Mentl Logo


Work Life Balance

It’s the dilemma of any working parent…

How much time do you spend with your children? Physically let alone meaningfully?

You know how it is, you are out the door at 7am to do the school run, brave the traffic, put in your shift, which for many still includes a work environment focussed more on squeezing out your labour than your wellbeing, then you awkwardly run the gauntlet of eager beavers competing in the ‘who can stay at their desk longest’ before slogging home, possibly just making the bedtime story.

If this resonates, cut yourself some slack as studies in 2021 suggested that the global average for working parents is less than 11 hours a week.

But a slew of recent research and news stories have put the issue of working parents and their children’s wellbeing into stark focus, both here in the UAE and in the UK. 

Child Mental Health Issues Soar In UK

Just this week the UK’s The Guardian newspaper reported how official data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists showed “the number of children referred to emergency mental healthcare in England had soared by more than 50 percent in three years, according to data laying bare the impact of lengthy waiting lists for regular NHS treatment”.

“The increase means more than 600 mentally ill children a week are deteriorating to such a state that they have reached crisis point,” wrote Andrew Gregory, the newspaper’s Health editor. “Many of the children requiring emergency care – some suicidal or seriously ill as a result of eating disorders – have been stuck on waiting lists for an average of five months, and in the worst cases as long as two years, the college said.”

Here in the UAE, not only has a new mental health law enshrined ‘special health guarantees considering their age and psychological condition’ for children, but also the spotlight has fallen on the private sector’s responsibility to promote family-friendly policies.

UAE Shines Spotlight on Family Friendly Firms

A little over a week ago, reported The National, President Sheikh Mohamed attended an event to honour parent-friendly organisations, saying prioritising family support would be a primary focus of the government, noting that families are the foremost source of education and the cornerstone of a robust and stable society.

His comments came during an event to honour institutions awarded the Parent-friendly Label (PFL) by the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA), state news agency Wam reported. The PFL encourages companies to adopt policies that support working parents, enabling them to provide the best possible care for their children.

Sheikh Mohamed said that helping parents to balance their work and private lives strengthens family bonds and promotes effective parenting – which is positive for all in society, adding that family-friendly policies not only had a positive effect on families, but also on workplace efficiency, as a positive working environment boosts productivity.

Less Pay For More Family Time

The impetus for the workplace to adopt a more family-friendly approach was also captured in the recent UAE edition of Cigna’s Vitality Report. In a recent recording of ‘the mentl space’ podcast (coming soon) Lianne Braganza D’Silva revealed the report showed that two-thirds of respondents said they would take a lower paid job to spend more time with family. Set that against the backdrop captured in the Cigna’s report which showed 89 percent of respondents felt they were ‘always on’ and 32 percent were working outside normal hours – both higher than the global average.

Coming soon on ‘the mentl space’ podcast Scott Armstrong sits down with Cigna’s Lianne Braganza D’Silva

Parent-friendly working policies, such as flexible schedules and parental leave, can positively impact children’s mental health. When parents have supportive workplace environments, they experience less stress [5]. Reduced stress levels in parents correlate with better parenting practices, including providing emotional support and creating a nurturing home environment, which are crucial for children’s mental well-being [1].

Moreover, family-friendly workplace policies can enhance work-life balance for parents, allowing them more time to engage in positive interactions and activities with their children [4]. This increased quality time spent together fosters stronger parent-child relationships and promotes children’s emotional resilience [3].

Happy At Work, Happy Parents At Home

Writing in the Harvard Business Review in January 2023,Maureen Perry-Jenkins, a professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, outlined one study she had done on the topic.

“The data showed that parents who experienced more autonomy on the job and who had more-supportive supervisors and coworkers were in turn warmer and more engaged when interacting with their infants,” she wrote. 

“So what does this mean for employers? From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it’s clear that if work impacts employees’ children, employers have a responsibility to ensure that the impact is as positive as possible.”

Unicef also underscored the importance of family-friendly policies, and why they are good for business, witing in June last year. “Investing in family-friendly policies benefits families, businesses and economies. These policies help to address the needs of parents and families for adequate time, resources, and services to care for children, while fulfilling their work responsibilities and improving their skills and productivity.”

It’s clear that the direction of travel in the UAE both at a leadership level and an employee level is towards more focus on family, with increased support for parents and for children’s mental health. The UK’s statistics on children’s mental health are a sharp reminder that the private sector must play its role too.