Creating a supportive culture for working parents

Creating a supportive culture for working parents

Balancing work commitments with family responsibilities remains an ongoing challenge for working parents everywhere. It’s not just the heavy workloads, long-hours and blurred boundaries of the modern world that is proving incompatible with parenting in the workplace, attitudes are still too dismissive about the idea of care-giving, which is compromising the ability to work well.

Parenting in the workplace

Despite progressive social developments, there is still some stigma attached to any type of flexible working arrangement other than the 9-to- 5 office-based format. Not surprisingly, the effort of trying to balance care-giving responsibilities with the demands of work is taking its toll on the work-life balance. Working parents are paying for it with their mental wellbeing, and their wallets.

Out of the 227 million people employed in the EU, the experience of parenting in the workplace varies from country to country. On the one hand, 60% or more of adults in paid work in Nordic countries and Switzerland report having little or no difficulty combining work and family, while on the other hand, countries such as the UK and Ireland are still some of the worst places in Europe for longer paid parental leave and affordable quality childcare . In the UK alone, as well as 1.7 million single parent families, there are 6.2 million couple households , 75% of which are both in employment with 494,000 working school term-time only , as they feel they are unable to work while their children are not in school. That’s a large number of parents in the workplace who aren’t receiving enough workplace support.

The duty of organisations

While modernised EU directives have been introduced to reconcile the roles of worker and parent and encourage a better sharing of parenting responsibilities – such as the 1993 Working Time Directive and the recent introduction of the European Pillar of Social Rights – many working parents still feel solely responsible for managing their work-life balance. In reality, for the sake of employee wellbeing, productivity and retention, organisations have a duty to find ways of establishing a supportive culture for parents in the workplace – even if the business is not large enough to employ the same kind of exceptional parenting policies as larger corporations.

Champion flexibility

Of course, different parental supports and childcare arrangements contribute to different paid-work dynamics. That’s why truly supporting working parents across this broad parenting spectrum means allowing parents in the workplace the flexibility to adjust their work schedules to better fit with family and social responsibilities. Whether it’s reduced hours, flexitime options, job sharing or the opportunity to work ‘compressed’ weeks or work from home – bespoke working arrangements do more than complement existing parenting support. They help working parents operate at peak productivity with minimal occupational stress.

Look closely at the job design

Just as organisations must make it clear when a job can be done flexibly, they should do so when the opposite is true. Flexible working can only reduce occupational stress if it truly does give working parents the control to match work and hours. If organisations make the workload and job design unrealistic to start with, no amount of so-called ‘flexibility’ will lighten the load. One person’s flexible working mustn’t come at the expense of someone else having to pick up the slack either.

Share the parenting care

The work-life balance cannot be solved by job design and workload alone. It needs to be underpinned by a culture of diversity and equality within the organisation. The trouble is that even forward-thinking countries that are already known for their supportive family care still face the same old gender dynamics and corporate expectations. For all the shared parental leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay policies out there, if the father feels pressured to stay working, it is the mother that ends up taking most of that flexible leave, and they who are often, although less so in today’s workplaces, left behind when it comes to progression. Organisations must encourage parental leave, not only so that men establish their involvement with their own children early on, but to eliminate the negative impact on women’s careers.

Ignore the flexibility bias

Even though men and women value the work-life balance equally, there are still lower evaluations for those working parents who seek flexibility in their careers. As paternity leave is generally less accepted than maternity leave, organisations should encourage a culture where both men and women feel comfortable requesting leave without fear of losing their position to someone else while they are away or missing out on progression opportunities. Flexible leave policies that champion retaining the talent must support both parents in the workplace- not just mothers.

Encourage the work-life balance

While flexibility is a priority, organisations can still establish consistent work practices to encourage working parents to switch off and own their time out of work. It means establishing a culture that doesn’t favour presenteeism; ensuring that meetings are kept inside of office hours, supporting innovative back-to-work schemes such as the HubSpot Returnship, and limiting excessive long-distance travel. It can also mean providing workforce health intervention tools, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, to offer parents in the workplace other ways to support work-life balance and their wellbeing. More importantly, it should be a culture that allows for managers to be open to a little informal flexibility towards working parents without negative consequences.

Organisations are ruling out a large proportion of the employee market if they do not create a supportive culture for parents in the workplace. However, it does require them to lower the expectation of availability and provide a little leeway as and when when required so that working parents can thrive. After all, being able to have a family and climb the career ladder shouldn’t be mutually exclusive – not when the future of family and society is at stake.

Learn more about supporting parents in the workplace.