Having children doesn’t mean it’s time to give up those career aspirations. In this blog, I explore how employers can support working parents as they navigate the ups and downs of family life.
Work is good for us on so many levels. It’s not just about making money, it’s an opportunity to use our skills, interact with other people, and make a valuable contribution. Feeling happy in our job brings real satisfaction and a sense of self-worth.
Of course, no-one should have to give up the job they love when they start a family if they don’t want to. However, it’s impossible to deny that raising children brings challenges. Becoming a parent can be a shock to the system. When an ordinary working day ends, however long, you can hit the reset button. Having a child, on the other hand, is a working day that never ends. There’s no nine to five and no annual leave, it’s a 24/7 job (albeit a rewarding one!).
From a traditional outset, where women primarily took on the role of looking after the children, this meant less opportunities for them to focus on their careers and the role of “caregiver” and “provider” were specifically set out. However, as times progress, there is more duality around these duties which sees both mothers and fathers balancing their time between home and work.
For example, when a mother returns to work after maternity leave or perhaps even a few years raising children, there may be barriers in her way. She may be experiencing back-to-work anxiety or a loss of confidence. For a father, who may choose to remain at home with his children whilst his partner returns to work, or reduce his hours to part time, there will be areas that he must overcome to balance this new lifestyle between professional and personal. So, what can employers do to support parents?
Having a child may mean a shift in a worker’s priorities, but it doesn’t have to impact on their career. Employers should ensure their working family policies are up to date and easily accessible, so their employees can feel well informed of their options and expectations. Supporting both parents with generous maternity and paternity leave packages, and allowing time off for ante-natal appointments, can ease the way during the pregnancy journey.
Some companies are introducing paid leave for workers who need to undergo fertility treatment. Research has shown that many prospective parents don’t talk to their manager about their fertility issues. This may be because it’s so personal and going through treatment cycles can be an emotional rollercoaster. Therefore, showing that you are understanding of this topic could help employees be more open.
For those staff members who wish to adopt a child, it can be a long and arduous process. To help their employees through this journey, employers should allow staff time off for adoption appointments and offer the same maternity and paternity benefits enjoyed by birth parents.
The option of shared parental leave can be offered to allow new parents to take on an equal share of childcare responsibilities too.
Don’t run your business on skeleton staff. Working parents will always put their children first, and rightly so. If there’s a family emergency or their child is ill, your employee may have to dash off at the drop of a hat. Ensure you have cover available to minimise disruption in the event of an employee having to make a sharp exit.
Out of sight should never mean out of mind. As women tend to take longer off once they’ve given birth, they may feel like they’ve fallen out of the loop. Employers need to support them by keeping them up to date when new working methods are introduced, technologies change, or host ‘keeping in touch’ days. Employers could also write to staff to keep them up to speed on any developments within the company or any social events, such as industry award ceremonies, that they may wish to attend. Communication is key, but some people may wish to have a break from thinking about work and focus on their new bundle of joy. So, find a balance that works for them to keep them up to date and give them space. What’s more, after they return, staff will appreciate access to training opportunities to help them get used to any new systems that were introduced in their absence.
When returning to work after having a baby, women – and men – will require a work-life balance to enable them to manage their family responsibilities. Flexibility is key here – whether it’s a change in shift patterns, reduced hours, or opportunities to work from home where possible.
At Ingeus, we’ve seen many examples of how flexibility can be a game-changer for women wishing to get back to work. Ingeus delivers the Restart Scheme to provide tailored support for unemployed people in their search for a job. We have had full-time parents come through our doors who had the ambition and skillset to succeed but were struggling to find jobs that would fit in around their childcare responsibilities. With guidance from their Restart Advisors, they have been able to find rewarding jobs that work around their family.
Recognise that there may be unconscious bias related to mothers returning to the workplace. Women’s career ambitions may be as strong as ever, so spend time discussing what they want from their role. Whether that’s taking on extra responsibilities, or considering them for promotions. Additional training may be a factor that could boost their confidence and skillset, ensuring they feel heard and that progression is an option for them too.
Single parents – particularly women – face the most difficulty in getting back to work after having a baby. Remember that not everyone has a strong support network, such as parents or relatives living nearby to offer a helping hand. Some parents are doing this by themselves and they could need support to juggle childcare with a job. An empathetic employer can make a world of difference – so be ready to listen.