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Providing better support for working parents has been one of the most important trends in HR and business culture over the last few years. Forward-thinking employers have become increasingly aware that improving their performance in this area can deliver significant benefits in terms of creating a positive, productive and aspirational working environment.
In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this issue to the forefront like never before. During an extraordinary period in which working parents - especially mothers - have been put under enormous strain, businesses have had to step up to implement flexible new measures to help them continue working effectively, without compromising their home life or career progression.
Now that the impact of the pandemic is starting to ease, many businesses are looking to get 'back to normal' in many respects - but in the case of these new support measures for working families, a return to the previous status quo would be a mistake. Now that the bar has been raised, employers need to keep the momentum and drive further improvements.
Here, the team at Sellick Partnership will explore some of the key steps that businesses should be taking to better support working parents - and how these initiatives can deliver benefits across the organisation.
When looking for ways to better support a specific subgroup within your workforce, the best approach is always to work with them directly and find out first-hand what their needs, expectations and suggested solutions are.
Speak to new and existing employees who have childcare responsibilities, and find out what aspects of their current and previous roles have made it difficult to properly balance their personal and professional needs. Do they feel that your current policies are supportive enough, or have they spotted potential areas for improvement that you have not previously considered?
Taking the time to consult with staff on better means of support will not only help you address any problems more effectively, but it will also send a message to working parents within your organisation that their needs are a priority to you, and that their insights and feedback are being taken seriously.
Flexible working arrangements have been a reality of modern business for many years, but for many organisations, the pandemic will have been the first time they have ever had to accommodate out-of-office working on such a large scale. This means that many UK workers will have experienced truly flexible home-based work for the first time in recent years - and many will not want to give this up.
Working parents, in particular, are likely to have found the ability to organise their own working schedules to be hugely beneficial, and could be anxious about losing these gains. Given how conclusively the pandemic proved that flexible working delivers strong productivity, employers should take the opportunity to embrace this cultural change, balancing the necessity of the work that needs to be done on-site with the clarity to know where further accommodations for flexible working can be made.
This could include:
Taking these steps will help your business to accommodate the changing needs and expectations of new and existing talent, following the pandemic-induced paradigm shift.
Some of the biggest challenges associated with working parenthood comes with getting the right support when a child is born. With the pandemic and lockdown prompting many working professionals to consider starting a family, this is a challenge that employers will need to tackle head-on.
Naturally, this means making sure that all employees are fully aware of their right to claim maternity or paternity leave when a baby is born, and encouraging them to take the time off they will need. It also means putting a firm process in place to ensure this transition can take place smoothly for both the employee and the business as a whole.
You should discuss with expectant parents who are taking leave to ensure their responsibilities are handed over properly in plenty of time; during their period of leave, you should also keep the lines of communication open with them, providing them with enough updates to stay in the loop, but without overburdening them during their leave. At Sellick Partnership, our solution is to agree upfront what each expectant parent would like to be kept informed of while they are away, providing clarity and ensuring that staff remain in control of their own work-life balance.
Upon their return, providing virtual training, catch-up and re-onboarding sessions can help to get employees back up to speed after their leave has ended, ensuring they are able to resume their careers with minimal disruption.
The purpose of these policy changes is to create a culture within your organisation that feels welcoming and accommodating for working mothers and fathers. Actions speak louder than words in this regard - but it is important to remember that words still have an important part to play.
Across all of your company communications, you should try to let employees know that these support measures are open to anyone who needs them, with zero stigma attached. Beyond this, you can take small actions that make a big difference to how parenthood is perceived within the organisation, such as encouraging staff to bring their children along to work social events where appropriate, or letting them know it is fine to take a few minutes out of a meeting to look after their child.
You should also try to go the extra mile to ensure that working parents feel you are there to support them when they are having difficulties. Proactively foster open discussions about mental health and wellbeing, where staff are encouraged to confide in their managers if they are experiencing problems, and make an effort to direct individuals who need help to the appropriate channels for support, whether this is inside or outside the company.
By taking these steps, you will be able to create a workplace culture that goes beyond merely being accommodating or pragmatic, and instead feels genuinely supportive of the needs of working families.
Another potential option for helping working parents is to directly assist them in organising affordable childcare. This has been a particular concern for many parents during the pandemic, as schools have been closed, professional childcare services have been unavailable, and grandparents have been shielding and therefore unable to help.
As such, offering direct support in sorting out safe, accessible and affordable childcare options through the workplace can make a meaningful difference. Potential options could include:
Naturally, not all of these options will be realistic for every business, but they can be an attractive USP for those employers who are able to offer them. In broader terms, the most important priority is to make sure that you are taking a flexible approach to accommodate your staff’s childcare needs, and helping them to find and access the right financial support wherever you can.
Delivering better support for your employees’ personal needs is an investment in your business, helping to cultivate a happier, more productive and loyal workforce who will be motivated and driven to deliver success for your organisation.
A December 2020 report from Great Place to Work highlighted this, surveying 440,000 parents at 1,244 US companies in what was the largest-ever study of working parents. It revealed that companies that invest in employees and their families experience higher levels of innovation, as well as delivering significant competitive advantages in terms of employer branding, retention and productivity.
The report also indicated that steps to support working parents play a key role in closing the wage gap for professional women - a key priority for businesses worldwide - and also help to reduce work-related burnout, which in turn makes employees 20 times more likely to stay with their company.
As such, this demonstrates that providing better support for working parents does more than simply boost morale - instead, it represents a genuine win-win for your company and all of its staff, and could be a key step towards helping you attract the very best talent and emerge strongly into the post-pandemic business landscape.
For further advice on utilising the right strategies to gain access to the best candidates, get in touch with Sellick Partnership today.