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Working parents in crisis: How employers can better support parents in the workplace

This article was originally published in Benefits and Pensions Monitor.

While parents in the workplace have traditionally grappled silently with balancing work responsibilities with raising children and supporting their partners and/or aging parents, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed focus on the real challenges that working parents face. In 2021, McMaster University and the Offord Centre for Child Studies’ conducted its second Ontario Parent Survey, which uncovered a significant increase in both mental health struggles and difficulty being able to take care of their own physical health challenges because of too many other competing priorities.

Factors such as school closures, remote work, physical distancing measures, and/or health management of their entire family has been overwhelming for parents in the workforce. As a father and caregiver to other family members myself, I have experienced first-hand just how difficult balancing the competing demands of family and work can be. These days, more than ever, parents are seeking out meaningful support from their employers.

Virtual care can help alleviate pressures placed on today’s working parent

Throughout the pandemic, we also saw a unique shift in digital health evolution, particularly when it came to recognizing how parents play a significant role in keeping families and our communities healthy. This shift has paved the way for further innovation and there is great potential for the expanded use of digital tools such as virtual care, virtual pharmacy, and preventative care services, especially when offered to working parents by their employers as a part of a company’s overall health and wellbeing benefits toolkit.

Health should always be a top priority. This is especially true for parents who are often working hard to support themselves and family members. Proactive healthcare management through virtual care strives to involve people in their own care, by facilitating real-time collaboration with healthcare professionals to help address health problems before they escalate. The goal is to help parents improve their overall health through ongoing lifestyle changes, rather than drastic intervention. And, with better control over their own personal health, they are better equipped to support loved ones throughout their health journeys as well, especially when unexpected challenges arise with family members. 

As a parent, it has always been important to me that my children have access to healthcare support which became an acute challenge during the pandemic. When my child developed a rash on their arm, virtual care was essential as wait times to see our family doctor had surged tremendously. My child was able to meet with a nurse practitioner quickly, who sought advice from an in-house dermatologist and helped put together a treatment plan.

According to findings in the second Ontario Parent Survey, 38 percent of parents experienced an increase in anxiety during the third wave of the pandemic. Furthermore, findings also showed a drastic increase (40 percent) in alcohol intake among parents. The impact of the pandemic has left parents in a mental health crisis and employers need to be prepared to respond to a shifting psychological landscape by providing a supportive environment to those in need as we continue to face uncertainty.

On top of mental health challenges, parents have also been undergoing major physical health struggles as well. The survey also revealed that a high proportion of parents (56.3 per cent) reported having weight gain themselves and lower activity levels for their children. This comes as no surprise as many parents continue to have high levels of concern (54 per cent) around maintaining routines in their work-life balance.

With so much that has been out of our control over the last two years, more parents are looking to take control back by being proactive about their own, as well as their family members’ health management. This presents an opportunity for employers to help support this shift and equip their workforce with innovative, and holistic healthcare employee assistance programs (EAPs) and tools that encourage the aspect of preventative healthcare. 

By adopting modern virtual care supports, employers can create a workplace with stronger organizational health, offer a care-centric experience for employees, and improve efficiency by reducing time spent booking and traveling to appointments. 

Integrating an innovative EAP that better supports working parents

Traditional EAPs oftentimes lack the qualities of being personalized, adaptable, and delivered to employees in a meaningful way that supports them throughout the entirety of their health journey. The last few years have taught us that anything could change at any moment in one’s life journey. Due to this, many business leaders are reassessing their current benefits and program offerings to be more supportive of a shifting physical and mental health landscape.

By offering solutions that draw on the latest cutting-edge technology in care, employers can help parents achieve a better work-life balance, and foster a more resilient workplace. Integrating an innovative EAP such as TELUS Health LifeJourney, is a great way to ensure employees feel supported no matter how their life situation may change.

Employees can connect directly with a compassionate care advocate through encrypted text or a video call, 24/7, from anywhere in Canada. Once their situation is assessed, a care advocate creates a personalized care plan and the employee will use the LifeJourney app to connect with the professionals they need. In addition to virtual healthcare, LifeJourney also provides employees with access to financial and legal assistance, delivering a truly holistic approach to care. The most important part? As an employee’s care needs shift, so will their care plan.  The assigned care advocate will work with the employee to provide real-time adjustments to their plan. 

TELUS Health continues to expand its full suite of virtual care tools to help Canadian employers better support the health and wellness of their workforce. By way of example, we recently acquired Sprout Wellness Solutions. This digital health engagement platform offers real-time health risk assessments, activity tracking, and wellness content. Although the Sprout acquisition is quite recent, we have already made strides towards integration with the TELUS Health platform so customers can begin to enjoy the benefits.

These tools allow parents to access personalized care services from the comfort of their own home or even while traveling in Canada for work, providing them with effective support even when they are unable to visit their regular practitioner. They also help busy parents save time by eliminating the need for commuting, searching and paying for parking, sitting in waiting rooms or busy pharmacies, and taking time off work, all of which is typically required with in-person appointments.

Coupled with the increased uncertainty, anxiety, and stress that is more prevalent in the lives of parents today, it’s more important than ever for employers to offer flexible EAP programs that recognize the evolving challenges of working parents. It is also necessary to acknowledge that no one journey will ever be the same so a shift in thinking from a “one size fits all” approach to an approach where we take the time to better understand the unique needs of our workforce and each organization’s demographics is the new way forward.