How to Support Workers With Children at Home
Finding the right work-life balance in a hybrid or remote workplace can be a daunting prospect for many employees with children. This stress is quickly compounded when adding the prospect of a commute back to a recently re-opened office and the struggles many parents experience today with on again, off again daycare and school.
According to the 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index, nearly half (47%) of the 31,000 people surveyed across 31 countries said family and personal commitments take precedence over work, and 24% will quit their job if it fails to foster and support a healthy work culture and employee wellbeing.
For some companies, the traditional work culture of employees leaving their personal lives at home is history. Progressive employers are recognizing their responsibility to see that employees thrive both in and out of work. That means offering avenues to support employees with children is key, regardless of the work model.
Design a Flexible Work Environment
From managing children's tantrums, activities and education at home, to attending to medical emergencies, school events and homework, workers with children can easily be overwhelmed by juggling these tasks with their work schedules and commitments. Linda Shaffer, chief people and operations officer at San Francisco-based background check company Checkr, said it’s important for employers to offer flexible working conditions to accommodate the needs of working parents — and those who work from home in general.
McKinsey research shows parents with flexible schedules are 31% less likely to suffer from burnout than parents without flexible schedules. Understanding that burned-out workers are more likely to quit their job, employers looking to retain their talent would be wise to pay attention.
For instance, employers may want to consider offering shorter work weeks and flexible schedules with staggered start and end times, particularly if considering a return to the office. Doing so can go a long way in providing a positive employee experience, which in turn can lead to greater engagement, motivation, performance and retention.
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Offer Targeted Benefits and Support
In light of the numerous challenges that working parents face, companies today can offer more parent-centric benefits such as child-care benefits or PTO policies, as well as comprehensive healthcare and wellness benefits.
"Providing child-care benefits and resources is a very important way to support workers with children," Shaffer said. "This can be in the form of discounts for child-care services or partnering with local providers to offer on-site child care.”
For parents working from home, having the right office setup can also make a significant difference. Some workers are still using a corner of the home that was not intended for work prior to the pandemic, working off the dining table, from a make-shift desk in the bedroom or sitting at the kitchen counter. Not having a dedicated place to conduct work is rife with dangers, including constant distractions from family members.
Enabling remote work goes well beyond empowering employees with the right digital collaboration tools. Employers may find it valuable to also extend the benefits to the home office, providing employees with an environment that is conducive to productive work, both mentally and physically. Standup desks, ergonomic chairs, additional monitors and HD webcams, for instance, are simple and affordable solutions that help create a better office environment.
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Create an Open and Positive Atmosphere
Despite managers' best efforts to keep the lines of communication open, some employees may find it difficult to be transparent about their challenges in finding a healthy work-life balance. In fact, data from nonprofit firm Catalyst shows 57% of employees are reluctant to share their feelings or life experiences with their managers.
There's often a stigma associated with working parents who can't juggle it all. These employees may feel they will be judged for not accomplishing as much as their non-parent counterparts, or at least not doing it as easily as others. It is managers' role to ensure that perception doesn't take root.
Fostering an open and understanding workplace is key to creating a positive experience for all employees. It enables workers to ask for help when needed and share their concerns and challenges along the way.
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“The best way for businesses to help working parents is to promote openness, honesty and communication among employees,” said Andrew Dale, technical director at Woking, UK-based CloudTech24, who believes regular check-ins, surveys and feedback should be high on the priority list for every manager.
“It is crucial for managers to have opportunities to check in with their teams on a frequent basis and offer timely input on scheduling and prioritization issues,” Dale said.
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Provide Clear Communications and Scheduling
Working parents have many things to contend with, and clear communication is critical to managing tasks efficiently. If there’s a particular activity that’s high on the priority list, team leaders should provide clear and timely instructions beforehand.
The same is true with scheduling calls and meetings. Assuming every employee is available at a moment's notice can be disruptive and intrusive — and most likely wrong in a distributed workforce — it also runs counter to productivity principles. This is particularly true when it comes to parents, who may need to step away from the computer several times a day to pick up kids from school, drive them to various activities or help them with homework.
“If you need to have a meeting, catch-up call, check-in, etc. with your team, it's a good idea to see when it's most convenient for everyone," said Frederic Linfjärd, director of growth marketing of Copenhagen, Denmark-based software company Planday. "We need to be deliberate in our approach and the time management standards we set for our staff because not everyone works the traditional 9 to 5."
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Think Broadly About Family-Friendly Perks
To make the workplace more conducive for a working parent, it’s important to consider family-friendly benefits and perks that make their life easier. This may range from healthcare benefits to employee vouchers for entertainment and family-centric events.
"One of the simplest and most direct methods to help working parents is to allow them to set their own work schedules, so they can accommodate their children's activities and other family obligations,” Dale said.
Asking employees what matters most to them can be the best way to start to make sure these efforts don't fall short of expectations.