Working mothers - a work based group counselling approach
Depression in the workplace is widely recognised as a cost burden to both the employer through lost productivity, and to the employee through the loss of enjoyment of life and the effort involved in their recovery process. It is equally accepted that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men are.
Again, using generalities and in no way diminishing the various (including the ‘mothering’) roles that men also play, women tend to take prime responsibility for the home and children. This is a valuable social benefit that comes at the cost of the parent who works “the double day”.
Organisational psychologists and corporate work-life specialists use the term “work-family balance”, which if it is out of balance is likely to place an increased burden on the working mother of dependent children. That burden can often leave them feeling depleted of spare resources. One setback in their busy lives is likely to distract them from being able to get on with their various tasks.
This idea of ‘likely’ (used in both the preceding paragraphs) is important for businesses to take into consideration, because they owe a duty of care to sensibly manage the emotional and physical health risk of their staff. That aside, it can easily be imagined that emotionally healthy and resilient staff will be more productive. Investment in the right kinds of management systems can reap rewards.
Risk management consultants often advise businesses to target investments at building flexible and resilient systems i.e. ones which are capable of adapting and bouncing back from significant setbacks.
Some organisations approach this advice by offering flexible working options. That is useful, but its impact is dependent upon the ability of the employee to adapt, plan and organise. Very often such employees are stressed and unable to think clearly. In these circumstances it is not unusual for organisations to provide emotional support through counselling which is often brief and solutions focused.
Other organisations might consider going a step further and engaging the counselling support to build even further than that. A system that includes helping staff to build personal emotional resilience, which is to have spare resources to respond to the busyness of their lives, would make sound business sense. That is even more so if the counselling/development is focused on business benefits and investment costs are kept to a minimum, say through group counselling/training.
One such approach is to build ‘communities of practice’ (COP’s), whereby staff come together, facilitated by the counsellor to collaborate, share with and efficiently support each other.
In this context, COP’s can focus on three challenges for the working mother; being an effective worker, a home-maker, and an attentive parent. In searching for a fair balance the first thing such group processes focus on is in supporting individual participants to get their emotional needs met, balance and prioritise their sometimes, seemingly, competing goals. Being able to calmly assess a situation and communicate needs or manage conflicts is a vital component of a resilient system.
In that process, the team enhance their core resiliency skills through the classic counselling and customer service skills of active listening; using clean, clear language, reflective questioning, building emotional intelligence and applying conflict resolution skills. The resilience is enhanced because the group tend to bond and provide each other with support with all three challenges they face and such bonding invariably lends itself to team work.
Where an organisation already promotes a set of shared values and assumptions for work-family balance, it is win-win for both the business and working mothers.