Just a couple of decades ago, the standard family life looked a lot like this: the man would grab his briefcase, give his children a kiss on the forehead, and head out for his day in the office. His wife would likely stay home to raise the children, tackle the laundry, maybe even whip up the occasional pot roast or pie.
For years, that was the idyll, the American dream. But, today? The world looks a whole lot different.
In 2015, women made up 46.8% of the total workforce — almost half of all workers. In today’s far more progressive society, that statistic inspires an entirely new question: if mom is no longer staying home, what’s happening with the children? How are parents successfully juggling their work lives with their family obligations? Even further, how are employers supporting employees' home lives?
Today: Both Parents Employed, Sleep is a Luxury
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of married-couple families with children, 61.1% of them have both parents employed.
Now, compare that to the 1950s, when only one in every three women participated in the labor force.
Needless to say, things in the working world have changed—and there’s now quite a large percentage of US workers who need to balance the demands of their families with the demands of their careers.
This presents a challenge for working parents—they have added commitments to juggle, less time to handle them, and oftentimes even lack sleep.
“I really don’t think people appreciate how much poor sleep affects your ability to get work done,” explains Elizabeth Harrin, a part-time project manager, blogger at Girl’s Guide to PM, and a mother of two young boys. “Even now, with my eldest just starting school, we rarely sleep through the night and our days start before sunrise. A bad night’s sleep affects my mood, my ability to concentrate, and how much work I can get done in a day.”
Why Employers Should Care About Parents
Because of these mounting stressors for employees who are also parents, more and more employers have been looking for ways they can better support their staff members.
But, why? What’s in it for companies, aside from knowing they’re doing the right thing?
Two words: improved retention. Providing support is a key piece of the employee engagement puzzle. And, when employees feel like they’re actively supported by their employer—both in the office and out—they’re far more likely to stick around.
In fact 41% of people don’t believe that they could be a successful working parent without a supportive boss. That’s a factor that’s second only to having a supportive spouse or partner who shares in the household duties (which 49% of people cited).
Additionally, an emphasis on Millennials is also driving employers to make a change. Millennials currently make up the largest segment of the US labor force. And, as a generation that is notoriously focused on adequate work-life balance, the demand for continued flexibility is only sure to increase as more and more Millennials enter parenthood.
Put simply, for employers who are interested in increasing employee engagement and retention, finding ways to better support working parents is no longer optional.
How to Better Support Working Parents
Fortunately, many employers are moving in the right direction when it comes to supporting and empowering employees who are also parents.
According to one Fairygodboss survey, almost 40% of women reported that their employers have created family-friendly work environments in at least one area (culture, policies, and working hours).
So what sorts of things are the most supportive employers putting into play?
Here are six tactics for companies to create the sort of environments that working parents want to be a part of:
1. Offer Flexible Schedules
“The availability of flexible work schedules is one of the biggest things employers are doing to accommodate working parents,” explains Georgene Huang, CEO and Co-Founder of Fairygodboss.
“More and more employers are allowing employees to work remotely, adjust hours to accommodate childcare needs, and are simply being more understanding when a parent needs to take an hour or two off for a parent/teacher conference or a child’s doctor’s appointment,” Huang continues.
Much of this shift is owed to an emphasis on the quality of work that’s being done—rather than specifically when it’s being accomplished.
“The big change in the workplace over the last 10 years I think has been the shift in office culture away from presenteeism to a results-based culture,” adds Harrin. “As long as you get the work done, no one minds if that's at 3 AM while nursing a baby.”
2. Evaluate Your Parental Leave Policies
Parental leave has been a hot topic of conversation for years now, especially since it’s an area where the US seems to be lagging far behind the rest of the world.
In fact, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.
“Due in large part to the lack of legislative family-friendly policies (such as paid leave) that is present in most other countries, there are still significant obstacles for most parents in the United States to feel like they have adequate support to effectively meet both their family and work responsibilities,” explains Carla Moquin, Founder and President of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute.
It comes as little surprise, then, that when Google increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers quit decreased by a whopping 50%.
While some companies—such as Zynga, for example—have gotten really progressive with their policies by offering up to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, you might not have that same degree of flexibility. But the important thing is to turn a discerning eye to your own policies and see how you could improve them—even just a little bit.
3. Institute a “Baby at Work” Policy
Some companies have forged ahead even further by offering a “baby at work” policy for new parents.
“Baby at work policies are formal programs in which parents can bring their young babies to work on a regular basis and care for them in their work area while doing their jobs, typically until the babies are six to eight months old or starting to crawl,” shares Moquin.
The Muse, for example, is a company that instituted such a policy in order to ease the transition for their employees who recently became parents.
“We’re a company that helps people with their careers, and we wanted to allow our own employees to be able to continue and grow their careers while caring for their new baby,” explains Shannon Fitzgerald, Director of HR at The Muse.
While there were some hoops to jump through in order to get the program off the ground—including having insurance discussions, drafting waivers to be signed, and working out other logistics—Fitzgerald still encourages companies to explore whether or not a similar policy could work within their own offices.
“I’d say it’s worth a shot,” Fitzgerald says. “There aren’t many things readily available to help ease the transition into work after having a baby, so I’d recommend trying it to see if it works in your company.”
4. Listen to Your People
One of the most important things you can do to support your employees, whether they’re new parents or not, is to actively listen to their feedback.
When employees feel heard, they feel valued. And, when they feel valued? You already know where this is going—they’re far more likely to stick with your company.
Additionally, lending an ear to the ideas and suggestions your employees have can lead to positive changes for your entire company.
“In our experience, the impetus for new policies in many businesses is one valued employee advocating for change,” says Moquin.
5. Encourage Professional Development
“Another challenge I think parents face, particularly women, is overcoming the stigma that if you have children, you are less committed to your job,” explains Huang. “There is a real fear among women of being ‘mommy tracked’ or not taken as seriously in your career development because you choose to start a family.”
For this reason, you should detail clear paths for advancement within your company. And, these tracks don’t just need to be clear to you as the employer—they should be obvious to your employees as well.
60% of HR leaders believe their companies have clear career paths. But, employees? Only 36% of them agree.
By detailing how employees can progress within your company, they’re far more likely to stay committed to the process—especially when you consider that 83% of employees state that career advancement is important or very important to them.
6. Don't Forget the Dads!
When it comes to the conversation about working parents, the bulk of the emphasis gets placed on mothers. However, new fathers deserve to be part of the conversation as well.
So when you’re thinking about how you can best support employees who are also parents in your own office, don’t just think about the mothers who have recently had babies—you should be in the loop on the needs of new dads as well.
“Employers who want to attract and retain the best talent need to think of more creative ways to encourage parents back to work, including supporting dads who want to be part-timers,” says Harrin. “It’s not just about the women.”
Over to You
Ultimately, figuring out how to best support working parents in your office involves a lot of trial and error. You might test the waters of a certain initiative—only to discover that it’s not working and then have to make some changes.
The important thing is that you’re committed to improving life for your employees and are actively listening to their needs and challenges.
“A critical component is being willing, being open to experimenting with concepts that the business might not have previously used but that the parents are requesting—such as babies at work, telecommuting, or flexible work schedules,” concludes Moquin.
“Too many programs that would help parents are rejected in theory, when if a business just gave them a try, they would typically discover that they benefit both families and the business itself.”