The demands on working parents in the last year have increased dramatically as they’ve had to manage home-schooling and family needs in addition to their workload during the uncertainty of a pandemic. Our recent panel discussion during the Talenttalks Working Parents and the Workplace webinar on 21 May 2021 explored ways in which organisations and managers can become more responsive to the needs of working parents.
The Working Parent Perspective
During the webinar, more than half the attendees rated giving attention to their children while still achieving their work output as their biggest challenge as a working parent.
“But it is about more than just juggling family and work priorities,” explained Talent Management Consultant and working mom, Caitlin Watson.
“What I have found most challenging in the last year is managing the COVID-19 narrative for my daughter so that she isn’t constantly burdened by a frightening story. At the height of lockdowns, finding a physical space at home to take calls and focus on important decisions was also very difficult. But working from home offered some consistency for children. Now that we are beginning to move more often between working from home and the office, that lack of consistency can be stressful for children.”
Caitlin highlighted the importance of setting boundaries and building dedicated family time into the day. “You don’t have to spend hours and hours of dedicated time, a short amount of time that’s fully focused on your child or partner can be enough for them to feel connected.”
“For managers, it’s really important to understand whether your employee is an integrator or a segmenters and to really respect those boundaries. For someone who is a segmenter and prefers to separate work and home life, being constantly bombarded with queries outside of structured work time can be extremely stressful when they are working from home.”
Caitlin also stressed the importance for line managers to be intentional about connecting with their employees and building relationships of trust with open lines of conversation.
For working parents, good relationships with teachers are also key pieces of the puzzle. Caitlin emphasised the key role communication plays in ensuring that a child’s needs are met but doing this within set boundaries such as specific timeslots or via a specific channel. “It is important that parents feel teachers are available to them to discuss a child’s needs, but that teachers also offer guidance to help parents know how to engage with them.”
The Expectant and New Parent Perspective
“The past year has been a tough season on all parents, but for the community of new and expectant parents, whether adoptive or biological, this season of life during the pandemic was very different to what they would have dreamed of,” explained Melany Green, Chief Expectancy Officer (CEO) at Great Expectations.
Melany highlighted that one of the most important ways to build resilience is knowing how to ask for help, who to ask for help from, and having a support system to tap into. “For new parents, this is one of the critical factors and it starts by focusing on the core relationship between the parents as far as support goes when you are approaching the arrival of a child.”
“Employers need to also recognise that new and expectant parents find themselves in an incredibly vulnerable period and need support. Today, women, in particular, are choosing to start a family later in their careers and at this point, they often look for authentic role models who are both good parents and have fulfilling careers. When people can’t see it is possible, they start to doubt whether they can do it and we often see this vulnerability translate into the loss of key talent, which is completely unnecessary.”
Melany argued that the support employers offer new and expectant parents should go well beyond the parental leave policy level to include measures that support new parents in making the transition and also focus on the attitudes and behaviours of people internal to a company towards their parents.
“It is exciting to see more companies offer new dads more paid parental leave and encouraging them to take actually take it. Companies are also waking up to the needs of parents who’ve lost a child at any stage during pregnancy, giving them not just a day or two of compassionate leave but actual leave, to grieve and to recover.”
Melany added that for new parents, returning to work is another critical situation and difficult process during which parents will often judge themselves or their situation harshly. “It’s important to take it one day at a time and for new parents to tap into their support system. Returning to work is a process and not a single event.”
The Employer Perspective
“There is no doubt that people have battled a sense of overwhelm and stress, but it is encouraging to see how many people are signing up for webinars to learn new skills that not only apply to their work lives but also their personal lives,” said Jacqui Kabb, leadership coach and facilitator at Alexander Forbes.
In responding to the high levels of burnout being observed globally, Jacqui stressed the importance of thinking of energy as a currency. “In our personal lives, especially as parents, we need a lot of energy. But energy is finite and runs out. We cannot continue to work excessive hours, and manage our homes and raise children without spending time recovering, and re-energizing. To be successful, both individuals and employers need to rethink how we replenish energy in a high-performance world.
Organisations need to realise that people have been going through a really tough time, but many people don’t have the resilience to cut it. We need to help people equip themselves with resilience skills so that they can cope and thrive in this ever-changing world.”
Jacqui stressed that it is important for managers to engage with their teams not only from a work perspective but also on their emotional needs. “Use your check-in meetings to ask two questions – how are you feeling and what can I do to support you?”
For managers who have larger teams, Jacqui recommended setting up a buddy system where team members can support each other to have a check-in.