Managing Working Parents
Creating a Flexible, Happy Workforce
Michael is one of your most talented team members: he's dedicated and innovative, and he never misses a deadline. However, due to family obligations, he wants to leave work every day at 3 p.m. to collect his children from school.
Michael has asked to come in earlier, or to work at home in the evenings, to make up for this lost time, but you have to deny his request. Although your organization does have a flexitime policy in place, you need him to work office hours so that he can take inbound calls and attend meetings with clients in person. A few months later, he leaves your organization for a company that offers him flexible working hours.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 58 percent of families have two working parents. In the U.K., the Office of National Statistics puts this number at 53 percent. With these figures, and with single-parent households included as well, several people in your team may be working parents.
Parents in the workforce face challenges and time constraints that other professionals might not experience. Organizations need to support working parents, or they might find that they lose them to companies with more family-friendly policies. Also, you'll get better work from working parents who are positive and highly-motivated, and who believe that the organization is "on their side."
In this article, we'll look at how you can get the best from the working parents on your team. We'll also look at how organizations can get a fair deal, too.
The Challenges of Working Parents
Professionals with children face a number of challenges.
For example, typical workday hours often conflict with a child's school or daycare schedule, so parents might have to leave work early to care for their children. They might also need time off for school holidays, special events, vacations, or illnesses.
Because working parents often have to use vacation time to take care of sick children, or to accommodate school vacation schedules, they may have little time left for important events, such as school plays and children's sporting events. This can create stress and guilt, which can affect productivity and well-being.
In addition, maintaining a healthy life balance can be a struggle for parents. They naturally put their children's needs above their own, meaning that they typically take less time for themselves than non-parents. Burnout, stress, and lack of physical fitness are major challenges for working parents, and for their organizations.
Many countries have laws that protect working parents, but the scope of these laws differs widely depending on your location.
For example, the United States guarantees working parents 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave*. However, if the organization employs fewer than 50 people, or if parents work part-time, this law doesn't apply.
Working mothers in England and Wales are guaranteed 39 weeks of maternity pay if they qualify, with up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. Canada guarantees 15-18 weeks of paid maternity leave, and this can be increased with "parental leave," which can be shared between both parents.
In England and Wales, fathers are entitled to one or two consecutive weeks of paid leave, and they can apply for an Additional Paternity Leave of 26 weeks if the child's mother has returned to work. In Canada, fathers are granted up to 35-52 weeks of paid parental leave, unless they have signed over some of this time to their spouse. Sweden's paternity leave policies are the most generous in the world – both parents are entitled to 240 days of paid leave, which can be shared between them.
In England and Wales, working parents or carers can "make a statutory application" for flexible working. (Employers do not have to grant this, and it's down to each organization to make this decision.) In the U.S., the Fair Labor Standards Act does not address flexible working, but leaves it up to the organization.
Discrimination is another problem facing working parents. In some countries, it's illegal to ask potential recruits whether they have children, or to discriminate against pregnant women, and, of course, women in general. While identifying discrimination can be difficult, these policies can help ensure equality for parents.
This article is meant as a general guide only. Employment laws and regulations differ in each country. Research the laws in your country, state or region before drawing any conclusions.
Flexibility shouldn't work in one direction only. While it's fine for people to ask for flexibility, they have a responsibility to continue delivering good quality work. Managers need to ensure, fairly, that working parents meet this responsibility.
Strategies to Support Working Parents
Parents who work in family-friendly organizations often experience less stress, greater productivity, higher morale and greater job satisfaction than those who work in more rigid environments. You can support the working parents on your team in several ways.
1. Offer Flexible Scheduling
The U.K.'s Department of Trade and Industry's Work-Life Balance Employees' Survey found that 75 percent of organizations that introduced flexible working practices had a more committed and motivated workforce. Providing flexibility to working parents, where appropriate, is one of the most effective ways to offer support.
There are many ways to offer flexible working to your team members. For example, you could allow parents to work from home when a child is sick, or if school is canceled. You could also consider offering job sharing or part-time working, so that working parents can spend time at home with their children.
Often, parents need only small amounts of time off to attend to their children's needs. For example, they might need to leave an hour early to attend an important school event, or a parent/teacher conference. So, consider setting up a time-release policy to address this need.
You need to make sure that your working parents' deadlines are being met, and that their work is not suffering as a result of time that they're taking off. So, allot a certain number of hours per quarter that parents, and other members of staff, can use for personal commitments. Then create a system to track this time, and track the work that all team members put in to make this time up.
While flexible working will help working parents, organizations need to know that they're not being taken advantage of. Where people will be doing a lot of work from home, move their work onto a project basis, where they deliver specific chunks of work to a specific quality by specific dates. As long as dates and quality are met, the organization can be confident that employees are keeping their side of the bargain.
While project work may be suitable for working on at home, work that is hard to monitor may not be. Consider restructuring homeworkers' roles so that they focus on project-based work.
Last, make sure that you offer this flexibility to people without children as well; everybody should be treated fairly, regardless of their family situation.
However charming and delightful young children are, looking after them is a full time job in its own right. As such, working from home is a very poor childcare solution for them. This is why communication with your working parents is so important; start open discussions early on, and ask your working parents to suggest any assistance that you might be able to give. By doing this, you can try to avoid situations where childcare solutions might be a problem.
2. Provide Training and Skill-Building Opportunities to Returnees
Parents who return to work after an absence often need extra time to catch up and rebuild their skills. This is why it's so important to provide training and development opportunities.
First, ask returning team members if they feel that they're lacking in certain skills.
Address skills gaps with training opportunities that take into account a parent's hectic schedule and unique needs. For example, it's much easier for parents to complete instructor-led or online training during normal work hours than it is for them to attend weekend training sessions.
Parents often struggle with a lack of time, so help them learn good time-management and scheduling skills. Some time management tools, such as Action Programs, can help parents become more organized and productive while they're at work. Teach parents how to delegate successfully and use leverage skills to get more done in less time.
3. Consider Providing Childcare and Parental Support
Some organizations offer on-site childcare, childcare vouchers, or emergency childcare placement to their employees.
Although this can be a considerable expense, it can sometimes save money if employees have fewer unscheduled absences. Childcare support can also enhance the reputation of your organization, aid recruitment, build morale, lower the stress levels of working parents, and decrease job turnover.
4. Provide Rewards
When you reward your team for a job well done, consider what working parents really need. For instance, say "thank you" by giving them an extra personal day, or an afternoon off.
Offer gifts that can help relieve stress for a working parent, but make sure that you offer the same rewards to all of your team members. While people will often appreciate any type of "thank you," rewards that address the wants and needs of working parents can make a greater impact.
Chances are, a number of the people on your team are working parents. Organizations that provide support for these parents often find that productivity, loyalty and morale go up, while stress and job turnover go down. You can provide support for team members with children in many ways.
First, make an effort to provide flexible work arrangements. This could involve part-time work, telecommuting, or job sharing. While it's important to support working parents, organizations also need to ensure that flexible working arrangements are productive and positive.
Provide training and skill-building opportunities to parents returning from an absence, help working parents connect with each other, and provide access to information or resources for childcare.
When you do this, make sure that you are fair to people who don't have children. They should have the same opportunities to work flexibly.
* If both parents work for the same organization, this leave may be shared between them.