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Layoffs Add to Working Parents' Growing List of Stressors

A man and his son using a laptop at home.

​On March 20, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy informed his staff in a memo that the company plans to lay off 9,000 more employees in the coming weeks, after laying off more than 18,000 employees between November 2022 and January 2023.

"This was a difficult decision, but one that we think is best for the company long term," Jassy wrote.

Amazon is one of many companies nationwide that have cut jobs as the economy fluctuates. As news of layoffs and a looming recession haunt workers across the U.S., a recent Harris Poll survey revealed that one group is particularly concerned with the precarious economy: working parents.

Nearly half of employees with children under 18 fear getting laid off due to a shaky economy compared with just 38 percent of workers who do not have a child under 18, according to a survey of 1,000 workers by HR technology platform Justworks in New York City.

"The past three years have been particularly challenging for working parents," said Allison Rutledge-Parisi, senior vice president of Justworks' people team. She noted that getting laid off is one of employed parents' "top concerns in the current economic environment."

The findings also revealed:

  • About 54 percent of working parents have changed their behavior, such as by taking on more tasks at work, to avoid being laid off compared with 40 percent of employees without kids under 18.
  • Half of working parents with a child under 18 are afraid they will have to begin working longer hours due to the looming recession compared with 39 percent of respondents without children under 18.
  • About 40 percent of employed parents reported having already started working longer hours to make more money due to an impending recession compared with just 31 percent of employees without children under 18.

About 72 percent of employed parents are either actively looking or open to a new job due to fears of being laid off, according to the report. Yet more than half of employed parents agree that they have fewer employment opportunities available to them in this economic environment.

Many working parents develop an "exit plan" when rumors of layoffs run rampant, according to Elizabeth Chrane, chief people officer for business consulting firm OneDigital in Atlanta.

"Spending more of their time looking for other roles, interviewing [with other companies] and quiet quitting is not just taking time away from their responsibilities," she explained, "it can [also] create tension with colleagues if they stop meeting their work obligations."

A Recession's Potential Effect on Working Parents

Employed parents have had to deal with a growing number of stressors since the COVID-19 pandemic began—from inflation and health management to home schooling and rising child care costs—that have led to a surge in anxiety and depression among working mothers.

Angie Bergner, vice president of people and business operations with HR consulting firm Veris Insights in Washington, D.C., said murky economic times can take a toll on working parents' mental health, as they feel the weight of job instability more acutely than do those without children.

"Working parents have to grapple with how they can ensure job stability while keeping a sense of work/life balance," she said. "The impact of being laid off can be much more destabilizing due to the financial responsibilities that come with having children."

Even if layoffs do not occur, an unstable economy can also lead to companies cutting costs, including diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs and certain benefits. Bergner noted that this could spell doom for many employed parents who rely on perks such as child care benefits and insurance coverage for their families.

"With a looming recession, the fear of losing those benefits raises concerns about financial security," she said.

How to Ease Recession Fears

Rutledge-Parisi said easing recession fears among working parents starts with communication and transparency.

"Employees need to feel that they have a voice and their concerns are heard," she said. "Creating channels for employees to share feedback directly with leadership, and then responding to that feedback, will help companies create a more inclusive company culture and retain top talent."

Companies can help workers navigate tough economic times by:

  • Conducting regular employee surveys, such as questionnaires and pulse surveys, to gauge employee concerns.
  • Communicating frequently, honestly and consistently with employees about the state of the company.
  • Having honest, empathetic dialogue with employees, especially working parents, to alleviate concerns and improve the employee experience.
  • Keeping tabs on the latest research and industry trends to understand how employees may be feeling.
  • Referring them to employee assistance programs to address grief, anger and exhaustion.

Chrane implored companies to notify their employees, particularly working parents, in a respectful way if layoffs are being planned to help them prepare for their immediate futures.

"While it's not required to share the details of your policies," she explained, "it can be reassuring if your people know of about any severance and career placement services that will be provided."


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