Parents Need Support from Workplaces Now More Than Ever

Working parents are struggling.

Day by day, hour by hour, they’re surfing the tides of uncertainty at home and work. A representative vignette: While zooming in to an all-hands meeting about a reorganization for their teams, a parent receives an incoming call from their child’s school about a COVID-19 exposure and yet another closure. By the time the All-Hands is over this parent is already in the car to pick up their child and calling one of seven friends or babysitters who might be able to help, while texting those at work to arrange more time on that end-of-day deadline and find someone gracious enough to fill them in on the pertinent details of the new org structure.

And yet, new difficulties have emerged — even at this time of immense need, many companies are deprioritizing support for this crucial demographic. A recent study by SHRM shows employers are cutting back significantly on paid maternity leave compared to what they offered in 2020. The share of employers giving leave beyond what’s required by law dropped this year from 53% to 35% for mothers and from 44% to 27% for fathers. All of this, ostensibly, to improve the bottom line.

But the bottom is dropping out from beneath working parents, especially in the past few years. From the pandemic to economic and social uncertainty, to ever-accelerating industry disruption and skyrocketing childcare costs have left them attempting deep breaths in carpool lines while praying for just one day without chaos. The waves of both personal and professional crises crest without ceasing.

Indeed, in a recent survey, 40% of working mothers said they are “struggling more than ever.” Half of working mothers and a third of fathers worry that parenthood will prevent them from achieving their long-term goals. Nearly a third (32%) don’t feel comfortable talking to their employers about childcare needs.

Divesting support for working parents will not improve business results. Our research and experience suggest that companies benefit more — in terms of innovation, productivity, and the bottom line — when they invest more, not less, in parents.

From an organizational perspective, parents are often mid-tenure employees in key managerial and individual contributor roles. Moreover, managers who are parents provide significant social support and mentorship to others in their organizations.

They’re also more resilient. In a late 2020 study we ran of 2,000 full-time employees in the U.S., we found that parents with young children at home had higher levels of resilience, stronger coping skills, and greater optimism than their counterparts without children. This may sound counterintuitive: Why should parents struggling with so many challenges be thriving where others struggle? The answer is that parents learn early in their parenting journey to accommodate and juggle greater demands, such that each individual challenge is more surmountable.

For this reason, the support and success of parents don’t only have consequences for the parents themselves; organizations that include and support parents have a competitive edge, not just in attracting and retaining talent but in organizational performance. Disengaged, stressed, burnt-out employees mean lower productivity, innovation, and — in today’s tight labor market — higher turnover.  Parents with higher levels of resilience, and organizational support to help them stay resilient, can model these behaviors for others and shore up the emotional wellbeing of the collective around them.

Our research has shown just this - that investing more in benefits for parents and caregivers even further improves work outcomes. For example, parents who received coaching were “pandemic thrivers” with improved outcomes around adaptability, self-care, coping, and outlook compared to others who did not have coaching. Moreover, feeling supported at work is linked with a 28% boost in well-being for parents. The resulting trust increases loyalty as well — intent-to-stay scores for working parents jump 13% when they feel supported by their employers.

Employers, this is your call to be a lifeboat. Offer the support your parents need. Parents deserve more than to feel cut adrift amidst the physical and mental toll of juggling myriad responsibilities. Organizations must enact policies and benefits to help them find solid ground. The lifeboat you build today will likely be the ship you sail tomorrow.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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