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More Than a Baby . . . Working Parents and the Paradigm Shift

Tuesday, February 5, 2019
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A recent report on working parents from Life Meets Work, a Talking Talent company, shows how much organizations have left to do to build a culture of support. It also gives HR teams a clear sense of the steps that need to be taken if they’re going to optimize employees’ experience and hold on to the working parents of the future.

Think Asset, Not Liability

Working parents are worth investing in. Our survey shows that people feel more confident about their skills as a result of having kids. Managing this positive shift in self-reported capabilities proactively will have a significant impact on the individuals involved and collectively enhance business performance.

Failing to support working parents has a serious business cost. In the United States, nearly two-thirds of working parents believe they aren’t the parent they want to be because of work pressures. Even if these feelings are covered up, they are often expressed in other ways, such as stress, decreased productivity, or aggressive leadership styles. Organizations that support working parents are making a long-term investment; retaining talent is cheaper than sourcing it.

Policy Goes Only So Far

The overwhelming majority of parents said their organization has policies in place to support parental leave, but more than half of working parents (56 percent) experienced a significant gap between what their workplace says it’s doing and what it’s actually doing.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Less than a third of our participants believed their line manager or HR department was very effective in the parental transition. Managers need training to know what showing support looks like and how to set aside their own biases related to taking leave. Leaders need to be given the tools to model proper support and be held accountable for providing it. Employees also need tools, like coaching, to empower them to have the right conversations, identify untapped resources, and successfully manage the leave process while staying focused on their career ambitions.

Take Yes for an Answer

Organizations need to take active steps to communicate that employees have permission to take the time they have been given. Raising the visibility of parental leave by providing a robust package of support, including initiatives like parental mentor programs, will help employees feel more comfortable with working parents taking the time away (without guilt). How we talk about parental leave on a daily basis informs how we think about it, and internal communication plans can help ensure language around leave stays positive.

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Working parents need to be encouraged to be transparent and vocal about the challenges they face. Too often working parents cover up negative feelings in an effort to appear more committed to the organization, which makes life harder for them and perpetuates a culture that doesn’t value its employees as whole people.

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The Father Factor

Although the majority of couples viewed shared parental leave as a positive, nearly 63 percent of men believed that taking extended parental leave as a father would hurt their career. Often men don’t take paternity leave out of fear that it will be perceived as a lack of commitment. The spinoff negative consequences of this, including decreased productivity and morale, can be avoided if employers invest upfront in encouraging new dads to take their leave by creating a culture that supports it.

The most obvious way employers can help ease the financial cost of taking paternity leave is to expand their leave policies to include a longer period of paid leave for all caregivers. Several organizations have moved in this direction, with some offering up to a year of paid leave. That isn’t always possible, but there are many other ways to show support, such as allowing new parents to ease back from leave on a part-time basis while being paid at a higher-than-part-time rate; letting employees work remotely for an extended period; or setting up programs where employees can donate PTO to new parents.

At a grassroots level, employees need to challenge themselves to be more inclusive of all people and of varying needs. The more we create a culture that values diversity and inclusion, the more likely people within an organization are to ask about and support the needs of everyone, including working parents.

About the Author

As CEO of the newly merged Life Meets Work, a Talking Talent company, Teresa Hopke leads the U.S. business and steers the company’s strategic direction. Her team specializes in developing custom solutions that drive gender diversity and sustainably in both the workplace and personal lives.

Prior to joining the organization in 2011, Teresa led retention and engagement strategies at RSM in her role as senior director of national talent management. Her innovative coaching and culture programs led the company to prestigious recognition and awards.

Teresa is a nationally recognized speaker who has been featured in many books and media outlets such as CNBC, the CBS Morning Show, NBC Nightly News, NPR, Wall Street Journal, and HR Magazine.

She is a working mother of four with an arsenal of real-world experiences (and stories) that influence the work she does with her clients.

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