During lockdown, how often were your online meetings interrupted when a happy toddler came running into the room? During this period, many employers went easy on their working parents, with flexible working hours, more time off, better communication (“are you still pulling through?”) and much more.
However, according to the Harvard Business Review, this hasn’t had a lasting effect on the way employers handle working parents. This is despite there being a need for these provisions. Psychologist Jan Helder explains the challenges faced by working parents and the best ways that you can support them.
Challenges for working parents
Step one when it comes to supporting parents in the workplace is understanding what challenges they’re facing. And there’s only one way to do this: by asking them.
“In consultations, I often speak with working parents about their situation at home and at work and the challenges they have in their daily lives,” explains Jan. “The following four topics come up a lot.”
1. Work-life balance (or more accurately: imbalance)
Balancing home and work tasks is a huge struggle for working parents. School timetables don’t always take into account the hours that parents work (and vice versa). And, of course, an ill child doesn’t take working hours and deadlines into consideration.
This means that working parents are often less flexible than other employees. Working an extra shift, pushing things through in an emergency or meeting a tight deadline becomes a bit harder. It’s often not an option for parents of young children to work overtime.
2. Stereotyping, judgements and guilt
Working parents often have to deal with stereotypes and judgement. Whatever choices you make, there’s always someone who will criticize you.
If you chose not to work less because you want to invest a lot of time and attention in your career, then you’re not paying enough attention to your child.
If you go part-time at work to pay more attention to your children, then you’re not contributing enough to society, you’re not ambitious enough, or you’re contributing to gender inequality (if you’re a mother working part-time).
These are the same judgements that working mothers in particular make about themselves. They often feel guilty about their children when they’re working hard. Fathers, in general, are less affected by this.
Having a job is exhausting. Having a job and raising children is even more exhausting.
During the first months or years of parenthood, many parents have to deal with disturbed nights, but even for those who have children with good sleeping habits, running a household and bringing up children requires a lot of energy.
If you’ve got a lot on your plate, the first things you let slip are often rest, relaxation and time for yourself. This means that working parents are more likely to develop burnout.
4. Growth opportunities
The prospect of making a career shift often becomes less attractive as you get older. Transitions like this are usually accompanied by change, new tasks, learning and adjusting. This takes time, attention and energy; things that working parents temporarily don’t have enough of – no matter how ambitious you are.
But the same is true in reverse. Employers often assume that as a new parent you won’t have the time and attention to give a larger range of tasks or that new management role, because you’ll be busy with your family. This limits your opportunities for promotion, even if that’s something you really want.
How to support your working parents
Time for action! According to the OpenUp psychologists, you can tackle the above challenges for working parents in the following ways:
If you want to avoid letting your working parents burnout, talking is important. Parents need to feel that they can discuss their challenges at work. An empathetic and open culture will help here; a culture where you can have conversations with managers and HR professionals without fear of judgement.
Let parents know where they can go if they’re worried about their work or their own wellbeing. Also, make sure that there is plenty of contact:
- Frequent one-to-one conversations between employers and managers or team leaders
- Periodically send the employee an email/app message or call them, asking them if everything is okay
- Have a periodic more formal meeting to discuss the feasibility of schedules
Be flexible with working hours and work locations
The lives of working parents are unpredictable. Be flexible in case there’s a last-minute change in what your employee needs: an extra day off or working from home, leaving an hour early, or taking a sudden holiday to recharge. Trust your staff to make their own decisions in this regard.
Encourage asynchronous working
In some organizations, it doesn’t matter whether you work 9am to 5pm, or 7am to 8pm with several hours break in between to spend time with your kids. All that matters is that you get your work done and are present for important moments of contact.
By encouraging asynchronous working, you can help working parents to better balance their work and home tasks. This way, working parents will gain more control over their time.
Offer professional support
Since working parents don’t take a lot of time for themselves, you want to offer them support that is as approachable and accessible as possible. Using OpenUp, employees can, for example, digitally schedule a consultation with a psychologist within 48 hours, practice mindfulness (in a group or together with a psychologist) and take part in group sessions about mental health.
Create a culture that supports parents
The last thing you want is for parents in the workplace to feel guilty about being parents. Or to think that they need to try and hide their parenting because, for example, they’re afraid that it will damage their career. This phenomenon is known as “secret parenting“.
Celebrate pregnancies, births and other important moments in the lives of working parents. For example, you could do this with a card and little present or another appropriate gift or message. By doing this, you’ll show current and prospective parents that you stand by them.
Keep growth opportunities open
New parents experience fewer growth opportunities. For example, this is because employers think they can’t take on big projects or increased responsibilities as well as caring for their family.
To overcome this kind of bias, make decisions about who to promote based on objective data rather than general feelings. For example, if somebody has worked at your organization for two years, been on various training courses and received at least a seven from their team leader on certain performance indicators, they should get a promotion.
Make sure that training sessions take place within working hours so that parents won’t be excluded from these.
On that subject, the same applies for social activities. Don’t exclude parents from these by (only) organizing them in the evenings or at the weekends.
Create a father-friendly culture
Women get asked more often than men “how many hours do you want to work after your baby is born?”. In order to keep things equal between men and women, you need to be asking both parents this question.
Be just as encouraging to fathers as you would be to mothers: not just by treating them the same and asking them the same questions regarding expectations in the workplace, but also by offering them flexible working hours and work locations, asynchronous working, the same career opportunities and professional psychological support.
With these tips, you’ll make it easier for parents to combine work and home duties.
👉🏼 Want to learn more about how you can support working parents? Book a demo.