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7 Ways HR Can Support Working Parents

Working parents are pulling overtime at home, and HR can play an important role in keeping their morale high.

Nick Schurk

by Nick Schurk - December 20th, 2023


Being a working parent is no easy feat. Parents often feel like they're between a rock and a hard place with work and family demands. More than 50% of working moms and dads report that their job makes it hard to be a good parent. Thankfully, employers are taking note of these struggles and taking steps to make this balancing act a little bit easier!

From flexible scheduling options to parental leave policies and even childcare services, HR departments across companies everywhere are beginning to recognize the need for support to help parents succeed in their professional and personal lives. 

In this blog post, we'll explore how HR leaders can create effective strategies for supporting working parents to ensure they don't have to choose between having a successful career or being present at home.

The Growing World of Remote Education

Choosing to send their kids to school or maintain distance learning remains a challenge for parents if they’re given the option at all. On one hand, sending kids to school could increase their risk of exposure to illness and violence. However, not doing so could result in students falling behind their peers, further widening the already vast achievement gap.

Virtual schooling became more common in the US in the wake of COVID-19. According to a report by the National Education Policy Center, in 2019-2020, there were 477 full-time virtual schools with 332,379 enrolled students

Arguably, parents who have no choice but to work are feeling the most conflicted. A need for income and a lack of flexibility in their work schedule leads to overwhelming guilt and low morale when they feel they aren’t making the best decisions in their children’s interests. 

7 Ways Employers Can Support Working Parents

Being in the “people” business, HR departments have a unique opportunity to strengthen the workplace culture, particularly for parents struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. And, truthfully, they should be willing to take up the cause.

Parents who are pulling dual roles at home and work are doing so out of necessity. They fear putting their kids in harm’s way, but they also dread repercussions from their employers if they aren’t at their desks from 9 to 5. And without proper childcare, some parents may need to make the difficult decision of leaving the workforce altogether. This puts the organization in a bind of trying to hire and train someone while temporarily shifting the workload to other employees.

The result is a dangerous mixture of mounting stress, low morale, resentment, and decreased productivity — none of which are beneficial to the company or its employees.

Instead, employers should be putting policies in place now to help mitigate the stress of balancing childcare issues with work, and HR has an important role to play. Here are seven ways HR can support parents to help them maintain a healthy work-life balance:

1. Empathize

Understand why employees may choose to keep their kids home even if they have the option to send them to school in person. Some parents may have immunocompromised children, a vulnerable person in the household, or a moral objection to putting teachers and school staff at risk.

Now more than ever, parents need to know they are more to your organization than just a means to an end. Show them you hear their struggles and are willing to accommodate them.

2. Allow for Flexible Work Schedules

Flexible work at home can take many forms—working earlier or later hours or working a compressed schedule, for example. Using a set number of hours for a workweek is an antiquated way of measuring productivity.

This method doesn’t take into account the actual work being performed during those hours. It can also discourage workers from using their time more efficiently. And in some cases, it may even reward those who are perceived to be harder workers just because they spend more time at work.

Better ways to measure productivity are data-driven. Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and SMART goals provides greater insight into what employees are spending time on and the outcomes of those activities. 

Companies can also apply agile methodology metrics to measure velocity and output more accurately than the number of hours worked.

Regardless of how you approach productivity, it’s essential to communicate specifically what employees are being measured on. This way, they can focus on those goals without being distracted by the number of hours worked.

As long as employees can attend specific meetings, the rest of their schedules shouldn’t matter. Allow them to work at times when it makes sense for them. Their productivity will indicate whether they’re getting the job done.

3. Stay on Top of Local School Regulations

HR managers and employers should stay educated on what is happening in schools locally so they can better support their employees. “An employer who is keyed into the current state of education will be better able to make decisions that support employees and contribute to more seamless business operations,” says Dr. Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP, Associate Medical Director of R3 Continuum.

If employers aren’t aware of local updates, employees are placed under higher stress and disrupted operations. 

4. Maintain an Open Door

Two-way communication is critical to the success of remote work. Needs change, and HR leaders should be proactive in reaching out to offer support for remote employees. Don’t wait for a working parent to raise their hand—their hands are likely full and already doing the best they can. 

Instead, HR leaders can conduct regular check-ins (more often than before) to see how parents are faring. Support moms and dads by asking how they need help and offering realistic solutions. Show that you understand the boundaries of work and home life are blurred and try to remove the pressure they may be feeling to continue working at the same capacity they’re used to in the office.

Many employees may find it beneficial to join a special Slack channel just for parents so they can share tips and foster a sense of community. As a parent, staying connected to the outside world (and other adults) can have a huge impact on productivity, focus, and a sense of belonging.

5. Shorten and Record Meetings

Ever heard the phrase "could have been an email"? That's how many working parents feel about the huge blocks of meetings that make up their daily calendars.

It's more likely today that children will be home for extended periods. Keeping children engaged and busy for long periods of time may prove to be quite difficult. Charlotte Adams, Founder of MBS with Calie, suggests, “Try to keep meetings at 30 minutes or less and go straight to the point. This will allow parents to balance meetings and attend to their children’s needs.” 

Recording your meetings helps keep parents in the loop, even if they weren’t able to join the live meeting. “Parents need to manage and combine their professional and private schedules at the same time and often have to deal with unforeseen events. The need to be present for synchronous (live) communication is a thing of the past,” adds Raphael Allstadt, Founder of tl;dv, a software that enables meeting organizers to record and annotate real-time all meetings from Zoom and Google Meets. 

6. Ask Employees What They Need From Their Employer

Support during these times of uncertainty isn’t one-size-fits-all. Many HR departments are used to diving into problem-solving mode and finding solutions that benefit the masses. But these are unique times, and not all parents will benefit from a cookie-cutter support system.

Some parents may need assistance with acquiring learning supplies and tools for their children. As Laura Handrick, a contributing HR Professional for Choosing Therapy emphasizes, “Employers are now left with tons of in-office ‘stuff’ -- from laptops to headsets. These items can be repurposed as learning tools for employees with kids who need laptops and headsets for school work.”

HR can get creative in offering up these items to support families. “I work with one firm that offered up all of their office assets to remaining employees to use at home, laptops, chairs, standing desks, headsets, etc,” Handrick adds.

The best approach is to invite employees to voice their concerns and co-create solutions that work for their situation.

7. Establish an Education Assistance Program

Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have been worrying about nearly everything, particularly how to support their families. Karl Armstrong, Founder of Epic Win Applications, notes, “One actionable tip that employers can do to support parents in the workplace is through establishing an educational assistance program.”

Much like a standard employee assistance program, educational assistance programs benefit employees by helping them with the burden of educational expenses, potential tuition reductions, and scholarship grants for their children. Employers can consider extending help through loan assistance. 

8. Emphasize Self-Care

Balancing professional responsibilities with childcare duties can affect parents' mental and emotional well-being. Encouraging self-care practices benefits individual employees and contributes to a healthier and more productive workforce overall.

This emphasis on self-care becomes even more vital for parents who work in mental health. These individuals face unique challenges as they navigate demanding work schedules, high levels of stress, and the weight of responsibility in caring for others. Healthcare professionals who are also parents must cope with the added pressure of maintaining the well-being of their own families while serving on the front lines of patient care.

To support work-from-home parents, HR departments can provide resources and initiatives that promote self-care. This can include virtual wellness programs, mindfulness sessions, access to mental health resources, and flexible scheduling options that allow parents to prioritize their personal well-being alongside their professional commitments.

Recognizing and addressing the specific needs of work-from-home parents, particularly those in healthcare, demonstrates an organization's commitment to fostering a supportive and compassionate work environment. By encouraging self-care, employers empower parents to prioritize their health and well-being, enabling them to show up as their best selves at work and in their roles as parents.

Examples of Organizations That Support Working Parents

Many organizations are setting strong examples of what it means to support working parents. For example, L.A.-based Kaiser Permanente was offering its employees $300 per week to help pay for childcare, which could take the form of a childcare center or a friend or family member. Cedars-Sinai Hospital was offering a similar benefit to frontline employees who came in direct contact with patients.

The Hilton hotel chain has a generous parental leave policy, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid leave for new moms and four weeks for dads and adoptive parents. In 2020, Hilton also partnered with Milk Stork to provide a service that allows breastfeeding parents to ship or store breastmilk at no charge when traveling for work

The Hilton hotel chain provides an impressive parental leave policy that guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and four weeks for fathers and adoptive parents. It also partners with Milk Stork, a service that allows breastfeeding parents to ship or store breastmilk at for free when traveling for work.

Many businesses aim to give employees more time to wind down and focus on personal matters. Nabila Salem, President of Revolent Group, says, “We have various initiatives in place such as ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ where employees are actively encouraged to power off an hour early and spend time doing something for them each week.”

Brett Downes, Founder of Haro Helpers, states, “We are offering a new scheme called ‘Save Our Spawn’ (SOS) where once a month, a parent can call the office if/when they need that day off, as a mini emergency -- paid.”

Final Thoughts: Act Sooner Rather Than Later

As recently as June of 2022, 72% of working parents reported feeling stressed about uncertain school and childcare schedules. Adding to the concern, millions of US working mothers report feelings of workplace burnout, making them more likely to leave the workforce.

Companies should recognize that offering parents HR support during difficult times isn’t a perk for the parent but rather a necessity for both parties. Acting sooner rather than later can help mitigate job loss and the detrimental effects that poor work-life balance can place on your organization as a whole.

FAQs About Supporting Working Parents

Employers can implement initiatives like flexible work arrangements, mental health support, education assistance programs, childcare benefits, and time-saving services to support working parents.

HR can support working parents by offering flexible work arrangements, mental health resources, childcare support, education assistance programs, and time-saving services. They can also communicate frequently with employees and co-create solutions that work for individual situations.

Employers should prioritize supporting working parents because it can help mitigate job loss and workplace burnout, improve productivity and morale, and attract and retain top talent. Additionally, supporting working parents is a social responsibility that can benefit the community and society as a whole.

The Hilton hotel chain has a parental leave policy that guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and four weeks for fathers and adoptive parents. Additionally, Cedars-Sinai Hospital and Kaiser Permanente offer childcare benefits and support for frontline employees.

An education assistance program is a program that helps employees, including working parents, with educational expenses, tuition reductions, and scholarship grants for their children. It can also extend help through loan assistance. This program can benefit employees by reducing the financial burden of education and providing opportunities for career advancement.

Updated 12/20/2023

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