6 Strategies to Create a Parent-Friendly Workplace

Marianne Hayes
June 3, 2019

Few can say they've got the whole work-life balance thing figured out. For working parents especially it’s a struggle that is all too real. In nearly half of the nation's two-parent families, both have full-time jobs, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report. What's more, one global Ernst & Young survey found that working parents are among those who have the toughest time juggling career and personal life.

Companies that recognize the needs of employees with kids, while creating an inclusive environment for those without, are making strides towards creating a work culture where everyone can thrive. Here are six simple ways to do just that.

1. Weave your commitment to families into your core values

Your company's core values are what drive your culture, so embracing values that reflect a commitment to families is the best place to start. Put action behind your words by celebrating annual family events, from inclusive family field days to yearly Bring Your Child to Work events. It's all about inviting families to experience the company culture firsthand.

2. Schedule social activities so that working parents can attend

Working parents can easily feel excluded from after-work happy hours and get-togethers; come 5:00, many are heading from childcare pickups to their kids' after-school activities. Missing out on office fun can have a negative ripple effect that leaves working parents feeling socially excluded at the office.

One 2014 University of Ottawa study found ostracism to be more impactful than harassment when it comes to an employee's sense of belonging. In fact, researchers found a strong link between feeling left out and employee turnover.

This certainly doesn't mean you have to cancel after-work office events, but being mindful of including working parents can go a long way when it comes to inclusiveness. Consider swapping out after-work drinks for, say, a rooftop brunch during the workday.

3. Build in flexible hours & work-from-home options

More and more employers are recognizing the connection between flexible hours and quality of work. Adi Gaskell at Forbes explored the phenomenon in 2016, citing a number of studies suggesting that flexible employees are far more productive than those chained to 9-to-5 hours. On top of that, they've been shown to take fewer sick days and feel happier at work, a phenomenon which benefits both employees and employers.

For working parents, flexibility is a biggie—especially when little ones get sick. Providing a work-from-home component or the option to work nontraditional hours can be a game changer. PowerToFly, which connects startups and Fortune 500 companies with women who value gender diversity and inclusion, is leading the charge here. Their pledge clearly states: "Your employees are valued for their work and not the amount of time they spend in an office chair."

4. Call out working parents (and all employees, really) who are doing a stellar job

The one catch to offering flexible hours is that some employees may fly under the radar, making it easy to overlook their great work. To counteract this, call out accomplishments and recognize stellar work. Renowned executive coach Katia Verresen is something of a visionary when it comes to abundance in the workplace. According to her, specific, precise appreciation is the most powerful tool at our disposal.

“When you look at healthy teams, unbridled, uninhibited appreciation is always a key ingredient,” she told First Round Review in 2016. “It’s the No. 1 retention tool in the world.”

5. Consider on-site childcare

This may sound like a lofty goal, but employers who offer this perk may have a golden employee retention tool at their fingertips. Alexandra Rosenthal, Vice President of Brand and Product Management at Pure Growth Organic, commutes to the office every day with her 14-month-old son, Max. While she works, Max hangs out with the company's on-site nanny.

"It's amazing! Max has been coming to work with me since I came back from maternity leave," says Rosenthal. "I've met so many women who've had such anxiety about going back to work after having a baby. I feel so grateful to be able to have him here with me every day."

For Rosenthal, the benefit actually makes her work harder because she feels so taken care of by her company. "I also don't have to rush home and cut my workday short to pick up Max from daycare. He's already here with me, which gives me peace of mind so that I can really focus on work," she adds.

The benefit is fully paid for by Pure Growth, which currently has 10 full-time employees. But other companies may find on-site childcare to be too big of a financial hurdle. And as Fast Company's Gwen Moran reported last year, there are some other hoops to jump through. Establishing a childcare facility means complying with licensing laws and dealing with increased insurance premiums, among other concerns. That said, it could also be an investment that pays off with regard to employee morale and happiness.

6. Take a real look at your parental leave policy

Parental leave is a hot-button issue these days, especially since the United States is the only developed nation that doesn't mandate paid leave. While the U.S. does have unpaid maternity leave, families dependent on a mother’s income often have to choose between paychecks and spending time with their newborn children. And mothers only make up one part of the equation. Many fathers, adoptive parents, and other caregivers are on their own when it comes to paid leave. The U.S. is moving in the right direction, though. New Jersey, Rhode Island and California all provide paid leave, thanks to employee-paid payroll taxes; New York will join them next year, but we're still a long way from nationwide availability.

Parental leave policies, in most cases, come down to the employer. More and more research suggests that offering paid leave to caretakers is a win-win all around. In 2015, CNN's Kelly Wallace reviewed over 20 different studies on the value of parental leave, uncovering a wide range of health benefits for both parents and children. She also found some hefty economic benefits; women who take paid maternity leave are more likely to go back to work and stay with the same employer. (They're also less likely to experience postpartum depression.)

The foundation of a parent-friendly workplace is built on the idea that every employee—whether they have children or not—should have access to all the perks your company has to offer. From supportive workspaces and cultures to forward-thinking policies around parental leave and flexible working hours, there are plenty of ways to move the needle toward inclusivity.

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