invest in working parents

Parenting Has Changed

My parents were 25 and 26 when they had the 4 of us. They both worked full time once the big ones (my sister Frances and I) were old enough to look after the wee ones when we all got back from school. We were 13 and 11 when we reached that exciting milestone. My parents cheerfully described their parenting style as “benign neglect”.

Intensive Parenting

How times have changed. For a start, people are having kids older and so both parents have already invested in their careers by the time they think about having children. Dual-career couples are becoming the norm. Families are smaller allowing parents to focus more on each child. We are now in an era of “intensive parenting” where people don’t feel the same equanimity about just trusting the system and assuming things will all turn out right. Apparently, studies have shown that working women spend more ‘quality time’ with their children today than stay at home mums did back in the 60s! Teachers feel the pressure of dealing with “helicopter” parents who want to have a big say in their children’s education. It’s as though there’s just too much at risk to opt for benign neglect these days. Parents want to be incredibly involved in their kids’ lives. And why wouldn’t they?

What Does This Mean for You as A Manager?

The impact of this on you as a manager is significant. Most of your talent will become parents at some point in their lives and they’ll want to do this at a point in their careers just when they’re really beginning to add value. And they will want flexibility to allow them to parent in the way they want to. Men’s involvement in children’s lives increased dramatically across the globe during the pandemic. Many of them want to continue that level of involvement. I think a lot of companies are nervous about this because it’s like letting the genie out of the bottle. If they get more flexibility, then everyone will want it. I think the genie is out of the bottle. Flexible working is fast becoming the default position. Studies have shown for years that the majority of Generation X and now Generation Y would move companies for more flexibility – and trade status and money for it too. If you don’t get this as a manager, you will lose talented people. But there’s a big upside to more flexibility for all and that is that the “motherhood penalty” will cease to be. This doubles your talent pool and makes it more diverse at the same time. For too long women who become mothers have seen their careers flat line for wont of a bit of flexibility. That’s changing as we all recognise just how much you can get done when working from home.

There are now websites dedicated to promoting companies who offer enlightened parental policies. Take a look at our Parental Fog Index.

Parents can shop around now as companies are having to become more transparent about what they’re offering – and it’s not just parents who are interested. Younger people are very keen to access this kind of information and I have clients who have been surprised by graduates even asking questions about parental policies and flexible working in graduate entry interviews.

Managers Who ‘Get It’

If you haven’t figured out how to manage a flexible work force your staff will move to find a manager who does. I’ve coached hundreds of women who become parents and there’s a shorthand to describe managers who haven’t cottoned on to flexible working. They talk about them just not “getting it”. It’s easy to assume this is a function of generation but it isn’t. It’s a mindset. It’s about believing that an individual’s contribution is not measured in hours spent but rather in the output you receive. When you think about it, when you want a job done, in other areas of life you’re much more interested in paying for the result than you are in the time they’ve spent on it. You might end up paying loads for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and takes ages! Talented people get things done and they get them done on time but they need to be allowed to do it in their own way.

Focus on helping them manage their energy not their time. Having to have your team right outside your door to be able to manage them well is not going to cut it in the future. We are entering the era of the hybrid workforce where calling an ad hoc team huddle in person will be a luxury which we will all want to do occasionally but it can no longer be the default management style. Managing by walking about has gone out the window. In its place will be ever more sophisticated video conferencing and collaboration tools. It’s also going to test your coaching skills. To find out more about the skills needed check out Patrick’s article on this subject.

A Final Word on Networks and Perspective

One of the great assets, from a career perspective, that becoming a parent brings, is it dramatically extends your networks. Parents make new friends for life at this juncture and often, because they’re starting later and later, their new friendship group are well established in their careers. It tends to broaden our horizons and this is certainly useful for networking but it’s also invaluable for giving you perspective. Rather than worry about what your parents have missed when they’ve been out of work for a bit to care for a new baby think about what they’ve gained.

I’ve noticed in my time coaching returning mothers how much more decisive they become. They haven’t got time to faff over perfecting things or worrying about how they come across and so they just, excuse the language, “get shit done”! They’re also able to stand back and see the bigger picture. All of these are key leadership skills. They’ve just had a crash course in leadership skills. Your job is to harness those skills and when you do, the discretionary effort you’ll get in return is off the scale.


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