Maternity leaves – and more recently, paternity leaves – are a normal and expected part of business. Because parents are some of the most dedicated and productive employees, it is important that they feel understood, accommodated and valued. Building a parent-friendly workplace can mean happier employees, better recruiting, higher morale and lower attrition rates.
While large corporations like Google and Facebook boast impressive (and expensive) benefits for parents, smaller companies are still trying to find the parental benefits that best fit their budget and needs. Here are a few ideas on how you can take your workplace to the next level to make sure that parents feel recognized and supported so that they can put their best foot forward both at work and at home.
1. Offer flexible hours and remote work
Parenting is not only time-consuming but also unpredictable. Ballet recitals, sick days and parent-teacher conferences are just a few things that a parent may need to tend to. A traditional nine-to-five work schedule can make it difficult to fit those in. With heaps of new responsibilities, a new parent in a fast-paced company may find it logistically challenging to juggle work with family life.
Implementing flexible and remote work policies is not an expensive perk, making this a particularly important strategy for smaller companies. By offering flexibility, working parents could, for example, leave early on meet-the-teacher day and make up the time by working through lunch or by working longer hours on another day.
Consider offering your employees the option to work remotely for a certain number of hours or days each week. This way, staff can be on-site for meetings and other important affairs while being able to go home early on some days and complete the remainder of their hours after their child's bedtime. By giving employees this freedom, you foster a "get it done" rather than a "butts in seats" culture, enabling parents to balance work and family responsibilities. To hammer this mindset home, you can acknowledge employees for their impact and results rather than how late they stay in the office.
Don't be surprised when work satisfaction and morale go up.
2. Consider their schedules
It is more difficult for a new parent to join the team for after-work drinks or last-minute get-togethers. When planning events, throw in a few lunches or brunches, or move the start time up so that more people can attend.
On a similar note, consider scheduling meetings towards the beginning or middle of the day. Holding meetings at the end of the day could potentially derail a parent's evening schedule – especially if the meetings run past 5 p.m. Not only could it mean missing dinner with the kids, but it also doesn't give the parent the option to leave early to make it to the school play.
3. Encourage peer-to-peer support
When working parents need advice or motivation, it is not uncommon to see them turn to their peers and mentors at work. Your company could play a facilitative role by fostering connections between new and experienced parents.
Consider how existing infrastructure could be used as a platform for these exchanges. A company intranet could serve as a forum for parents to trade parenting tips or childcare leads; it could even have a "classifieds" section for hand-me-downs and used childcare products. No intranet? A staff room bulletin board could also do the job.
By facilitating and encouraging supportive exchanges among parents at work, you can help ease the pressure of family life on your employees as well as foster a culture of collaboration.
4. Set visible examples
No program or policy will ever be as effective as inspiration from managers who are balancing work and family. The manager who displays photos of her children and visibly leaves early periodically to coach her child's soccer team sends a powerful message, "I can do this and so can you!" This mindset shift starts from the top and permeates the culture of your business.
It's also not enough to just talk about or introduce your new policies. The best parent-friendly policies won't help if no one uses them. Leaders need to make it clear that these programs and policies are important – and that they're making use of them too.
5. Plan for their return
Have a plan in place for maternity- and paternity-return support. Considerable effort goes into planning for the leave itself, but there is often little to no planning for the inevitable return. It is just as important to work with employees to establish a concrete return plan before a mother/father leaves. Predefining future expectations eases fears and uncertainties about returning to work.
6. Focus on transition points
While it would be nice to have onsite daycare, most companies find that it isn't feasible to offer this particular perk for parents. The resources you do have should be focused on transition points – critical milestones in a parent's life when they require more support, such as when they have another child, accept a new role or take on a new work schedule. Transition points can strain even the most dedicated and competent employee.
It is important to identify these critical points so that you can focus your programming and support on the times when your employees need you most.
7. Step up communications
When parents return to work after leave, they are faced with time constraints and pressures to catch up, prove themselves and fit right back in as if nothing has changed. To help returning employees better manage their time, it may be helpful to categorize communications. Subject lines that start with "FYI," "Urgent!" or "For next week" could help parents – and all employees – to filter emails that need to be addressed immediately from those that can wait. This can avert an "always-on" culture and promote a better work-life balance for your whole team.
Remember to communicate, period. Managers may feel that they are being considerate when they pass up a new mother for a promotion because they think she wants to do less work and have fewer responsibilities. In many cases, it's the opposite. After taking time off, many parents come back wanting to get their hands dirty and make a tangible impact. Not only that, but some may also feel they have something to prove; that they are just as, if not more, dedicated and capable as they were before. Don't assume you know what your employee wants; ask them.
It doesn't take a Google-sized budget to build a supportive workplace for parents. In addition to being minimally intrusive, these strategies take very little, if any, funding to implement. When companies support working parents, it is not just a commitment to helping employees integrate their work and family lives, but it also attracts and retains talent. At the end of the day, having a parent-friendly workplace is good for business. For example, when Google extended their leave from 12 weeks to 18, the resignation rate of new mothers dropped by 50%, saving the company millions of dollars in recruiting and training expenses. Working parents who feel supported are not only retained but are also happier because of it.