Sunday 18 August 2019

Making it work

As a working parent, the pressure to keep all balls in the air is intense but employers can help in various ways, writes Olivia Cannon

Stock image
Stock image

Revise budget numbers. Parent/teacher meeting Wednesday. Edit the marketing overview document. Finish summer camp applications. Give fair and concise interview feedback to HR. Food shopping — the fridge is empty and we’re out of everything.

Start drafting monthly forecast. Call the plumber for the estimate. Organise team meeting. Schedule kids’ dental check-up. Give feedback on the IT plan. Get youngest ready for his school tour tomorrow. Check the bank balance. Pay the crèche bill. File emails. Monitor teen’s internet searches…

If you are a working parent, you have your own version of the above and it’s just as hectic. The list stretches on, and on, and on — an endless, and eternally growing, list of deliverables. It’s no wonder that research shows that most working parents feel stressed, tired, and rushed. Or that when you look ahead, you feel more than a little overwhelmed.

We are all just trying to keep it together while faced with an endless merry-go-round of long hours at work, while trying to juggle childcare and family life and being a good parent. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, with so much to do and so many demands on you. Working parents have it tough — very  tough.

Something noticeable in recent times is the amount of articles and blog posts popping up everywhere voicing concerns over parental burnout and giving people advice on the various ways to avoid this feared state. But there is a way to reduce the anxiety and stress that comes with being a working parent and one that isn’t just down to self help. Employers are changing and recognising that employees who are parents are under a big strain and they are putting policies, procedures and support in place to help their parent workforce.

Parents can’t help but bring their woes to the workplace. All of this parenting-related stress and distractions costs employers millions in the form of missed days and reduced productivity and employers are starting to address this.

The bottom line: parent-friendly is good for business. Beyond the human dimension of caring for your workers, there’s a real business case for building a workplace that’s easy for parents to be a part of.

Site Director of BD Medical Drogheda Liam Dillon has introduced Parenting Institute’s ‘Supporting Parents in the Workplace’ programme and he says that it is “great for our associates (employees), great for their kids, and great for our bottom line. There aren’t that many places where you can be a great employee and a great dad at the same time. That’s part of what we’re trying to do here. You really do bring your whole self to work. But if you work at a place that makes room for that, it’s a little bit easier.”

The programme arms parents to manage the day-to-day challenges of raising children, leaving parents more confident, less stressed and more in control. It teaches working parents to set their own plan, make affirmative decisions aligned to it, have confidence in their performance, and enjoy themselves along the way by providing expert worksite education that is paid for and provided by the employer and run on company time

Organisations who support their parents in the workplace benefit from employees who are less distracted by parenting problems and who can perform better and be more productive.

Employers who are not recognising this need to ask themselves; who do they want walking through their door each morning: the employee who is rushed, harried, stressed and distracted… or the employee who woke up well-rested, feels calm following a smooth morning routine with the kids and does not feel guilty about being a working parent or dreads going home to deal with a parental problem they are facing. Companies can include parenting education in their work/family, wellness and employee-assistance programmes. By offering parenting seminars to their employees, employers are responding to the fact that work stress and family stress  travel two-way streets.

Do you start worrying about parenting issues while you’re at work? And do you get anxious about your upcoming presentation to your boss while you’re at home?

If you’re like most people, you probably have a difficult time keeping those worlds separate and the answer to both questions is ‘yes’. The worries of one leak into the other and it’s life today as a working parent.

The danger of carrying work stress home has been an issue for a long time. But less widely recognised is the parenting stress that’s carried into the workplace and eventually robs employees of their concentration and productivity and robs the employers of millions.

Every employer needs to recognise that parenting education absolutely belongs in the workplace. The working parent who can find answers to their family issues at work is one who can give more to the company, exhibits higher morale and is more likely to stay longer with the company. Parenting education in the workplace can reduce stress and absenteeism and increases productivity.

There are other tangible benefits businesses could introduce, such as on-site childcare or a subsidy to help cover the costs. Parental leave policies are also a huge way to make an impact. And it’s not just about the specified time off either  —  the transition period is important too. Easing back to work with part-time or work-from-home options can be very helpful for new parents in the first few months back from leave. This is a particularly stressful time.

But these policies need to be inclusive. We need to remember that supporting working parents isn’t just confined to the visible new mam who needs a place to pump as she eases back from maternity leave. Parenting is an 18-year gig that affects men, women, adoptive and biological parents, parents with babies and teens  — all in different ways. Companies should think about carving out policies accordingly.

The way we work is changing, from remote work to virtual teams to increased holiday time. So companies should focus on creating an environment that enables flexibility for working parents. From work-from-home days to relaxed hours, parents need the space to go to those parent-teacher conference meetings, concerts, and dentist appointments. And a traditional 9–5 schedule isn’t exactly conducive for fitting these in.

It’s not enough to just talk about introducing new policies (which a lot of organisations are doing and then feel that this is enough because they are “discussing it”).

If mothers feel awkward about stepping out for a family appointment, or if dads don’t really utilise their paternity leave, then it’s not really helping.

Flexibility has to permeate the culture. Employees have to know its ok to take advantage of new policies that are put into place and employers need to encourage them to do the same. That’s when it really works.

Olivia Cannon is the founder of The Parenting Institute and the ‘Supporting Parents in the Workplace’ programme. olivia@parentinginstitute.ie

WORK v LIFE: THE NUMBERS

54% of new parents say they’d take a job for less money at a family-friendly employer 

(Hicleo, for employers)

32%  strongly agreed and 45pc agreed that it is more difficult to progress or develop a career after having children

63% of parents made changes to their employment after becoming a parent

(Striking the balance report NI, Employers for childcare)

42% of women said they were nervous of what having a child would do to their careers

95%  of women feel having flexibility to balance the demands of career and family/personal life is important

40% of women say work/life balance/ flexibility programmes and policies exist in their organisation but are not readily available to them in practice

38% of women say that taking advantage of work/life balance/flexibility programmes has negative career consequences at their workplace

(PWC Time to Talk Survey)

82% of parents said they find balancing work and family life very stressful

48.8% of fathers and 60.08pc of mothers said they don’t feel supported as parents by their employeer (Parenting Institute Parenting Survey 2019)

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