Managing Working Parents

Creating a Flexible, Happy Workforce

Executive assistant taking notes on telephone.

Learn how to get the best from the working parents on your team.

© iStockphoto/Synergee

Michael is one of your most talented team members: he's dedicated and innovative, and he never misses a deadline. However, due to family obligations, he wants to leave work every day at 3 p.m. to collect his children from school.

Michael has asked to come in earlier, or to work at home in the evenings, to make up for this lost time, but you have to deny his request. Although your organization does have a flexitime policy in place, you need him to work office hours so that he can take inbound calls and attend meetings with clients in person. A few months later, he leaves your organization for a company that offers him flexible working hours.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 58 percent of families have two working parents. In the U.K., the Office of National Statistics puts this number at 53 percent. With these figures, and with single-parent households included as well, several people in your team may be working parents.

Parents in the workforce face challenges and time constraints that other professionals might not experience. Organizations need to support working parents, or they might find that they lose them to companies with more family-friendly policies. Also, you'll get better work from working parents who are positive and highly-motivated, and who believe that the organization is "on their side."

In this article, we'll look at how you can get the best from the working parents on your team. We'll also look at how organizations can get a fair deal, too.

The Challenges of Working Parents

Professionals with children face a number of challenges.

For example, typical workday hours often conflict with a child's school or daycare schedule, so parents might have to leave work early to care for their children. They might also need time off for school holidays, special events, vacations, or illnesses.

Because working parents often have to use vacation time to take care of sick children, or to accommodate school vacation schedules, they may have little time left for important events, such as school plays and children's sporting events. This can create stress and guilt, which can affect productivity and well-being.

In addition, maintaining a healthy life balance can be a struggle for parents. They naturally put their children's needs above their own, meaning that they typically take less time for themselves than non-parents. Burnout  , stress, and lack of physical fitness are major challenges for working parents, and for their organizations.

Employment Guidelines

Many countries have laws that protect working parents, but the scope of these laws differs widely depending on your location.

For example, the United States guarantees working parents 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave*. However, if the organization employs fewer than 50 people, or if parents work part-time, this law doesn't apply.

Working mothers in England and Wales are guaranteed 39 weeks of maternity pay if they qualify, with up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. Canada guarantees 15-18 weeks of paid maternity leave, and this can be increased with "parental leave," which can be shared between both parents.

In England and Wales, fathers are entitled to one or two consecutive weeks of paid leave, and they can apply for an Additional Paternity Leave of 26 weeks if the child's mother has returned to work. In Canada, fathers are granted up to 35-52 weeks of paid parental leave, unless they have signed over some of this time to their spouse. Sweden's paternity leave policies are the most generous in the world – both parents are entitled to 240 days of paid leave, which can be shared between them.

In England and Wales, working parents or carers can "make a statutory application" for flexible working. (Employers do not have to grant this, and it's down to each organization to make this decision.) In the U.S., the Fair Labor Standards Act does not address flexible working, but leaves it up to the organization.

Discrimination   is another problem facing working parents. In some countries, it's illegal to ask potential recruits whether they have children, or to discriminate against pregnant women, and, of course, women in general. While identifying discrimination can be difficult, these policies can help ensure equality for parents.

Note 1:

This article is meant as a general guide only. Employment laws and regulations differ in each country. Research the laws in your country, state or region before drawing any conclusions.

Note 2:

Flexibility shouldn't work in one direction only. While it's fine for people to ask for flexibility, they have a responsibility to continue delivering good quality work. Managers need to ensure, fairly, that working parents meet this responsibility.

Strategies to Support Working Parents

Parents who work in family-friendly organizations often experience less stress, greater productivity, higher morale and greater job satisfaction than those who work in more rigid environments. You can support the working parents on your team in several ways.

1. Offer Flexible Scheduling

The U.K.'s Department of Trade and Industry's Work-Life Balance Employees' Survey found that 75 percent of organizations that introduced flexible working practices had a more committed and motivated workforce. Providing flexibility to working parents, where appropriate, is one of the most effective ways to offer support.

There are many ways to offer flexible working to your team members. For example...

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