual return-to-work program. Allow parents to start part-time and build back slowly to their usual schedule.
- Create pre- and post-leave checklists and training. Help parents feel prepared before they go on leave, so they’ll feel less overwhelmed when they return. (Ovia offers training, checklists, and workshops for organizations that want to deepen their return-to-work programs.)
- Train your managers. Having a manager who’s understanding and knowledgeable about parental leave can make the difference between a stressful transition back to work and an easy one. (Ovia provides manager training.)
Create a mothers’ room that truly welcomes mothers back to work. Of course, a mothers’ room is required by law, but you can show your family-friendly values by making your mothers’ room private, comfortable, and reservable. Learn more about building the best mother’s rooms here.
4. Make sure your family-friendly policies are inclusive and equitable.
Not all families look the same. Take the time to review how your family-friendly policies are written, and who they’re written for. Update them if they don’t work for every employee and all kinds of families. To start, ask yourself:
- Do our policies support LGBTQIA+ families?
- Do our policies work for parents who are adopting or using a surrogate?
- Do our policies support single parents?
- Are our policies clear and manageable, even for people who don’t have experience navigating the healthcare system?
- Are our policies accessible to non-native English speakers?
- Are we using inclusive pronouns?
5. Stay flexible and understanding.
Whether it’s scheduling or work location, you can help parents create a routine that meets their parenting needs—without any stigma or strings attached. I can attest first-hand that flexible work is a game-changer. About two years after I had my first child, we were in the middle of the dot-com boom, so the software company where I worked launched a flexible work program to try to retain more women. I was a guinea pig for the program, and it changed my world instantly. I finally felt that I had the balance I needed to have a life—which meant I became more invested in my work than ever before.
There are lots of ways to build parent-friendly flexibility into your programs, including:
- Hybrid remote options.
- Flexible working hours.
- Gradual return from leave.
- Leave for parents who’ve experienced the wrenching pain of a lost pregnancy.
6. Extend leave time.
Extending leave time may seem like an expensive benefit, but it’s a proactive investment that can save you costs in the long term. Here’s why:
- Research shows that every extra week of parental leave reduces the risk of adverse maternal and child health outcomes, including infant mortality4. So, even if you’re on a limited budget, adding just an additional week or two of leave may change your employees’ lives in profound ways and lower your healthcare costs.
- Longer leave is so important to employees (it was at the very top of our survey) that it may be the thing that keeps them. When you do the math, investing in longer paid leave can save an average of 50% compared to losing an employee.
The Great Reassessment is all about prioritizing what matters, and it’s clear time with family matters.
7. Invest in comprehensive family benefits.
As you look at your family benefits, make sure they are inclusive of all kinds of parenting journeys, from single parents to stepparents and those struggling with fertility. Offering things like fertility support, return-to-work planning, virtual-first health support, coaching, and milk shipping can make a big difference when it comes to helping parents feel seen, so they want to stay.
For reassessment and investments with the most impact, make sure they are:
- Engaging (which often means virtual-first).
- Clinically validated.
- Tangible and available when and where they matter most.
- Used—the only benefits that matter are the ones your employees know about and use.
Surviving The Great Reassessment
It’s true that millions of parents have left their jobs during the pandemic, and more probably will during The Great Reassessment. But our research, including data from our Future of Family Friendly Report (check the report later this month for a full report of our findings), shows how to get ahead of the trend and come out on top. When organizations listen to families, and structure their culture and benefits to help people balance the work they love and the people they love, employees stay and thrive.
This isn’t just a pandemic solution. The Great Reassessment only intensified the problems working parents have managed for far too long. That’s why the future of benefits is family-friendly. In fact, this shift may be one of the few truly good things to come out of so much upheaval—at this moment, we get to reimagine the world of work. We can make it more sustainable, equitable, supportive, and inspiring for all employees—and their families.
2 National Women’s Law Center: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Final_NWLC_Press_CovidStats.pdf
4 Ruhm C.J. Parental leave and child health. J. Health Econ. 2000; 19:931–960: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11186852/