Making it work for working parents

How to ensure parents feel supported after a year of juggling everything.

In Practice

July 27, 2021
Anna Yan Headshot
By Anna Yan July 27, 2021

When COVID-19 hit, working parents were forced to manage work and children at home, often without traditional avenues for support. Vondetta Anderson and Jennifer Taylor, two friends who met in college, experienced this firsthand when schools across the country closed for in-person instruction, and childcare became an unmet need. They shared with Washington Post that because of this, Jennifer lost her job and Vondetta was forced to quit hers. Many parents like them—overwhelmingly moms—have been forced to juggle more competing demands than in the pre-pandemic era.

In a survey of 1,100 working parents with kids living at home,Plusgreen 21% had to reduce their hours, 16% quit and 4% had partners who reduced their hours.

“It was such a rough transition, battling the demands of work and being a mom and not taking it out on the child.” – Vondetta Anderson

As we continue to navigate the effects of COVID-19, companies are rethinking what work should look like post-pandemic. Working parent challenges aren’t new, however, the pandemic put more strains on parents, particularly women and single parents, bringing these issues to the forefront. As the struggles of being an employee with children persist, employers must consider how to best support working parents as we begin moving toward another new normal.

Here are four ways workplaces can shift social norms to support working parents:

1. Work from home or work from the office? Let parents choose.

“I got to see my kids and see their world in a way that I’ve never experienced before…It’s very special.”

“Even with all the chaos, this has been a bonus year for me.”  – Will Station, Boeing  

“It was constant juggling. I found myself working all hours of the day, crazy hours. Writing an email in the five minutes I have between warming up my daughter’s lunch in the microwave . . . it’s been really difficult. Being at home with kids and trying to single-task is absolutely impossible.”- Rachel Tan, Salesforce

While women typically bear the brunt of household responsibilities and the mental load that comes with them, the pandemic has further exacerbated this problem.  As a result, some working parents, particularly working moms, have pushed back against workplaces that are planning to remain fully remote. On the flip side, many employees with children would appreciate the opportunity to continue working from home. Thus, a one-size-fits-all approach to the work-from-home landscape will surely leave some employees’ needs unmet. If there is flexibility potential within an organization, giving parents the ability to choose where they work will help support different parent’s needs according to the experts. Workbar CEO, Sarah Travers, shared that by adopting a hybrid schedule, working parents were offered the flexibility necessary for their demanding schedules, as well as a space to focus on work when needed.

In a survey of 1,100 working parents with kids at home,Plusgreen 62% say they would quit their current job if they can’t continue remote work.

2. 9-to-5-no-more: Embrace schedules that work around parenting responsibilities

“If someone does schedule over family time or personal time, I feel confident to decline.” – Nadia Vatalidis, GitLab

While the forty-hour workweek has become standard practice for decades, it’s not the most effective or productive work schedule for all employees. Enforcing ineffective schedules will only make companies more susceptible to the many parents (and others) leaving jobs for more flexible careers

Offering alternative schedules may be helpful for employees who have children. For example, flextime, which allows workers to arrive and leave depending on their schedule, has been found to improve employees’ productivity, satisfaction, and absenteeism. GitLab supports the atypical workday schedule by encouraging parents to use parent-centered do not disturb statuses (e.g., a baby emoji) on Slack and by putting family-related events on calendars. This way, colleagues know when a parent is on childcare duty or with their family. According to employees, this allows parents to set work-life boundaries and prioritize their families’ needs.

Even in an alternative schedule, consistency is key. For example, it is crucial shifts are consistent and shared in advance for working parents who need to plan two sets of schedules— their own and their children’s. Offering consistency, even in nontraditional times, like night shifts or split shifts, is beneficial for their children’s development and promotes employee retention.  

3. Childcare is parentcare: Provide childcare resources

Regardless of when and where employees work, childcare is often an issue for many parents with younger children. The lack of childcare support in the US requires larger, systemic changes to truly ensure working parents have the resources they need to thrive. Even so, researchers have found that employees who believe their organizations provide supportive resources and benefits, such as childcare, are more satisfied and less interested in finding other jobs. Thus, providing onsite or offsite childcare benefits is important to gaining employees’ commitment to an organization and to reducing turnover.

4. Help parents feel like they’re part of the (organizational) family: Create parent-centered spaces for parents to collaborate, crowd-source, and learn from each other

“The parenting landscape has shifted dramatically in 2020 but with the continued sense of community at Alto we can lean on one another for advice and support.” – Lidia Valdez, Working Parent ERG co-lead at Alto

Being a parent should not be an isolating experience, especially when almost 90% of American families with children have at least one working parent. While informal and unseen networks of parents often exist, organizations and employees can facilitate the interconnectedness of working parents. For example, developing an employees resource group (an organizational network for employees with specific identities and experiences), can help parents feel respected and supported. Organizations can also develop these spaces virtually by creating dedicated Slack channels where parents can ask each other questions, make plans together for childcare, and celebrate wins. At Slack, in addition to the #parentland (a channel dedicated for all parents), employees have the ability to join more specific channels, such as #pregnancy-support (for those who are pregnant) and #its-all-our-fault (for those with teenagers). They also have #dad-jokes (for fathers) and #motherboard (for mothers).

As we return to work at the office, there is an opportunity for organizations to prioritize support for working parents. Workplaces have ignored the home lives and responsibilities of parents for far too long, disproportionately impacting women and limiting their teams. To effectively support working parents, employers can provide more flexibility with where and when parents work, provide childcare benefits, and create spaces dedicated to employees who are parents.

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