By Sarah Douglas and Amanda Hemm
Smart companies realize it’s no longer good enough to provide working parents with bare-bones benefits, vague policies, and inconsistent leadership, and hope for the best. To attract and retain working parents, companies need to create an inclusive, caring work culture.
While working parents have struggled for years to feel successful at work and home, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps that exist between the support working parents need and what companies provide. Current data show that nearly 1 in 3 families have a parent who plans on leaving their job or reducing their hours at work due to caregiving responsibilities associated with the pandemic. Childcare continues to be a major stressor for parents especially as two thirds of families need to seek new childcare arrangements as a result of the pandemic. Layer this on top of pre-pandemic data about the cost caregiving responsibilities have on work – more than 80% of employees say their caregiving responsibilities affect their productivity.
In order to stop the time and talent drain, your organization needs to embrace a parent-inclusive culture at work.
Here are five straightforward tips for creating a parent-inclusive workplace:
1. Get people on board
Creating a parent-inclusive workplace requires support from all levels, from line managers to the C-suite, People Ops/HR to Finance, and beyond. The support your organization can build resides at the intersection of these differing perspectives. In order to create a comprehensive plan, you need buy-in from multiple stakeholders.
Additionally, the term “working parent” can and should include a diverse range of family structures and parenting situations. Seek to include the voices and perspectives of single parents, LGBTQ parents, parents of color, adoptive parents, parents of children with special needs, and parents of children in a range of ages and stages.
2. Assess the current climate
Collecting feedback from a variety of sources is an important step in building a parent-inclusive workplace that is tailored to your organization and your workforce. It’s a crucial part of the process that creates intentional and meaningful change. What is it like to be a working parent at your organization? What barriers do your working parents face? How do parenting responsibilities affect your employees’ work performance and vice versa? Which programs, policies, and benefits are parents utilizing? Which ones collect dust?
Utilize organization-wide surveys and listening sessions to get a better understanding from your working parent employees. Seek out managerial perspectives. What are they experiencing and hearing from their teams? What questions and issues does your Human Resources group hear? Does your Employee Assistance Program have insight as to common concerns from your employees? If you have a parent-centric Employee Resource Group, what trends are they seeing? It’s ok if you don’t know the answers to these questions right now. Many organizations don’t. But taking the pulse of your workforce will give you valuable insight as to what changes are needed. Listen to understand, and use this information to make informed decisions about the best way for your organization to move forward.
3. Define organization-specific expectations
As your organization considers which programs and policies to implement to support working parents, it’s important to align these to fit with the overall expectations your organization has for its workforce.
What are the daily, weekly, or monthly expectations of employees? How is productivity measured? What success metrics are tracked? And, given the state of the world, are these realistic for the times, or are slight, short-term adjustments necessary?
By providing organization-, department-, and role-specific guidance on expectations, you empower managers to implement individualized solutions that fit within the organization’s ethos. When expectations are clearly defined, creating, reviewing, and approving solutions on a case-by-case basis becomes much more efficient.
4. Find flexibility
Flexibility means more than just providing alternative working hours and locations, though working outside of the traditional 9-5 and “work from home” arrangements are popular options. Think outside the box, and use the expectations at each silo, level, and role to implement solutions.
Beyond this sort of tactical, physical flexibility — ie. where and when their people work — organizations can and should consider how their people work. Rethink team structures, project assignments, and roles and responsibilities to increase creativity, resiliency, and agility. For example, managers can utilize the unique skillsets of their employees in redefining work assignments. Highlight what different members of teams do well and draw on those strengths to move forward.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, empower (and expect) managers to find individualized solutions that fit within the organization-specific expectations. This is the perfect opportunity to create and implement win/win solutions — there’s a powerful ripple effect that happens when an organization has engaged, satisfied, and supported working parents who are dedicated to the organization’s mission and vision.
5. Communication is key
Now more than ever there is no such thing as over-communicating, especially when you communicate with empathy. Regardless of what changes your organization is able to accomplish, recognize the struggle facing working parents, especially during this pandemic.
Live the values that your organization says it embraces. Include an element of these values in all communications. Be consistent across all communication channels.
While it’s certainly important to send communication about the changes the organization is looking to make, also make sure to reaffirm and share the policies, benefits, and programs already offered. This information was likely shared upon an employee’s hiring and onboarding, so it’s worth repeating throughout the year. Make sure employees know how to access information, and ensure managers are sharing messages and applying policies consistently.
Are your leaders leading with words or with actions? While it’s important to have clear and consistent communications, the organization is missing an important opportunity if senior leaders say one thing but do another. C-suite, senior leadership, and upper-level management need to take an active role in living out the values of the organization. Whether that’s by participating in programming, publicly and actively utilizing benefits, or joining in conversations about the realities facing working parents, the organization’s leaders need to be visible members in the community.
At Soutiens, we’re supporting working parents and the companies who value them. We can help facilitate these conversations and design a plan for building a parent-inclusive environment tailored to the culture of your organization and the needs of your working parent workforce.