A study of over 1000 Australian working mums has proven why they are so exhausted. They’re working longer hours than the average CEO. The study, conducted on behalf of the Cenovis Women’s Health Index, surveyed women with one or more children under the age of 17. The research found that Australian mums are working up to 80 hours a week – in paid employment and running their household.
Women remain overwhelmingly responsible for child-rearing and domestic chores, and this is reflected in their overall health. ABS figures reveal that mums employed part-time spend eight hours and 34 minutes a day looking after their kids, while full-time working mums still put in six hours and 39 minutes. And research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found women spend almost twice as much time on housework and childcare than men, even when they increase their time in paid employment.
Mums are putting themselves second to their family needs and suffering for it. According to the Cenovis study only 5% of working mums take time out for rest when they are ill and one third pretend to be well when they’re actually sick. Why? Because they need to save their sick leave entitlements to take time off work when their children are sick.
With only one in 20 working mums taking the necessary time for rest and recuperation, as well as working 80 hours a week, its no wonder they are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and fatigued. And this ill health, both physically and mentally, is likely to affect their family dynamics and their children’s overall wellbeing.
Working mums are constantly told to strive for balance and to make time for themselves. And while many mums are responsible for taking on too great a burden and putting themselves last, external constraints also play a huge role in hindering them from taking proper care of themselves. Career demands, time pressures, technological advances blurring the lines between work and home, childcare constraints, the tightening of paid parental leave, gender inequality; it all contributes to the stress and over-reliance placed on mums.
So what can our workplaces, government and society do to help improve the health and wellbeing of working mums? A lot, actually. And here are just a few ideas…
1. Improve paid parental leave scheme for mums and dads
Better paid maternity leave for mums, allowing them to take the necessary time away from work to recoup and recover from their life change without having to stress about finances would be of great value to all mothers.
The government and business also need to offer paid paternity leave to allow dads to take proper (ie. not just two weeks) time off to help care for their children.
Paternity leave can greatly shape parenting and domestic behaviours. If dads are more involved early on in the care of their child, they will stay more involved when both parents are back in paid work – and not just with the kids, in domestic work too. Paternity leave has not only been shown to boost male participation in the household but also enhance female participation in the workforce and thus advance gender equality in both.
And getting dads more involved in the unpaid work will not only benefit the health of working mums, but also that of their kids. Children with dads who participate more in family life also have been shown to have better mental health and emotional outcomes.
2. Provide flexible work options
Flexibility in the workplace should be the norm, not the exception. And not just for women, but for men too. The ability to work flexibly and not need to be present from 9 – 5 will mean working mums and dads feel less restricted in their healthcare choices.
We also need to stop equating flexible work with less work and appreciate that it can actually be a more effective and efficient means to getting the job done. Parenting is an exercise in time management, and as the saying goes, if you want something done – ask a mother. According to a study by Ernst & Young women in flexible roles waste the least amount of time at work of all staff, just 11.1%, compared to an average 14.5% for the rest of the working population. So providing flexible work options can be a win for business as well as working parents.
3. Abandon traditional gender stereotypes
We all need to let go of the antiquated views of gender that see the female identity tied to caring and the male identity tied to winning bread. Both mums and dads are parents, and both are responsible for the care and wellbeing of their children. If the role of carer is more equally divided between both parents then it makes sense that working mums will have more time to look after themselves when they need it.
And this is just the start. Whether mums are in paid work or not they rarely put their needs ahead of their children’s, and while this is admirable; its also making them sick. Workplaces, government and men can do a lot to help change this.