Nurturing the nurturers: Creating a supportive, inclusive workplace for parents
Supporting working parents doesn’t mean neglecting growth. In fact, providing parent employees with supportive policies and opportunities benefits both them and your business — here’s how and why.
As a founder, you know all too well the intensity of long, busy days that blend work and personal responsibilities — and your employees do, too. They must nourish their bodies well, exercise when possible, maintain homes, and juggle chores — all on top of tackling the daily tasks and big picture to-dos of their jobs.
For working parents and caregivers, this daily upkeep can be a lot. The act of caring for a family member doesn’t magically pause when the clock hits 9 a.m. on Monday — it’s continuous, with a lot of necessary, impromptu switching between parent mode and work mode (and often at the most inconvenient times).
That’s why, in this guide, we offer founders five impactful and implementable tips to establish a supportive, safe workplace for parents. Regardless of their gender or family setup and whether they’re working from home, at the office, or both, these tips help provide working parents with the space and peace of mind to comfortably do their best work — and truly embrace family life.
A workplace that doesn’t support parents is a workplace that doesn’t support itself
Juggling work and family was tough before COVID-19 — Pew Research Center found in 2015 that more than half of working parents said it was difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with their family. But the pandemic has shined an even greater light on — and also further complicated — the stressors related to integrating work and parenting roles.
For instance, the increased overlap of work and home prompted by remote work has led six out of 10 parents to say it’s difficult to get work done without interruption. Additionally, research shows the balancing act is tougher for women in heterosexual couples, andwomen are more likely to face professional challenges as working mothers — like being treated as if they aren’t committed to their work.
Parents make up a significant portion of the U.S. labor force — around 40%, according to Cleo, a family benefits platform that helps employers look after their working parents. There’s a good chance there are working parents in your ranks — a portion of whom may be wrestling with their workload against a backdrop of raising and looking after kids or other family members.
Accidentally or wilfully disregarding their struggles and needs does them a major disservice on a human level. On a business level, ignoring the needs of working parents leads to consequences like:
Decreased employee engagement. It’s a founder’s duty to set the tone for — and help cultivate — a culture where employees feel seen, valued, and supported. If working parents aren’t supported with useful and direct measures — like flexible schedules or on-site childcare à la Patagonia — engagement can quickly nosedive.
Accelerated employee turnover. When a manageable balance between work and home duties can’t be reached, working parents will likely take one of two routes: a) leave in favor of an organization that does take their needs into account; or, b) quit to focus on childcare full time (if their finances allow for it). Both are avoidable.
Diminished psychological safety. When there isn’t a safe and open workplace culture, working parents may not be as upfront about issues they’re facing out of fear of reprimand — even if the issues are minor or easily remedied. Brushing aside or suppressing issues may then lead to larger problems, like burnout.
Ultimately, there are multiple clear arguments for giving parent employees the resources and opportunities they need to do their best work, and they all share a common outcome: When workplace culture supports parents, everybody involved benefits.
5 tips for supporting employed parents working at home or the office
In order to do well by the working parents you employ, attract and retain talented folks, and foster an environment where people are engaged and encouraged to bring their full selves to the workplace, consider these tried-and-tested tips and measures:
1. Gather, use, and revisit quantitative data to inform your approach
Taking a data-led approach when it comes to implementing policies and measures for working parents means you'll target their real needs, rather than presumed and/or assumed ones.
An insightful example comes from Daisy Dowling, the CEO and founder of Workparent, a specialty coaching and advisory firm focused on working parents: “One professional services firm I’ve worked with examined its new-parent retention rates. It didn’t find attrition immediately after maternity leave, but there was a previously unseen pattern of departures 12–18 months afterward.”
Uncovering this trend enabled the firm to tackle its pain point directly and appropriately. They implemented HR checkpoints — where employees could discuss work-life issues openly and honestly — nine to 12 months after maternity leave, resulting in significantly reduced turnover and better manager-employee relations.
To gather quantitative working parent-related data that will inform your decisions now and going forward, ask questions like:
What percentage of current employees are parents?
What percentage of parent (or soon-to-be parent) employees say they’re happy/unhappy with the paid-leave program?
Are there trends for when working parents quit?
During exit interviews, what reasons do working parents give for leaving?
2. Bake flexibility into office-based and remote working
If folks need to clock in at exactly 9 a.m., must fully adhere to a specific time zone, or can’t design their schedules in a way that aligns well with their other needs, then it doesn’t matter where the employee works — in the office, at home, or both — as they’ll be pressured and constrained regardless. That’s why flexibility needs to be an integral part of whichever work model(s) you offer your employees.
In fact, a 2021 study by Future Forum found that 72% percent of workers would seek new opportunities if they felt their employers didn’t offer enough flexibility — and this is especially true for working parents. As Aaron De Smet et al. at McKinsey found, “parents were more likely to have left their jobs over the past several months than their nonparent counterparts.”
With truly flexible working, employees prosper — and so will your business in both the short and long term. Most notably, you’ll drive down recruitment costs, quash burnout and absenteeism, and increase team productivity.
3. Create spaces for parents to connect, confide, and thrive
A supportive, inclusive workplace culture is one where parents can openly discuss issues and seek guidance from their managers (and are encouraged to do so) and where they don’t have to be apologetic about their position as an employee and a parent.
While culture change doesn’t and shouldn’t happen overnight, you can kick off the process by providing parents with spaces in which they can connect with other parent employees, confide in their managers about issues or personal wins, and ultimately thrive.
Specifically, these spaces can be:
Physical spaces, such as regular, in-person coffee get-togethers or even on-site childcare services.
Digital spaces, like a family-centered Slack channel where parents can share stories and support one another (this happens in Help Scout’s #cubscouts channel!).
Performance reviews or one-on-ones, where managers hold space for working parents to flag certain topics without worry.
4. Provide a paid parental leave package that makes sense
While the U.S. is the only wealthy country in the world to not have guaranteed paid parental leave at a national level, a paid-leave program is the most practical, useful offering for working parents and soon-to-be parents.
Paid-leave programs are fundamentally good for your people — becoming a parent and then adjusting to a new lifestyle are emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing experiences; having the freedom to navigate all of this comfortably, without worrying about money or job security, is crucial. It’s also undeniably worthwhile from a business perspective — you’re retaining your parent employees, saving money on re-hiring and training, and attracting a wider pool of prospective talent.
While larger organizations can implement paid-leave programs more easily, it’s entirely possible for small businesses to get in on the action, too. This guide offers some practical tips — from doing a cost-benefit analysis to further understanding the benefits to going about team handoffs effectively.
5. Throw out your concept of what a “family” looks like — inclusivity is key
To wrap up, let’s talk about the importance of inclusivity when it comes to workplace culture and policies related to working parents, specifically.
Families come in all sizes and setups; the idea that a family is composed of a heterosexual man, a heterosexual woman, and a child or children they’ve conceived themselves is woefully outdated. If you base your policies on this one family model, you’re excluding a ton of employees who could find significant benefit from your policies and measures: parents who have adopted, single fathers and mothers, full-time caregiving grandparents, gay couples, and non-binary folks among them.
To create a policy that reflects a commitment to inclusivity, an essential first step is to be intentional with language — for instance, a “maternity” or “paternity” paid-leave program could simply be changed to “parental.” Ensuring that the policies do in fact serve folks across a wide range of scenarios — e.g., that the leave isn’t just for the parent who’s given birth but also for adoptive parents and whoever’s taking on the role of primary caregiver — is imperative.
Reward Gateway, a leading employee engagement company, took an inclusive approach with their paid leave package in 2016. In this post, James Edwards — the company’s global director of implementation and support — gives a personal account of how he and his family benefited from it.
Enabling working parents to thrive
Working parents and caregivers make invaluable contributions to companies of all shapes and sizes. Even in the face of contemporary life’s busyness and various stresses, they’re leading teams, making an impact, and creating change.
As a founder, you can enhance those contributions — and your employees’ fulfillment — when you provide the policies, measures, and opportunities that enable working parents to further lean into what makes them great. With your support, they can be happier and healthier at work — and do their best work possible.
What founder wouldn’t want that?