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How managers and HR can support working parents

What are the best ways that workplaces can support working parents? We spoke with three of our own to find out.
Published 26 Jul 2021
Updated 29 Sep 2022
6 min read
woman working at a desk surrounded by children's books

The Covid-19 lockdowns have brought a whole new level of pressure to our working parents. As if school runs, work responsibilities, activities and deadlines weren’t enough, now parents are dealing with homeschooling, quickly-assembled home offices and family time 24 hours a day. Cue panic.

Despite the stress, pandemic remote working has been illuminating for families and employers. Most businesses have been forced to trial home working options – with many seeing that it actually had little negative impact on productivity.

It also, however, demonstrated that some businesses are still behind the times when it comes to working parents. Take the controversial case of the council in Sydney, Australia, who banned their staff from supervising kids while working from home during the 2021 lockdown…

Whether we’re in or out of lockdown, there are plenty of things that managers and HR leaders can do to support working parents. We spoke with three of our own to explore some of the best things to do – and what to avoid.

Support flexible working

This is a big one. Allowing team members to take a flexible approach to working is one of the most high-impact decisions employers can make to help working parents.

Easing the rigidity of the 9-5 and in-office standard can be transformative for teams. It’s a clear way to show your understanding that parenting doesn’t have a set timeframe. During lockdowns or not, remote working can help parents better approach school schedules, their kids’ needs and their workloads.

Brigid found remote working extremely helpful in finding the balance between parenting and developing a career. “It took me 5 years to find a job that actually helped me to balance parenthood alongside feeling like I was working towards my career. It’s little things like being able to walk my son to school in the morning and he can just walk home, I don’t have to leave work early to do that.”

Having this flexibility often helps reduce interruptions in the workday, as parents aren’t having to leave work for parenting duties, losing time to the commute. If a child is sick and needs to stay home from school, parents can work from home instead of being forced to take leave.

“It’s win-win and reciprocal,” says Brigid. “It’s also that recognition that I am an adult and I will get my work done.”

Pandemic lockdowns and the introduction of homeschooling makes flexible working even more important. With the structure of regular schooling gone, a massive strain was added to parents as they fulfilled parenting and teaching responsibilities, coupled with the cabin fever that everyone experiences when they can’t leave the house.

“When lockdown started, the organisation [that I worked for] expected us to work the same hours regardless of whether we had children with us during the day,” says Nat.

Added responsibilities and a lack of leniency can put parents on a fast track to burnout. Nat explains how support from a manager helped her stay on track amongst the pressures.

“My previous boss realised I was under the pump and getting close to burnout so she worked with me at re-assessing timelines and deliverables. She spoke to key stakeholders and advocated on my behalf to create a staggered schedule so I was better able to prioritise and deliver the most important outputs quickly.”

“She also understood that I had to work irregular hours to accommodate my son and was happy to allow this, even though the rest of the organisation did not.”

Trust your people

Trust in your team goes hand-in-hand with flexible working. We’d even argue that effective flexible working is not possible without it.

Chris says that one of the best things a manager can do to support him as a working parent is providing “flexibility to take care of my kids, when sick, for pick up and drop off – and trusting that I can do my job from home.”

Your employees want to see your business thrive. They understand that they have goals and deadlines to hit, and they don’t need to be monitored in order to complete these tasks.

“We are adults at the end of the day, and sometimes there’s this implied message from some employers – I need you in the office, I need to watch you, I need to supervise the work that I’m paying you to do,” says Brigid. “And there’s something inherently unadult about that to me. You’re paying me and I’m a responsible person, I’m going to perform and do my duties because that’s our agreement.”

Focusing on output instead of hours, keeping lines of communication up and being transparent about expectations can help everyone feel empowered.

If you don’t trust your team to do their work, this is likely indicative of a larger issue. Do you feel like your employees aren’t engaged enough with your business goals? Are there issues with performance? Is there a possibility that there is a culture of micromanagement at your company?

If you suspect any of these issues might be emerging, check out our Company Culture Whitepaper and 6 employee engagement trends. We also recommend reading more about how you can build trust in your remote team.

Be an empathetic leader

A great leader is an empathetic leader.

Hitting targets and company goals will be a manager’s priority, but for staff retention and employee happiness (which is a huge driver of productivity), empathy is also critical.

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes – how would you feel if you had a full workload and a sick child at home? What would you want your manager to do to ease the stress? What are some simple and practical things, like managing priorities, that could make a huge difference?

While this is so important for working parents, all of your team members will appreciate an empathetic management style. “I had an employer ‘before kids’ which sent me a mobile charger when I was sick at home and expected me to work when very unwell,” says Chris.

“It was not a pleasant experience. The manager was quite robotic, with no empathy. I heard countless stories from friends, too – like people with chronic illnesses being asked to make sure they hit deadlines and not asked if they are ok. Something that isn’t a priority for many businesses is employee/human empathy. Customer empathy is often a priority but not employee empathy.”

Create a culture that celebrates parenthood

If managers at your company are empathetic, they have trust in their team, and they’re endorsing remote work – your journey to becoming a fantastic workplace for parents is almost complete. The last thing to do is to create a culture that celebrates parenthood.

“[At Employment Hero] we celebrate people who are falling pregnant, we celebrate when someone gives birth,” says Brigid. “It speaks to a culture where having kids is not only accepted but it’s also celebrated, which is still not common practice.”

Celebrate pregnancy and birth for all parents who are a part of your workplace. Share the details in team meetings, and send small gifts to new parents. Invite your colleague’s children to say hello over video meetings and encourage parents to share photos and news from their families. These things don’t take a lot of effort to do, but they can have a big impact.

Celebrating parenting and family life makes a huge difference to the spirit of your team. To those who have children, it sends a clear message that they are supported and valued. To those who are considering having children, it confirms that they won’t face barriers in the workplace based on this choice. To the whole team, you show that you’re a modern workplace that values the life experiences of all staff.

Your happiest workforce

The happiest workforce is one where each person feels like they belong. There’re so many positive effects of not just accepting – but celebrating – working parents. You improve your company’s appeal as a potential employer, you decrease the risk of employee turnover, and you create a great company culture for all.

You also become a valuable agent for change, influencing other businesses and leaders to create a better world for working parents.

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Isabelle Comber
People Specialist - Employment Hero
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