Childcare Concerns Elevate On-the-Job Stress Levels

Published: Mar 31, 2009

Topics: Workplace Issues       

Parents who are stressed out about their children's after-school arrangements say they are much more likely to foul up at work, according to a new study.

Among the findings: Workers who are particularly feeling stress are more than three times as likely to report high levels of job disruptions than their counterparts with low levels of parental stress.

Also, parents with high stress levels miss about eight days of work a year compared with low-stress parents who miss only about three days. Findings also showed high-stress parents reported less energy and said they were more likely to turn down requests to work extra hours.

The study, conducted by researchers at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., analyzed 243 questionnaires from employees at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. who have at least one school-age child. Parents surveyed were asked questions specific to stress related to their children's after-school care and activities, such as how much they worry about their child's after-school safety. Employees worked anywhere from New Jersey to Texas and in jobs ranging from administrative assistant to senior vice president. Most respondents were married mothers whose spouses also work.

Researchers at Brandeis's Community, Families & Work program say they specifically focused on this cause of stress because, after discussions with both families and businesses, it became clear that the "mismatch between the hours kids go to school and the hours parents work" was causing disruptions among employees, says Karen Gareis, one of the researchers on the study. "Businesses knew anecdotally that at three o'clock the phones started ringing. We thought it would be great to get a quantifiable measure of how the after-school stress was affecting their jobs."

Ms. Gareis says there's also a drop-off in the number of after-school activities available to students in middle school, when kids can be more independent, but are also "old enough to get into some really serious trouble," she says. According to the Department of Justice, the number of violent crimes by juveniles peaks in the after-school hours between three and four.

For Michelle Kuper, a program consultant with J.P. Morgan Chase who took the survey, the after-school issues don't cause her to miss days of work. But nonetheless, the period from three to six o'clock is the most stressful part of her day because her husband, a technician for a phone company, sometimes can get stuck at work, making it impossible for him to pick up their five-year-old from an after-school program.

"If he calls me out of nowhere and says he can't get him, I have to drop everything and leave," Ms. Kuper says. "So that's very stressful."

The Brandeis researchers hope both employers and parents will use the findings to support arguments for flexible work arrangements. "Employers now have data confirming that flexible working arrangements have a positive impact on their bottom line," says Rosalind Chait Barnett, the study's principal investigator. In addition, "parents can take these findings and can make a stronger case for their own needs."

The research was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that supports research on family and workplace issues.