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How can employers better support working parents?

Posted by: Lucy Donald

Having a baby is an exciting time, and you don’t want that excitement to be clouded in your employees’ eyes by the apprehension of returning to work, juggling their work life balance (a phrase that we seem to be hearing more and more of!) and reasserting themselves in a team they’ve been away for, often for up to a year.

It’s not only good for the employee to have a supportive atmosphere with measures put in place to ease them back into working life – it’s also a great thing for employers too. Supporting your staff, and sometimes going above and beyond to help out working parents, can mean your workforce is more loyal, more engaged, happier, takes less unplanned leave and consequently is more productive.

Having just returned from maternity leave, this is a particularly apt topic for me. Returning back to work after having a child is always a bit of a daunting prospect but I can honestly say that the build up to the return was much worse than the reality and I have WRS to thank for that. They understand the challenges a full time working mum faces and offer me great flexibility with my working hours to accommodate my work and home commitments. This far outweighs any financial incentives in my eyes. It is great to see - especially as we welcome more first time mums into the business. It is proof that you can have it all as a working mum but only with the support of a great, flexible employer.”
Lucy Donald
Director, WRS

What’s more, being able to publicise that you’re a family-friendly employer is a good marketing tool when it comes to recruitment of new staff. It’s not just the right thing to do, it makes sense financially. So what can employers do to help support their valuable working parents?

1. Create a bespoke Parent Return to Work Plan for each employee

Acknowledging that returning to work after parental leave can be daunting, difficult, and a juggling act is the first step. It might be messy – and it might have to be flexible, too. Employers and their employees may have to face emotional and practical challenges along the way, and it’s important to treat these in a way which is sensitive. But employees knowing that, for example, they can ease back into work on a part-time basis, can really help them transition back into working life.

2. Offer them flexibility

This can take many forms – whether you’re offering full or partial home working, flexitime, compressed working hours, part time hours or even options to work only during term time, flexibility is key to helping parents both when transitioning back into work, and also moving forward. Even if your business is not ready to offer these options, small allowances can really help. For example:

  • Giving employees the option to work from home when their children are ill
  • Offering flexitime under certain circumstances
  • Offering leave in hourly – rather than half daily – chunks.

Finding childcare is a real concern, and with childcare fees rising quickly this is even more important. What’s more, if you don’t provide flexible options, there’s a good chance that you’ll be dealing with absenteeism and even resignations.

The last thing to be mentioned about flexibility is really quite important – there’s no point having these policies in place if you don’t actually let people use them.

3. Don’t discount them from promotions

In a survey undertaken by the Employers for Childcare charitable group in Northern Ireland in 2016, 77% of employees said that they found it more difficult to progress in their career after having children, and 40% felt that parenthood and senior responsibilities at work were incompatible. A feeling of equality at work is so important, and to assume that an employee wouldn’t want to be considered due to their other commitments is completely unacceptable. If the working parent has the skills needed to do the job, they should be considered for the promotion in the same way that anyone else is.

4. Foster a positive culture

Just being understanding and supportive is a huge help to parents (and everyone else, too!) in the workplace. A positive culture makes a massive difference to how employees perceive their job satisfaction and work life balance. Ensuring that your employees’ workloads accurately reflect their working hours, and only arranging meetings for times when they will be working, are 2 really small things which are easy to implement and can make a big difference to parents.

5. Be Upfront and Honest

Employees, when armed with all the facts from the off, are able to make decisions about their work which will ultimately save everyone time and money. If you have policies in place, ensure these are communicated with all staff.

Effective communication is so important in decision-making, and your honesty with your employees will encourage them to be honest with you about their goals and what they are expecting from you – it works both ways. It’s a good idea for employers to have a serious think about whether the management in their company is open and approachable for employees wanting to discuss their working life and expectations.

6. Consider Helping with Costs

The cost of childcare can be a make-or-break factor in whether a parent returns to work at all after their parental leave. By providing the Childcare Voucher scheme, which operates through salary sacrifice, UK employers can offer your employees tax-free help in paying for their childcare, at no extra cost to them.

7. Offer Enhanced Parental Leave

There are many ways you can offer enhanced parental leave – all of which are beneficial to parents during probably the most nerve-racking and exciting time of their lives:

  • Encouraging fathers to take more than 2 weeks
  • Staggered returns following parental leave
  • Being truly flexible where shared parental leave is concerned.

In conclusion, there are so many things employers can put in place to help working parents, and it’s about finding what’s right for your business. It could be worthwhile putting out an employee survey to gauge which options gain most support from parents, carers or parents-to-be. The most important benefits aren’t really benefits at all – it’s very important to not underestimate the value of openness and the availability to talk it through to come up with a solution together.

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