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Working mothers need more than flexibility to help their wellbeing and manage work/life balance, according to a new report co-led by the University of Plymouth.
In collaboration with community interest company, Pillars of Wellness & Wellbeing (PoWW), the new report outlines how working mothers still feel under significant pressure, with a high proportion accessing mental health support just to cope with daily life.
The joint initiative, funded by the University’s Get Involved Awards, interviewed working mums from a variety of backgrounds and sectors in the South West. In addition to identifying the issues, the work explains the success behind the follow-up wellbeing initiatives designed to combat them. 
The report’s authors now recommend that employers in all sectors consider rolling out the new wellbeing sessions to all employees, and not just provide ‘tokenistic’ gestures.  

The method and findings 

Interviews were conducted with 21 mothers of different ages, career stages, working patterns and marital statuses to explore how they managed their wellbeing and the challenges they encountered in doing so.
Of the 21 interviewed, 17 discussed having to access services such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or coaching to help them manage their wellbeing due to the pressures they experienced. Feelings of ‘guilt’ and ‘having no time to prioritise their wellbeing’ were regularly reported, as were additional pressures due to societal assumptions that, as a mother, they had to be the primary care giver.
Mum of four Geri Mann was one of the research participants. She said: 
“As women, we’re taught not to be outspoken and to just deal with whatever is going on. While things are getting better, and my husband and I support each other, it’s still innate in my being to not take up much space or be ‘too much’ of anything. 
"I felt like I had to put myself at the bottom of the pile in order for everything else to work properly.” 
Geri Mann and family
Geri Mann and family

What’s the solution?

Based on the themes identified in the interviews, the research team – containing expertise in wellness and wellbeing – designed a series of four workshops aiming to improve mothers’ welfare and happiness. The workshops comprised of:
1. Polyvagal theory (the science of safety and trauma)
2. Qi Gong (a gentle physical exercise with mindfulness) and breathwork
3. Yoga and meditation
4. Habit forming 
The feedback from the workshops was overwhelmingly positive, and mothers had started to form new positive habits to help manage their wellbeing. 
Geri said of her experience: 
“I've changed so much since the sessions I can't say how much I needed them right at that moment. I'd totally given up on myself. People kept telling me I needed to find some me time, but I didn't have the energy or will to find it. But taking that time, one hour a week, was so important and by having it as four sessions over four weeks, I was able to start setting new habits.”
The project now recommends that employers consider rolling out the workshops as part of their wellbeing offer. The research team added that employers need to ensure they offer the workshops to everyone – including fathers and other caregivers – to address some of the stereotyping that assumed the mother was the primary caregiver. 

What the experts say

Most of the women we interviewed said that their employers were largely supportive, with flexible working being widely available. This is great to hear, but with the vast majority of these women also having to seek mental health support in order to get by, something else has to happen, or needs to change.

All employers need to consider wellbeing of their employees, not as a tokenistic gesture but as a serious element of business continuity. There are major skills shortages across various professions in the region and beyond, so the more we can do to support mothers to stay in paid employment, the better.

It is important to remember that supporting the wellbeing of parents is not an exclusively female issue. Whilst in many families mothers take on the lion’s share of mental and physical load of childcare – as evidenced in this report – that is exacerbated by the fact that employers don’t offer flexible working options for fathers.

A lot of my wider research explores this in further detail, so we absolutely recommend that any wellbeing interventions introduced are accessible to all to help combat issues around parental gender stereotyping.

Jasmine KellandJasmine Kelland
Lecturer in Human Resource Studies/Leadership

All of the participants reported that the workshops helped them to alleviate the mum guilt they previously experienced and improve their mental health.

They also reported a sense of connectedness with one another through a shared understanding of their challenges. We would love to see employers rolling out such sessions to improve wellbeing for mothers, and ensure they’re accessible for all working parents. 
Lauren Packham, who established PoWW

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