When we encourage everyone to be an inclusive colleague, we produce a supportive team climate that helps all members.
For new working parents, this means taking the time to understand the monumental changes they are going through and supporting them in this journey as best as you can. Be the type of colleague you would wish them to be for you.
It’s Everybody’s Job to Support Working Parents
A 2020 study by McKinsey found that teams who ranked as ‘highly inclusive’ achieved significantly higher across multiple areas, including financial performance, decision making, engagement, productivity, and retention.
The thought of having children may not have crossed your mind at all, or it might be far off if it has. However, if you do happen to find yourself in this position one day, wouldn’t it give you great peace of mind to know that you helped create an understanding work environment that supports your needs as a working parent? Could you pay it forward to earn it back?
What’s Different About Working Parents?
If you don’t have children, it can be challenging to understand what parents go through and the pressures that they face. If you have adult children, the difficulties of early parenthood may have become a distant memory! Here are the six most common issues the parents we coach face:
Professional Identity Crisis – It is not unusual for new parents in high-pressure careers who are used to succeeding at work to feel overwhelmed or out of their depth upon initially returning to work. Being highly competent in their professional role may have been part of their old identity. With such a tremendous life upheaval, it is possible that they may initially feel frustrated that they aren’t at once performing to their demanding standards at work. They may also feel upon returning to work that they are dropping the ball at home. As new parents grow into a different identity, they can feel disorientated and worried. It can take a while for new mothers to redefine their idea of success. As they find their feet again, understanding and support from colleagues will help them grow with confidence rather than knock them sideways.
“Mummy Brain” – As much as I dislike the term, it is a recognised biological phenomenon: the brain of a new mother undergoes multiple neurological and structural changes that help the woman focus on her child and exclude anything else. Mothers often report how their memory is temporarily somewhat impaired and how their brain feels a bit ‘foggy’. It can knock the confidence of the most successful woman. Whilst this is an excellent mechanism from an evolutionary survival perspective, it can also be an entirely unpleasant experience for the mother. It is temporary; soon, she will be back to her old self. Extra support during this period is essential to bolster confidence.
Challenges Facing Fathers and Co-parents – Dads and co-parents may undergo a seismic shift in their identity as well – probably recognised whilst on parental leave and soon forgotten on return to work. You may assume traditional gender roles, but every household runs differently. Making assumptions about parental roles can be, at best, annoying, and at worst, harmful in propagating stereotypes that infiltrate workplace expectations.
For example, often, the dads that we coach often feel conflicted- they want to share childcare equally with their partner and be far more involved in their child’s daily life than society expects. It is more common now that their partner has a successful career and needs support to balance this with home life. Men can be fearful to request greater flexibility at work, worried their colleagues will raise eyebrows and question commitment.
Time Challenges – New responsibilities mean parents suddenly have fewer hours in the day to get work done. That doesn’t mean they achieve less; most parents have learned to be experts in efficiency and multi-tasking. However, sometimes the work/life load can feel overwhelming.
Teenagers Need More Help Than Toddlers – It seems counterintuitive, but older children often need their parents more than younger children do. They may have some significant challenges surrounding school friends, exams or future work plans. It can be challenging parenting older children who are navigating a more adult world without the benefit of fully developed frontal lobes to reign in risky behaviour. It can be easy to assume your colleagues who are parents are living the easy life simply because their children are no longer toddlers.
Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) – Parents of children with SEND face more challenges than most. It’s often an uphill battle to secure a diagnosis that is necessary to access funding and support. Many misunderstand the behaviour of a neuro atypical child with autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia. Parents may say that they feel judged for having a “disruptive”, “badly behaved” or “lazy child”. Parents of children with physical or mental disabilities often face a lifetime of worry over their health and care.
How Can You Help Create A Team Where Parents Feel They Belong?
You can take steps to help support working parents. You don’t need to do them all at once but doing some of them some of the time will make an enormous difference eventually.
Suspend Judgement – parents have enough on their plate without having to deal with the disapproval of colleagues. Seek first to understand their needs. If you feel like you are sometimes covering for them, remember that they will pick up the slack for you when you most need them to.
Acknowledge Both Identities – the ambitious career-driven colleague and devoted parent can, and probably do, co-exist in the same colleague. One positive aspect to the pandemic is that we’ve all seen our colleagues working from home with children fully visible. Schools may be open, but the demands of parents have not diminished.
Show an Interest in Their Children – celebrate high points, sympathise over low points. Rather than see colleagues suffer in silence, enable them to express what’s going on at home and its impact on them. Even having a quick coffee chat with them and allowing them to rant and get it out of their system can help work wonders.
Keep Child-Friendly Business Hours – consider the responsibilities of parents and book meetings and networking events during core working hours, making sure to avoid school drop off and pick up times.
Banish Presenteeism – measure performance by outputs and not by desk hours. Working parents learn to master efficiency to get work done in the time available.
Create a Supportive Culture – best-practice employers have a range of policies to support working parents. Nothing kills the effectiveness of policies like flexible working as a judgemental culture. Team joking, such as calling a parent a “part-timer”, no matter how well-intended, can make parents think twice about being seen to take up these policies.