Offering support for parents within your workforce is the key to improving productivity, employee retention, and morale.
Being a working parent — especially a working mother — has been hard since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s actually research pre-pandemic showing that married working moms and single working moms don’t actually spend a different amount of time on child care,” Jessica Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, told WBUR last year. “And actually, married mothers spend more than working moms, spend more time on housework than single working moms do, in part because of different standards and things like that.”
One thing the pandemic did change, though, is how obvious that struggle is. What was previously a quietly managed juggling act was exposed through the rapid transition to remote work that COVID-19 brought. With the struggle of working parents brought to light, many companies are rethinking the ways that they support parents in their workforce.
Understanding the new needs of working parents
Before you can effectively support a working parent, you have to have an understanding of what those challenges are. Even if you’re a working parent yourself, don’t just extrapolate your experiences onto others and assume the challenges are the same.
Everyone lives somewhere different and has different work, school, and commute needs. Everyone’s children are different ages and different individuals — they all have different needs. Then, each parent’s specific job is different on top of all of those variables.
The best thing you can do to understand the needs of the parents in your workforce is to ask them. Of course, you can always have direct conversations if your employees feel like they can speak candidly to you. If not, anonymous surveys are an excellent way to get unfiltered thoughts on what’s working for them currently and what could be done to better meet their needs.
Ask your employees about their needs and what could be done better to support them as parents.
How to support parents in your workforce
Just like the unique challenges that parents face, the ways that they can be best supported are also not a one-size-fits-all solution. One of the best things you can do is to offer as much flexibility and options for accommodations as possible. This way parents are able to pick and choose what works for them rather than have to try to make the most of benefits that might not be any help to them at all. Some suggestions on how to better support parents in your workforce include:
- Offering flexible work hours
- Focusing on output (vs. hours worked)
- Boosting employee benefits
- Being flexible with sick time
- Allowing parents to bring their kids to work when needed
Offer flexible work hours
One of the trickiest things of parenthood is all the juggling that’s required. Between home life, work life, and kid life, there are a lot of logistics to consider. One of the ways that you can offer support for parents in your team is by being as flexible as possible, especially with work hours.
Avoid rigid start and stop times that can be difficult to fit around the fluctuating schedules of children. Stay away from requiring a continuous workday, especially while your workforce is remote during the pandemic. One of the best things busy parents can do is run errands in the middle of the day when lines are short. Give parents the option of being able to do that without having to sacrifice their lunch hour to do so.
Support parents by focusing on output
Rather than monitoring a working parent’s time, focus instead on output. This way you’re evaluating them based on their ability to fulfill their role, not the time it takes them to do so. Requiring a certain number of work hours essentially robs a working parent of their ability to effectively manage their time to complete all of their responsibilities when they’re the person best suited to make the decision on where to spend their time.
Boost your benefits to help support parents
If you don’t have paid parental leave, now is the time to set that up. Whether it’s through biological birth, adoption, or fostering, a new arrival in the family is a major event that requires time for settling in. A popular option these days has been allowing new parents to use their leave as they’d like — whether that’s all in one chunk, or phasing it out to take a staggered approach back to working full time. The key here is being open to whatever benefits they need to make the transition to parenthood work.
Be flexible with how PTO and sick time are used
Being flexible with how employees take time off will support parents and let them know your company values their time and other priorities.
Kids get sick. Kids need to go to doctor appointments and the like. There are school meetings to attend. Especially if you don’t offer flexible time off, be as accommodating as you can with the time off you do offer. Allow parents to use their sick days to tend to the needs of their children and try to give them as many paid sick days as possible. Being flexible with how employees take time off will support parents and let them know your company values their time and other priorities.
Create opportunities for parents to bring their kids to work
Pretty much every parent has been there: You have to work but your childcare fell through. Making parents pick between work and their kids is a losing strategy. If you’re able to go above and beyond to offer daycare at the office or a stipend for daycare elsewhere — amazing. If not, be flexible with allowing parents to bring their kids into work with them when necessary. Create a hangout space, if you can, where kids of a variety of ages can entertain themselves with puzzles, books, and maybe even an iPad or two so that mom or dad can focus on work while their little one is with them.
Parent-friendly workplaces for the win!