Supporting working parents is good for business, full stop

Motherly Collective

Let’s face it—being a parent in 2023 can be a struggle: Parents today are spending twice as much time parenting than their own parents did, the cost of childcare has skyrocketed to twice the rate of inflation (and that’s if/when you actually find childcare) and society’s suggestion of using your “village” isn’t what it once was for generations prior. We often hear the phrase, “Work like you don’t have kids and parent like you don’t have work outside the home,” but in 2023 and beyond, that’s not going to cut it anymore. 

So where’s the opportunity for the hero to show up? It’s going to take time for real change like national paid leave and federal funding for childcare. Which means right now, it’s up to employers to provide more support for working parents.

I’m the founder of Superkin, a data-driven consulting firm that modernizes the employee experience for parent and caregiving employees, leading to better business outcomes. We talk to hundreds of companies and executives about the right type of support for parents at work. If you’ve ever dreamed of telling your boss or HR team your company needs better policies and support but didn’t know where to find it, consider this article your Working Parent Unicorn Hero.

The pandemic blurred the lines between home and work

When it comes to the future of work, while the seismic impacts of the pandemic are obvious, it’s also important to understand the fundamental shift happening in American families—and it all makes for a perfect storm. 

First, the pandemic exposed the cracks in the system for working parents. As work and life blended more than ever, we gained a true glimpse into the homes and lives of our coworkers. Burnout and mental health challenges were even more prevalent and the number of women who were forced out of the paid workforce was into the millions. As a result, the pandemic brought the way companies view and respond to the needs of its employees to the forefront. Leaders have had to reevaluate the employee experience, not only thinking about their employees at work—but also their general wellbeing.

There are more women in the workforce than ever before

In addition to the upheaval we saw as a result of the pandemic, it’s also important to note the makeup of the talent pool today—it’s unlike anything the US workforce has ever seen before. 

The rise of women participating in the paid economy is a huge factor. There are more women in the workforce than ever before. Women are better educated and 40% of the time they are the breadwinners in their families (for women of color, this is the case in 3 out of 4 families). Currently, 60% of US family households are dual income—compared to just 25% in 1960. And for the first time ever, more women are having babies in their 40s. There is a greater representation of LGBTQIA+ families in today’s workforce, the “sandwich generation” is growing by the day and the cost of living and raising a child is outpacing inflation. 

Acknowledging these changes are fundamental in understanding why we need change in our workforce structure. 

How should leaders be thinking about support for this massive cohort? Hint: Unlimited kombucha on tap and a baby onesie with your company logo on it isn’t going to work. We need practical support that makes work work for parents. What are the levers that make it easier for them to show up and be their best? I’m highlighting three ways to support this cohort.

3 ways to support working parents

1. Workplace flexibility 

Workplace flexibility is probably the most important and low-lift way to enact change. Leaders have had to reconsider rigid work schedules and adopt more flexible arrangements that accommodate employees’ diverse needs, whether related to childcare, health concerns or personal preferences. We need to put the focus on business outcomes, not hours clocked 9 to 5 at a desk. 

2. Make parenting visible

Employers should aim to encourage a culture that “parents out loud.” For companies that offer paid leave (a signal of their commitment to employee wellbeing), we need men and non-birthing parents to take their full leave as studies show it leads to better outcomes for their children (improved cognitive and emotional outcomes) and for the whole family.

But parental leave is only the beginning! Other ways to parent out loud? Be open about sharing your calendar that includes times you’re unavailable due to school drop off or a mid-day flute recital. By normalizing and sharing the caregiving load, we challenge outdated stereotypes and break down gender-based barriers in the workplace and at home.

3. Foster a parent-positive culture

A Glassdoor study found that 77% of job seekers evaluate a company’s culture before interviewing. Beyond a strong portfolio of modern benefits, how do leaders think about the day-to-day experience of parent employees? Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way to foster employee connection (especially in hybrid/remote environments), helping move the needle on better retention and overall employee wellbeing. 

Another scenario: What’s the response when someone tells their manager they’re pregnant? This is a critical, make-or-break moment in the employee’s journey, one that can really have an impact on their trust in the organization. One inappropriate comment or offhand remark can change everything. That’s one reason why Superkin’s management-caregiver training has become one of our best workshops.

Supporting working parents is good for business

This isn’t just the right thing to do (as anyone who’s been a new parent knows) but it’s also good for business. Supporting working parents isn’t just a nice-to-have; given the talent pool and the new ways of working, it’s a strategic move that benefits two sides of the same coin: employees and the bottom line. Here’s how:

1. It boosts productivity

Happy and well-supported parents are more likely to be productive employees. One study shows that nearly $13B of the US economy is lost due to challenges with childcare. When parents have access to flexible working arrangements, paid family leave, childcare options, they can better balance their work and family responsibilities. This balance results in decreased stress and absenteeism, higher job satisfaction, and increased focus on their tasks, leading to improved productivity. 

2. It increases retention

Eighty-three percent of millennials would leave their job for family-friendly benefits. High turnover rates can be a drain on resources, as the recruitment and training of new talent can be costly and time-consuming, not to mention loss of institutional knowledge and company morale. 

3. It offers your company a competitive advantage

Leaders need to understand that providing a modern parental leave package isn’t just for those actively growing their careers and growing their families—it’s also an indicator of how you value and treat the people on your team. This has a huge impact on the overall culture of an organization, fostering a more engaged and loyal workforce. 

A note on supporting parents at work

Leaders who question the need to support parents will lose out on the best talent. This isn’t simply an HR issue or policy but one that’s critical to the productivity and bottom line of a company. 

The growing number of caregivers in the workplace can no longer be ignored. Leaders need to recognize this new reality and design a thoughtful workplace that meets the needs of modern employees. The cost of not acknowledging this fundamental change to the talent pool is real. If you want access to the best talent, it’s important to know what they need to succeed. Support for parents is a critical component to the success of our country and its future.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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