Are Parent-friendly Workplaces a Real Thing?
Although the number of companies with parent-friendly workplaces is slowly growing, it is still very far from what is needed.
This topic stirred up a lot of buried feelings for me. Being a parent in a foreign country, and a single one at that, while working in many companies that didn’t really recognize the difficulty of childrearing, made my life so stressful on a daily basis: getting paid less because I had to take time off to take my child to see a doctor, paying a lot for the doctor as companies refused to pay health insurance, begging to leave work earlier to see a school play or concert, constantly running to work and from work trying to get chores done, always feeling guilty, scared and worried.
This lack of understanding and support from the employers causes so much worry and frustration for the parents all around the globe.
While everyone recognizes the importance of quality parenting, the fragility of early childhood years, stressful adolescence time, very little is being done to make sure workplaces are actually parent-friendly. Some countries with better social security programs (especially in North and West Europe) make sure that companies do provide certain benefits for the parents: paid maternity leave, free healthcare, allocated time for nursing, paid sick leave when children are ill, etc.
Although the number of companies with parent-friendly policies is slowly growing, it is still very far from what is needed.
So why should companies bother with parent-friendly workplaces?
Unless a company can be run by only one person, it always depends on a certain number of employees. The good bet is that a big percentage of them will be parents at one time or another.
“The reality is that anything that impacts the wellbeing of your employees at work or at home will always either enhance or drain workplace productivity and culture. So it seems fairly obvious that it’s good for business to support employees with their work-life balance needs. “
Companies need to think about profit, of course, about running the whole system smoothly and being able to make payroll every month. Providing flexibility and benefits for parents can be costly and unsustainable for them, as my mother (a small company owner) wisely noted. At the same time, my mother has been running a fairly successful business with the same employees for over 20 years! She plans a production schedule with them together with regard to their family obligations, health situation, etc. She shares with them the company’s success and struggle. She knows their personal histories. Basically, she treats them like family. In return, they treat her and her business as a family.
This made me think that parent-friendly workplaces are not only about things that companies can do, (there are many of those posted by Unicef, Forbes, etc.) but about values that should underpin these policies.
Transparency and Honesty
Being reasonably open about the company’s plans, results, issues, etc. gives all employees a feeling of security and predictability, which is especially important to those raising a family. Honesty about what can and cannot be provided by the company helps parents to know what they can count on and how to adjust their obligations both at home and at the workplace. Honesty is the best policy, even if it is not always comfortable.
Showing parents at work that they are valued and respected goes a long way. It helps build their confidence, reduces negative feelings such as guilt or anxiety, and in return they can perform their work tasks better, knowing that they matter.
Understanding and Compassion
Knowing more about employees and their lives may sound counterintuitive and unprofessional, but actually that is a gateway to building stronger relationships and having a better understanding of their lives, stories, struggles, situations… Compassion offers comfort, especially in tough situations. Parents in the workforce face many challenges and knowing that the company cares about them and their families brings often needed relief and reassurance.
Occasionally I was lucky to have an understanding and kind superior who provided personal support at my workplace and that really made a difference. It was in those places that I could grow in my role and provide more benefits to the company. However, parent-friendly attitude shouldn’t be left to the individuals within the company, but should rather be deeply embedded in the system and reflected both in values and practical approach.
About the author: Jelena Fu is an educator with extensive experience working in China in various fields of education. In addition to working in the classroom, she has designed curricula for different subjects and ages, held training for teachers and workshops for parents. She has been practicing and studying meditation for many years and wants to pass on her experience and the benefits of meditation to others. Her meditations on the Insight Timer app are very popular. She attended the TEDx Conference in Shanghai in 2015 and regularly writes articles on education and parenting.