When millions of mothers with school-age children left active work during the pandemic, it came as a wake-up call for employers. According to Miriam Williams and Tara Elwell Henning, founders of Superkin, “It took a pandemic to expose the cracks in the system and now it’s time employers recognize that the employee value proposition has dramatically changed.”

Firms are now actively including parent- and caregiver-friendly policies to create a more attractive employee value proposition. However, as they say, company culture is everyone’s business, and if policies are to permeate through the organization, everyone one of us has to understand what working parents want and see how to help.

  • Flexible work policies that everyone supports

Though hybrid work is more common today, parents have a tough time reaping the benefits of this policy without their team’s support. For instance, a flexible policy might mean that a mother can take time out during office hours to get her child home from school. Still, if her team resents her absence during what they consider as peak productive hours, then she would be anxious and likely to be demotivated.

Presenteeism could be at the heart of this problem. Brandy Aven, Associate Professor at Tepper School of Business, points out that presenteeism favors those who have the time to show up early and leave late, at the cost of other groups like parents.

How you can help: Managers and team members can reassure that a request sent out need not be responded to immediately, but within a clearly stated and reasonable deadline that suits the employee’s schedule as well. You can even highlight this in your email signature and status message. Doing so reassures working parents and others with caregiving commitments, or any extra responsibilities, that they would not be affected by presenteeism.

  • Career growth, customized to the status quo

Juggling their career with childcare can be tough for working parents, making them hesitant to consider growing beyond their current roles. But some may be afraid of stagnating. As Nancy Fu Magee, Director of Product at Evernote, says, “It can be dangerous to assume parents don’t want to advance their careers while they are in their child-raising years.”

How you can help: As an empathetic manager, you can begin an open conversation to see what growth looks like for the working parent in question and see how a larger role can be developed without compromising on their priorities.

  • A child-friendly office, with accommodative peers

Jennifer Magnolfi Astill, Founder and Principal Researcher of Programmable Habitats, has observed the extreme humanization of work since the pandemic, and the trend is likely to continue in some form or the other as we return to the physical workplace. This could mean more parents bringing in their children to work with them, particularly in the absence of other childcare options. Or families might lunch together at the office cafe during the summer months, before the parents return to their workstation, and the rest of the family lounge with a book or a game in the family room. However, aside from setting up the physical spaces and policies to make this a possibility, there needs to be a family-friendly approach to peer interactions.

How you can help: As a team, make room for mini-breaks during the day for parents to check in with their kids at the office. You can even suggest a common calendar that lists out parent-child breaks so that everyone can schedule meetings around it. Try to keep conversations around children friendly, welcoming, and non-controversial so that they feel comfortable, and parents are less anxious about bringing their children to work.

A final note: kindness and empathy

Sometimes, it is the little things that help. Not being flustered by a child that joins in for a Zoom call, a message asking after a sick child, or organizing a team outing after the children’s bedtime – all of these ideas are in the spirit of a parent-friendly workplace policy and affirm the fact that it takes a village to raise a child.

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