How can leaders support working parents?
In the context of the pandemic, a new employee subset has emerged – the working parent. Over the last year, working parents have been simultaneously managing work and parenting, whilst living at work and working from home. For many employees, work is no longer physically and chronologically separate from home and parenting, and it might be difficult for them to feel fully present and engaged in any one role when others are competing for their attention.
Working parents come in many different shapes and forms — male, female, gay, straight, biologic, adoptive, with older kids or babies and they all face different challenges. And whilst they all found ways to adapt during the pandemic, the last year highlighted how difficult, distracting, and stressful it can be to try to work in the same space where they parent. Working parents already felt the pressure before the pandemic and struggled to meet the expectations of being their best, both as parents and employees, and as we emerge on the other side of the crisis, leaders and organisations need to address and support the needs of working parents, especially if remote work arrangements are here to stay in the long term.
The people-centred approach
Many organisations focus on designing and structuring benefits relevant to working parents, but they are less effective at communicating and destigmatising their use. The pandemic induced crisis, however, offers an opportunity to shift the future of work in a way that will support working parents and caregivers and create a workplace culture that promotes and supports care for everyone.
Employees know what’s working and what isn’t working the best, so leaders need to start with them and understand how they can be best supported on an individual level. Whilst surveys and evaluations are great to provide an overall understanding of the status quo, there is no one size fits all solution as every employee is facing a unique set of challenges that require a unique approach in resolving them. As with any change initiative, sponsorship from the leadership team is required. Leaders are responsible for driving and modelling the culture, so their commitment and involvement are critical.
Rebalancing the workforce
A recent Gallup study has found that, on average over the last year, more working women than men have experienced significant disruption in their lives from the pandemic. Yet, women are generally more engaged at work than men, and even during the pandemic work is something that women want to do as it provides them with meaning and value.
According to The Women in the Workplace 2020 report, mothers with young children have reduced their work hours at a rate that is four to five times higher than fathers, to take on childcare, followed by spending an extra three or more hours a day on childcare and household responsibilities, equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job. Interestingly, 77 percent of men think they share the load at home equally with their partners, however, only 40 percent of women agree. The burden of this double shift has resulted in one in four women in corporate jobs to consider downshifting their career or leaving the job. If women take action and actually leave, such a massive shift would have a significant negative impact on gender diversity for decades to come.
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