Being a working parent has always come with challenges: time spent working in an office is time spent away from raising children. If you get called into a meeting, you might have to skip your child’s drama performance; if you have to work late, you might miss tucking your kid in before bed. As we ease out of the pandemic, now is the time to consider ways employers can support working parents better.
As women began entering the workforce generations ago, children often became ‘latchkey’ kids from a fairly young age if one of their parents wasn’t able to take care of them before returning from work. In recent times, though, parents have relied heavily on daycare, grandparents and relatives, after-school programs or sports, or full-time nannies to take care of children while they work.
Before the pandemic, most working parents were expected to be in an office full-time. This meant that many parents had to coordinate dropping kids to school, bringing them to doctor’s appointments, cheering them on at the soccer field, or watching them in the school play — all while making it to the office on time. For parents who needed to commute, kids might be dropped to daycare at the crack of dawn and not picked up until suppertime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant increase in flexibility for many working parents, thanks in large part to the rise of hybrid working. Many working parents are now able to drop their kids to school or make it to performances or appointments because flexible remote working has become normalized.
However, hybrid working isn’t a solution in itself. Workplaces and employers need to support working parents in a more holistic fashion, from offering childcare subsidies as an employee benefit to creating programs that help employees feel a stronger sense of belonging at work.
What does the current childcare landscape look like for working parents?
Before the pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way we work, finding, scheduling, organizing, and even affording suitable childcare was difficult for many working parents. If kids were sick or a childcare worker didn’t show, parents were left trying to pick up the pieces — and still make it to the office.
With the pandemic-induced shift to remote working, previous childcare conundrums paled in comparison to working at home with no childcare at all. Many parents were expected to keep productivity up while somehow overseeing remote learning for multiple children and keeping them occupied throughout the day without so much as a playdate.
Needless to say, that situation was untenable for many working parents, leading 40% of working parents to make changes to their jobs and 17% of women to leave work altogether. The attrition due to the pressures on working mothers in the COVID-19 era isn’t over, though, because according to a study on Women in the Workplace by McKinsey, “as many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce.”
Why should bringing women back into the workforce matter for businesses?
Getting women back into the workforce is key to a strong economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh. “We need to make sure if we're going to have a strong recovery — a strong, equitable recovery — we need to get women back into the workforce,” Walsh explained. Walsh further commented that childcare remains a critical factor in ensuring that women can indeed return to the workforce and affect change in the greater economy.
As offices reopen and working parents are making decisions about how they plan to return post-pandemic, many parents favor hybrid working to accommodate their needs in taking care of their children. In a study of 1,000 randomly selected working parents in the UK, “76% of all mothers and 73% of fathers surveyed wanted to work flexibly to spend more time with children.” Only 16% of those surveyed expressed an interest in working from the office full-time, due to the flexibility that the hybrid model provides for working parents.
What can businesses do to help parents in the workplace?
Workplaces have clear incentives to actively help working parents, in particular working mothers — both to create a diverse employee panel and to contribute to the overall economic recovery. As offices reopen and employers look to attract and retain highly skilled talent, here are some initiatives they can undertake to assist working parents.
- Offer hybrid working options: Hybrid working options give parents the flexibility to drop kids to school and daycare, pick them up, or take care of children who are sick. Hybrid working also eliminates commuting time for working parents on the days they work remotely, giving them additional time with their families. Wrike, as a Citrix company, has offered employees the option to avail of their choice of full-time office, full-time remote, or hybrid working scenarios.
- Create programs for employees that enhance their sense of belonging in the workplace: Working parents can often feel isolated as employees, struggling with responsibilities that they aren’t typically encouraged to share with others. Programs like a company parents group chat or coffee chat on Zoom can create a stronger attachment to the workplace, making it more likely that those employees will continue their employment at their company.
- Provide a childcare subsidy to employees: Just like healthcare has become an important item in a list of company benefits, childcare subsidies are likely to become increasingly enticing to potential and current employees who have children or are considering having children in the future.
- Offer on-site childcare options: Large companies sometimes have the ability to provide on-site childcare to their employees in an effort to lessen the burden on working parents who might otherwise not be able to see their children for many hours at a time. On-site childcare options mean that employees are able to see their children during their lunch breaks and commute with them rather than only see them when they pick them up from daycare.
- Help employees access employee assistance programs: Company employee assistance programs (EAPs) are often designed to help employees with tricky issues such as finding childcare or a realtor. However, some EAPs aren’t exactly user-friendly, and busy working parents might find them difficult to access. Helping employees access the help in EAPs can increase the rate at which they’re utilized.
- Encourage all employees to maximize work-life balance: Some benefits may carry a stigma that keeps working parents from taking advantage of them. For instance, encouraging all employees (not just parents) to use all of their vacation days will de-stigmatize that practice and help working parents spend more time with their families. Likewise, encouraging all employees to avail of flexible scheduling or hybrid working will reassure working parents that this benefit isn’t frowned upon.
- Create a parent support forum: Providing opportunities for parents to support each other is a free way of assisting working parents. Employers can create a forum where parents can share babysitter or daycare recommendations (if many employees are in the same geographic area) or offer hand-me-downs to fellow team members when their children outgrow them.
Employers can and should support working parents as the global workforce eases slowly out of the pandemic into what will be the new normal. Elements that were incorporated into daily work during the pandemic, like remote and hybrid working options as well as robust employee assistance programs, can continue to help ease the burden on working moms and dads in the future. These kinds of improvements to the workplace will help increase the likelihood that parents will be able to continue to thrive in their employment as well as at home.