Why We Must Support Parents in the Workplace
Having a baby changes everything. Suddenly you are responsible for a tiny human, with zero training and minimal preparation. It’s the most rewarding and amazing thing I’ve done, but it’s also the most challenging.
I actually feel like a different person than I did 10 months ago, before my son was born. Not just because of the new responsibilities and sense of meaning that come with parenthood, but – to put it bluntly – because I’m bloody knackered. All the time.
Having a child is also incredibly stressful. How could it not be? The more you care about someone, the more you worry about them.
Tiredness and stress affect all aspects of our lives – but no more so than work. This is why it’s so important that we provide working parents with the support they need, enabling them to be at their best both inside and outside work. Here are a few practical ways to do this.
Offer flexible and remote working
Being self-employed, I’m fortunate to be able to choose where and when I work. And as a new parent, this is an absolute godsend. It gives me the flexibility to balance work and family commitments, and it certainly softens the blow of those disrupted nights.
But this got me thinking – how do people working 9-to-5 in an office cope? It seems to me that enforcing traditional office hours on new parents is one of the most counterproductive things a business can do. It pretty much guarantees that they’ll come to work exhausted, and it adds an extra layer of unnecessary stress.
Quite frankly, most businesses should already be allowing their employees a degree of flexibility – unless the nature of their work makes it impossible. But even those that are reluctant to budge on this issue should make allowances for parents with young children (or indeed those with aging parents).
Flexibility should be a given for parents of school-aged children too, allowing them to fulfill their parental and professional responsibilities, rather than being forced to pick one or the other.
Awareness, understanding, and support
Many parents struggle with tiredness, stress, or even financial pressures, but put on a brave face in the workplace. This can be the case at any stage of parenthood.
In fact, a 2001 study conducted by Temple University found that 40% of parents suffer a deterioration in mental health when their children reach adolescence. Furthermore, in her recent talk at DisruptHR Nottingham, Anika Vassell revealed that of employees with children aged 9-19, 70% found it difficult to concentrate at work as a result of child-related issues, but over half (52%) did not tell their employer about their situation.
There is an underlying assumption that our personal problems don’t matter to our managers or employers, and that talking about them would be seen as a sign of weakness. This attitude must change. Having someone at work to talk to can be a real help – and this goes for any employee at any stage of their life.
Work is a huge part of who we are. We cannot be expected to compartmentalize what happens at home and what happens in the workplace, nor put on a brave face eight hours a day if we are in fact struggling.
If the goal is to humanize the workplace, we must allow employees to be honest about the issues that are affecting them – whether professional or personal. Employees should feel able to discuss personal issues during check-ins with their manager, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported, not judged.
This not only creates a culture of openness and honesty; it also helps managers see any changes in mood or performance in the right context.
Other parent-friendly policies
Starting a family shouldn’t be seen as a career risk, nor a disadvantage. By supporting employees through paid parental leave, you not only give them the time and space they need to care for their child, but you also show them that you care. In addition, you can help employees transition back into work by offering part-time positions or job-share options that make balancing work and family commitments that bit easier.
You can also make it easier for parents to return to work by offering help with childcare, whether on-site or through financial support or discounts. And as a nice perk, why not offer a one-off ‘baby bonus’ for new parents. The amount here doesn’t really matter; it’s about showing people that you value them beyond their job titles – and small gestures can go a long way.
A parent-friendly approach benefits everyone
Whatever you do, the aim should be to make working parents’ lives as easy possible. That means providing them with the flexibility they need to balance their professional and parental duties, and offering support in what can be a very challenging time.
Ultimately, nothing is more important than family. And what happens outside of work has a huge impact on what happens inside. By creating a truly inclusive, family-friendly workplace, your employees will reward you with loyalty and enthusiasm.