Being a parent is often said to be the hardest job of all. So, imagine the stress of being a parent while holding down a job at the same time? This is particularly challenging to new parents returning to work, who on average get just four hours 44 minutes of sleep a night. With mounting stressors for employees who are also parents, it’s important that employers can better support returner parents.
That’s especially tough when trying to juggle a career, while raising children and battling sleep deprivation at the same time. The result is quick burn-out and neglected wellbeing.
Specifically, in USA, as many as 4 in 10 Mothers (with children under 18) are the sole or primary breadwinner in their home, according to research. So, it’s in everyone’s interests that return to work moms are supported better.
Thankfully, with the advent of remote working and a growing appreciation of a flexible workforce. Progressive companies are helping to lead the charge. But there’s more that can be done to ensuring returner parents are adequately supported.
For inspiration, here’s a few of the ways in which employers can support returner parents, and where it’s important to make your voice heard:
Maternity Leave & Income
But first, before women return back to work, there’s the important issue of maternity leave. In the US, where statutory leave falls grossly under the global average (12 weeks in US, compared to one year in UK). Unlike many other countries, it is also unpaid. Businesses should think about what more they can do to aid working parents.
This is an issue that resonates with many working moms, including senior Facebook executive, Sheryl Sandberg, who said: “The United States is the only developed economy in the world that does not provide paid maternity leave. Almost a third of working mothers don’t have access to any kind of paid leave to care for themselves or their families if someone gets sick.”
If there are company forums, board meetings or feedback sessions, why not raise the issue? If there’s enough support for work returners, maybe even start your own internal network of moms. They can present constructive feedback on working practices to decision makers? There are often leader boards and awards of ‘best places to work’. These are always worth bringing to the attention of your company if there’s a need for change.
Without change, many women will have to review their options, as expert Susan Newman Ph.D wrote in Psychology Today: “Because pregnancy and raising children affects a mother’s position and salary, more parents today seriously consider the pros and cons of motherhood and how many children they will have.”
Keeping in touch
Keeping in touch days are very important to moms on maternity leave. They help to maintain a dialogue between colleagues, making sure leavers still feel included. As an additional courtesy, it’s considerate to invite leavers to team parties and celebratory soirees, regardless if they can attend.
No matter how small these gestures appear, they contribute to the wellbeing and value placed on an individual.
Working from home
Remote working has become the norm in recent years, and has transformed the industry and working practices. It’s anticipated that soon, half the US workforce will work remotely. And what’s more – they are some of the most engaged employees. And as we know, motivated employees are least likely to leave jobs and seek a career change.
Allowing returner parents to work from home, even just one day a week, not only helps with childcare and convenience. It sends the message that they are valued members of the team. Being a positive company to work for is important for business, let alone reputation.
In today’s market where it can cost as much as $40,000 to replace staff, it pays to do all you can to retain your labor force.
The growing trend for flexible work is on the up, with as many as 43 per cent of Americans working part-time in recent years. This makes business sense too – less time commuting means more time dedicated to working. It also allows for greater flexibility in meeting contacts and networking; all important aspects of working.
This is particularly helpful for working parents, who benefit from early starts and finishes to work around the school run. Employees should feel confident enough to ask to return part-time, without feeling that they are uncommitted to their roles.
There is no shame wanting a work-life balance, raising children is the most important job you may ever have. As former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, said: “…working from home is a nice escape from the office and allows me to be available for my girls at the drop of a hat.”
Childcare in wildly expensive – as much as $9,589 a year for a child in full-time care under the age of four. Is it any surprise that this presents such a barrier to getting back to work for new parents?
However, there’s a number of ways that companies can support childcare options. In the UK, companies can opt in to childcare voucher schemes, helping to reduce costs for employees. If this isn’t an option, there may be a way to negotiate a corporate rate or discount for employees at nearby nurseries.
Or, if your company has the space and demand; an on-site crèche can make a world of difference, in both cost and convenience when it’s time to return to work.
Training for returner parents
Losing confidence, and feeling that skills are out-of-date, are common worries that plague returner parents.
Employers can help overcome this by helping colleagues to skill up with refresher courses. This will ease them back in to the working world. This could involve workshops, external training, coach up skills, or a mentor coach from senior team members.
Additionally, it may be that returning parents come armed with new skills they’ve acquired on maternity leave. Skills such as blog writing, home cooking and driving, might be a few that have a wider impact on the business
Look after the Dads too
Looking after dads is equally as important as looking after moms. When both returner parents are able to fulfill their duties to their potential, everyone wins.
Dads in Ireland first received statutory paternity leave in September 2016 — since then new fathers have been entitled to take the two-week paternity leave in one continuous block at any time in the 26 weeks after birth or adoption of the baby.
Businesses can help by giving due attention to new dads that need extra time-off, the opportunity to skill up with training, or support with their family, treating them with the same respect and care as new moms.
With so many return to work moms still breastfeeding, companies can make this experience easier, by providing proper facilities for pumping and storing milk.
More important than that, it’s about adopting a company culture that is supportive of working parents, adapting to their new needs.
Wellbeing at work
Wellbeing in the workplace has become the buzzword of recent times. Yet, the struggle is real for many returner parents, who find it a challenge to maintain a work-life balance with sleep deprivation thrown in for good measure.
Raising the profile of mental health in the workplace is a good first step. Endorsed by business leaders internally, this can create a culture of openness and support. It also means giving due attention to colleagues that request flexible working hours or accommodating their personal needs, to make their working life that bit easier.
It’s important to get out and about. But for working-parents that return part-time, networking is often seen as a luxury, with a mounting ‘to do’ list to get through.
Actively promoting networking, meeting clients and going to workshops and events is important for the wellbeing and career progression of employees. It should especially be promoted to returner parents, who will often put their own needs last, ahead of that of the company.
Upskill with mentors
Asking for a career coach or mentor can be a helpful way to ease back into the working world.
Offering advice and guidance, while championing your talents. A mentor of any kind can be a real asset to those who have taken a leave of absence from work.
If your company doesn’t offer such an executive coach of such schemes, then why not create a new-mom network? And buddy-up with another working parent? You may be surprised how the camaraderie (and inside info) can help.
Making your years of service count
Some businesses offer perks to colleagues for years of service. This can range from free products to bonuses and paid sabbaticals. Maternity leave should not be considered as discontinued service. Returning to a job part-time which was formerly full-time shouldn’t be at the peril of the employee.
Businesses have an obligation to treat all employees equally and fairly, but sadly not all do. If workplace discrimination concerns you, or you believe improvements could be made, make an appointment with your HR to voice your concerns and make real tangible change.
With 31 million mothers with children under 18 in the US, and nearly half (40%) of them working, it’s critical that employees recognise the value of return to work moms.
But, it goes beyond entitlement.
Working mums bring a fresh and important perspective to the workplace, and represent an important customer base. Their ability to multi-task and bring a diverse set of skills makes them a formidable resource.
With advances in technology, a shift towards flexible working, and the ability to reskill growing by the day, it’s time that working mothers took center stage for a change.