COVID-19, Careers, and Childcare
As with most elements of the reopening process, many Americans are processing the reality of life with COVID-19 (rather than life after COVID-19).
Given the complexity related to the reopening of schools and the workforce, we surveyed over 1,000 full-time employees with and without children to better understand the challenges many professionals are facing as they continue to balance their careers and child care during the global health COVID-19 pandemic. Read on as we break down how difficult work-life balance has become in recent months, differing experiences with burnout, policy support for the upcoming school year, and how many parents believe newfound work stress is negatively impacting their children.
Getting Used to the Change
When it comes to making the best decision for their child regarding the return to school or day care, parents have a number of variables (and expert opinions) to consider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated while no studies are conclusive, the best available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person lessons are in the best interest of students but acknowledge that the path forward isn’t entirely clear and may not be the same across all communities and school districts. For working parents, there’s also the balance of child care and career to consider.
Roughly half of parents surveyed indicated it was easy or somewhat easy to balance child care and their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the 30% of parents who reported it was at least somewhat difficult to find the appropriate balance between caring for children out of school or day care and their work lives, women (38%) and men (24%) reported that they encountered these challenges
Compared to working single fathers, working single mothers were twice as likely to indicate balancing their careers and child care were at least somewhat difficult. For some parents, finding an effective balance is more than just marginally straining – 1 in 3 working single mothers indicated feeling completely burned out in the process. Moreover, among the parents we surveyed, nearly one-third acknowledged feeling either moderately or completely burned out from the stress of having to adjust to changes in their jobs and child care as a result of the pandemic.
And while 30% of parents only felt slightly or not at all burned out from balancing their work with caring for their children, less than 1 in 3 parents were completely confident they would be able to sustain their current arrangements through the upcoming school year. Parents currently working from home were also more likely to feel burned out than those who’d returned to an on-site workplace. While 62% of parents indicated that they were still searching for a better child care option for the upcoming school year, 47% of parents were expecting to actually have that better option.
Debating Whether to Return to Class
A majority of parents were looking for a better alternative to the educational options they currently had, but not all parents agreed the best option is returning to in-person classes full time.
According to the CDC, the reopening of schools is an important step to take in the near future, but not one that is without challenges. 60% of parents wanted the option to choose in-person or remote classes for their children. Coming close in second and third places were full-time remote learning (58%) and full-time in-person classes with reduced class sizes (55%). Despite being opposed by 36% of parents, 44% indicated they fully supported their children returning to in-person classes full time without reduced classes sizes, while 20% remained unsure.
With so many parents opposed or unsure about supporting options to return their children to either in-person or remote learning for the upcoming school year, we asked them what solutions they’d been relying on instead. Sixty-three percent of parents were currently sharing child care responsibilities with a partner, and 47% were receiving assistance from friends and family. While less common, 23% of parents were utilizing in-home professional assistance to help coordinate child care during the pandemic.
For parents working from home with their children, the most common challenges included interruptions while working (62%), interruptions during meetings (45%), and inconsistent work hours (43%). Another 33% of parents indicated working from home with their children in the house led to less time dedicated to work and shorter stretches of focus. The impact of combined remote work and remote learning wasn’t just emotional, either. The average working parent indicated spending an additional $347 each month as a result of their children being out of school.
A Joint Responsibility
For working parents, balancing careers and childcare during the pandemic can increase the mental health impact of the pandemic. In addition to the added pressure of managing remote learning, caring for children's basic needs can add significant stress for parents. For couples who are parenting together, however, the distribution of responsibilities may not always be equal.
For couples balancing child care and their careers during the pandemic, 2 in 3 parents indicated the scenario had a positive impact on their relationship. The most common ways working couples were sharing child care responsibilities included working different hours (54%), taking turns with the children (51%), and opting to prioritize one parent’s career (39%). Just 28% of couples indicated using child care programs during the pandemic.
While men were one percentage point more likely to report caring for children on their own, women were significantly more likely to express being more responsible for caring for their children (57%). Just 32% of women reported the division of parenting responsibilities in their home was shared equally with their partner.
Three in four working couples had at least one disagreement over child care during the pandemic, including their privileges in recent months (34%), which parent’s career should be a priority (30%), and whether their children should attend school in person (27%). Another 26% of parents disagreed over how to handle child care at home during the health crisis.
Emotional Distress During the Pandemic
After months in self-quarantine with limited (or no) access to your everyday interactions – going out to eat, shopping, even your daily commute to and from work – it may come as no surprise that the pandemic triggered by COVID-19 has been stressful. Parents aren’t the only ones dealing with the impact to their mental health, though, and many are concerned with the emotional impact the pandemic has had on their children.
Seventy-four percent of parents indicated that their children had been negatively impacted by the pandemic in general, followed by 72% of parents concerned about the effect of children not being able to see their friends and the lack of extracurricular activities available to them. Nearly two-thirds of parents reported that they were worried about the decreased emotional focus caused by the pandemic (64%), while the removal from school (63%) and uncertainty concerning the near future (61%) were at the forefront for others. On average, the survey results reflected women were more concerned than men about the potential impacts being out of school was having on their children.
Many parents also indicated having reduced the activities their children were allowed to participate in during the pandemic. Just 35% of parents reported that they allowed their children to spend time outside with friends, followed by leaving the home at all (33%), inviting friends inside (32%), and spending time at their friends’ houses (30%). Only 18% of parents expressed that they allowed their children to participate in organized sports during the pandemic.
Bringing Work Stress Home
Blurring the lines between your work and home life can be stressful on its own, but some parents believe that stress is also bleeding over into their children’s lives.
Roughly half of parents reported their work-related stress was having a negative impact on their child’s life. While half of working parents also shared the pandemic had a positive impact on their career and overall effectiveness, more than a quarter of parents expressed the pandemic was having a negative impact on their focus and productivity.
Parents working from home were the most likely to feel the pandemic was having a positive impact on their career, though men were more likely than women to see the upside in their professional life. Still, having children at home can make remote work more difficult. If their children don’t go back to school in the fall, 29% of parents reported anticipating to having to cut back their hours at work, and 21% of parents reflected they’d have to look for a different job altogether.
Navigate Work and Child Care During COVID-19
Navigating a global health pandemic is stressful enough, but working parents trying to balance a career with the mental health of their children while also thinking about when it may be safe to return to school can add to the concern. Parents are working together to shift the responsibility for child care (including working opposite hours and prioritizing one career over the other), and many admitted they may have to cut back their hours or find a different job if they can’t send their children back to school soon.
At Paychex, we provide resources and solutions to help businesses navigate the pandemic. With an all-in-one payroll and HR solution, employers can keep track of employee benefits, time, and attendance and find resources for COVID-19 guidance all in one place. For teams managing the stress of adapting to working from home for the first time, our HR solutions have the resources you need to help them find the right balance. And for businesses managing the stress of navigating a pandemic for the first time, our COVID-19 Help Center is specifically designed to help you solidify your own finances, understand reopening guidelines, and help your employees cope with these changes along the way. Get started now by visiting us online at Paychex.com today.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,003 respondents using the Amazon Turk platform on July 23, 2020; 533 of these were working parents raising children under 16 years old. Of those respondents, 358 were raising a child with a partner who also worked full time. We further surveyed 470 full-time employees who had no children. 571 respondents were male, 427 respondents were female, and five respondents did not identify as male or female. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 77 with an average age of 36.
To help ensure honest responses and accurate results, all respondents were required to correctly answer an attention-check question. In some cases, questions and answers have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. These findings rely on self-reporting, and statistical testing was not performed on this data. Potential issues with self-reported findings include, but are not limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors on the part of respondents.
Fair Use Statement
Are your readers struggling to decide what’s best for their children and their career in the coming school year? Share the results of this study for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page to provide full access to our findings.