Working parents concerned about after-school care, companies losing billions in job productivity

One-third of labor force, including substantive numbers of both men and women, could be affected, adding to very costly workplace stress

NEW YORK, NY (December 6, 2006) -- Millions of working fathers and mothers are less productive at work due to concerns about what their children are doing in the after-school hours, according to a new study released today by Catalyst, the leading nonprofit research and advisory organization working to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work. The report, entitled After-School Worries: Tough on Parents, Bad for Business, was conducted in cooperation with the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

The study outlines many factors that contribute to employed parents' concern about the after-school hours (called "PCAST," for Parental Concern about After-School Time) and the consequences both for parents and their employers. Though a majority of working parents are faring well, the report finds that both men and women are vulnerable at significant levels to the negative consequences of PCAST, which potentially affects one-third of the labor force, based on census data. (1)

"Our findings show that PCAST can be very toxic to employee attitudes, work performance and well-being," said Karen Gareis, a social psychologist at Brandeis' Women's Studies Research Center and a lead researcher on the study. "However, companies can help all employees—not just parents—perform at their most productive level without breaking the bank. By giving employees greater job control and cultivating a results-oriented ‘agile workplace,' companies can benefit their bottom line as well as their employees."

With over 52 million working parents in the United States, PCAST contributes to worker stress that costs businesses between $50 billion and $300 billion annually in lost job productivity. (2) This loss in productivity is manifested in a range of indicators, from minor disruptions to lower overall job satisfaction, according to the report. The study indicates that potentially at least 2.5 million working parents are overly stressed by PCAST and are particularly likely to bring their concerns to the workplace. These concerns, according to the study, are exacerbated for parents who have more responsibility for childcare in the household, who work longer hours, and whose children are older (grades 6 – 12) or spend more time unsupervised.

According to the report, based on a survey of 1,755 employed parents (44.7 percent fathers, 55.3 percent mothers) who work at one of three Fortune 100 companies across the United States, there is much that companies can do to protect employees against PCAST. When employees have control over their work schedules, for example, they are less likely to experience high levels of PCAST. Over three-fourths of the respondents said that the flexibility to arrive at work later, leave work earlier, or take off part of a workday when necessary significantly reduces general levels of PCAST.

Yet workplace supports are only effective if employees know they exist. The study found that many working parents are not aware that certain supports are available. The fear that taking time off for family reasons and using flexible work arrangements could jeopardize opportunities for advancement further prevents many working parents from taking advantage of available supports. (3) Other Catalyst research shows that even women and men in leadership positions feel that using flexible work arrangements could jeopardize their careers. (4)

Work programs and policies that reduce after-school care stress are often not costly to implement and offer a great deal of "bang for the buck," the study asserts. Such supports are not targeted solely to parents of school-aged children; almost all employees rate flexible work programs as helpful. (5)

"PCAST is an equal-opportunity issue, cutting across gender, race, and rank, from factory floor to executive suite," said Ilene H. Lang, president of Catalyst. "Ultimately, reducing PCAST is a win-win proposition. Businesses can increase productivity and retention in today's round-the-clock work environment by cultivating an agile, results-focused workplace, where work and life responsibilities aren't mutually exclusive."

Catalyst believes that employers of choice can prevent unnecessary worker stress and instead invest in productive employees and a more effective, agile workplace – the key to a sustainable organization. Strategies include:

  • Developing "The Agile Workplace," placing emphasis on more job control enabling employees to "work smart" and perform better, focusing on goals and results, and granting all employees access to flexible work programs, including flex-time, telecommuting, and flex-space
  • Expanding supports that are specifically related to after-school care and investing in community services that support after-school care programs
  • Transforming workplace culture by better educating supervisors and managers about the benefits of an agile workplace and how they can support working parents
  • Actively communicating the availability of supports
  • Openly addressing misperceptions about any consequences of their use

Catalyst recommends that working parents better educate themselves about current or prospective employers' policies. According to the study, they should inquire as to whether a company offers supports like the ability to telecommute on a regular basis, subsidies for after-school care, volunteer leave, back-up after-school care, and bankable hours, among others.

The study notes that preventing and reducing PCAST is supported by a compelling business case that, in turn, supports the health and well-being both of parents and organizations.

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This study was sponsored by Citigroup, Fannie Mae, and Pfizer corporations.

Please visit Catalyst's website, www.catalyst.org, for the full report.

About Catalyst
Catalyst is the leading research and advisory organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work. As an independent, nonprofit membership organization, Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women's career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services globally. With the support and confidence of member corporations and firms, Catalyst remains connected to business and its changing needs. In addition, Catalyst honors exemplary business initiatives that promote women's leadership with the annual Catalyst Award. With offices in New York, San Jose, Switzerland, and Toronto, Catalyst is consistently ranked No. 1 among U.S. nonprofits focused on women's issues by The American Institute of Philanthropy.

About the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University
The Community, Families & Work Program (CFWP), part of the Women's Studies Research Center, at Brandeis University conducts cutting edge, methodically innovative, and policy-oriented research to enhance family well-being. Major funding has come from the State Street Bank Foundation, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Research projects include: understanding how parents of school-aged children coordinate their work schedules with school, after-school and transportation schedules; identifying characteristics of employee-friendly after-school programs to create a "best practices" profile for use by programs and parents; and assessing effects of employed caregivers' concerns about adult/elderly dependents on employee and organizational outcomes as well as which workplace policies and practices are most helpful to caregivers.

  1. See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families in 2005, News Release, April 27, 2006, Washington DC http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/famee.pdf and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State and Regional Unemployment, 2005 Annual Averages, News Release, March 1, 2006, Washington, DC http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/srgune.pdf.
  2. Paul J. Rosch, M.D., F.A.C.P., Editor, Health and Stress, the Newsletter of the American Institute of Stress, (March 2001): p. 3.
  3. James T. Bond, Ellen Galinsky, and Jennifer Swanberg, The 1997 National Study of the Changing Work Force. (New York: Families and Work Institute, 1998).
  4. Catalyst, Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership, 2004
  5. Rosalind Chait Barnett, Home-to-work Spillover Revisited: A Study of Full-time Employed Women in Dual-earner Couples, Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 56, no. 3 (August 1994): p. 647-656; James T. Bond, Cindy Thompson, Ellen Galinsky, and David Prottas, Highlights of the 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce, No. 3 (New York: Families and Work Institute, 2003); and Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic Books, 1991).


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