2020 was a watershed moment for working parents. While many of them were already juggling work, childcare, and social commitments, when the pandemic struck, the lack of resources on their side became more evident. In fact, in 2021, it was reported that up to 8% of parents in the United States scored high when tested for parental burnout.
With the pandemic exposing this faultline, the struggles of a working parent are no longer seen as a personal matter, but as a challenge that the company must tackle with compassion and empathy. Businesses are now building family-friendly office spaces and adopting policies that cover time off and expenses related to parenting and childcare.
While these changes are vital for improved productivity and satisfaction at work, there is more to be done. Many parents, particularly mothers, report that work and childcare responsibilities leave them with precious little time or opportunity to spend on a hobby, self-care, or a chat with a loved one.
The workplace can become a rich source of sharing, camaraderie, community, and personal development, if we can build a community at work where parents feel welcome, supported, and empowered. Here’s how:
- Over-communicate to keep parents informed beyond work
Typically, working parents juggling work and childcare are inundated with notifications, messages, and conversations from school, caregivers, and family. They find it hard to stay on top of the information and updates that come their way. That’s why overcommunicating, which is seen by many experts as a key to managerial success, is vital not just on project- and performance-related matters but also on matters like self-care, benefits, and team-building activities. This shows that the team cares for each other beyond work as well.
For the working parents in your team or organization, consider starting a Slack channel or group for sharing relevant updates, policies, and benefits available to them. These are often missed out in the barrage of everyday messages and parents would appreciate the extra highlights and reminders.
- Create an in-office support system
Parenting can be daunting, especially for first-time parents or those going through special family, childcare, or health circumstances. You could ease the process by offering additional support, information, and networking opportunities. If the parents in your organization are open to it, create a support group for them to discuss any challenges they face, ask for recommendations on childcare and education services, or gather more research before coming to a parenting decision. They’d also be able to relax while connecting over work and children. Daisy Dowling, Founder and CEO of Workparent, has some tips on building an effective parents’ support group at work.
The team could also look at a find-a-buddy system where parents living near each other or with a similar schedule can partner up and assist each other with carpooling, meal-planning, babysitting, or any emergencies.
One-on-one mentoring systems that pair working parents in a mentor-mentee relationship can also help. This can enable more junior employees to navigate career growth and network while balancing their role as parents and caregivers.
- Engage children with physical or virtual activities
Help parents take a break and enjoy time with friends or coworkers without worrying about how to keep their children productively engaged. According to Capterra Australia’s report on virtual activities conducted by companies for their employees’ children, 92% of the employees surveyed said they would find such activities beneficial. You can go the extra mile by organizing an activity for parents to relax when their children are engaged. For instance, an in-office movie or game night for all your team members and their spouses or partners in one conference room while the children enjoy a kids’ movie night in the next conference room.
- Prioritize and normalize self-care, as a community
Self-care is a personal responsibility and yet, as feminist, human rights defender, and writer Alicia A. Wallace points out, it is just not possible for everyone to practise self-care unless we focus on community care. Some of this can be done at an organizational level, by enabling access to therapy, coaching, and other forms of wellness. But it takes a manager to normalize morning meditation sessions, even on busy days. It takes a team coming together around a ping pong table to make a break truly guilt-free.
Prioritizing rest and socializing wholeheartedly as a team and an organization can help the working parents and caregivers among you to pause and spend a few moments on themselves. So take time out and plan activities to relax, let off steam, and engage with each other. Go beyond the usual team lunch or drinks and dinner to think creatively – a games hour, a spa day, a soccer tournament, or a music concert are all opportunities to engage with everyone deeply.
Most importantly, ensure that every initiative is designed to nip toxic conversations in the bud. Managers can take employees aside to caution them about offensive statements. Team members can divert toxic discussions to healthier and more meaningful conversations whenever possible. The key is to offer a safe space for parents where they do not have to worry about being judged for their parenting decisions or any challenges that they might be facing.