Sixth Annual Modern Family Index: Work/Family Conflicts Aren’t Going Away

Working mom balancing career and parenting

“The stress of balancing work and family responsibilities is the most significant factor contributing to depression among employees.”

“One-third of the employees surveyed, both male and female, reported significant difficulties with managing family responsibilities.”

“Over 40 percent felt their job interferes with home.”

“45 percent of 9,000 employees surveyed reported burnout at work.”

All that from the Christian Science Monitor about the trials of parenting, and the hoops parents have to jump through to make work and families fit. 

Here’s the (not-so) fun fact: the article is dated 1986. 

Apparently, not much has changed. 

Working and Parenting Stuck in a Time Warp

Despite three decades of talk about improving the lot for working mothers and fathers, our newly released Modern Family Index (MFI) – the sixth in the series – shows parents still having to contort themselves to make it work. In 2020, just as in 1986, they’re stressed about missing family moments, struggling to manage responsibilities, and burning out in greater numbers than ever before. And it isn’t just the conflicts of being a working parent – but the stigma. Two decades into the 21st century, the MFI shows parents aren’t just afraid to take time for their families; they’re fearful of even mentioning them at all. 

“There has been no improvement over the past six years in the percentage of parents reluctant to talk family responsibilities with colleagues,” reads the study. Despite the always-on mentality of the modern era, and parents’ willingness to work outside of business hours to keep up, they still feel compelled to hide personal lives, with more than half resorting to subterfuge to care for sick children or family emergencies – twice the number who did so in 2014. 

Data, reads the study, “shows that working parents are still unable to be honest and open at work out of fear that their family responsibilities will hold them back from career success.”

Escalating Costs of Family Conflicts 

On paper, that may seem like a personal issue. But it’s more than that. Employees worried about stigmatized personal lives – who feel unable to be candid at work about who they are – are challenged to put in their best work. And consider the effect on morale. All this when today’s workplaces – thanks to always-available technology -- are demanding more than ever. No wonder working parents are flight risks, with mothers and fathers telling our 2016 MFI they’ve left jobs for more family friendliness, even when it’s meant less money. "The collective impact of being stretched thin at work while facing continued disappointment at home,” says Bright Horizons CHRO Maribeth Bearfield, “is forcing parents to leave their jobs in search of workplaces that are more in tune with modern priorities.”

Right there’s the problem for employers. And the stakes are only getting higher. In the latter half of the 20th century, less than half of women with children were in the labor force. Today that number is more than 70%. That’s a lot to risk in single-digit unemployment. Then there are organizational results. The In its cryptically titled, “Child Care Crisis Is Keeping Women Out of the Workforce,” the Center of American Progress reports American businesses are losing billions to child care breakdowns – and even more to related losses in productivity. Yet those are challenges employers may be unaware of because parents are afraid to speak up. In 2020, as in our first MFI in 2014, family still means fired. 

But perhaps most dispiriting of all is the stalemate. Those same children parents were worrying about way back in 1986 are now having children themselves; and they’re still struggling with the same work-family issues faced by their parents.

"We think as a society we are progressing in the workplace,” says Bright Horizons Chief Human Resources Officer Maribeth Bearfield about the new MFI. “But the data from the Modern Family Index tells a different story.”

And the story it’s telling us that there’s a lot more work to do.

Infographic from the 2020 Modern Family Index

Bright Horizons MFI Study Shows Parents Worry Honesty Could Cost Them Their Jobs

Click here to access the full Sixth Annual Bright Horizons Modern Family Index report.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

February 11, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.