Supporting working parents – why should they be treated differently?
I ran a managers’ session recently on supporting working parents. In the room were a range of managers at different levels in the organisation, some of which were parents and some not. We discussed the challenges of managing working parents. One of the top ones given was the impact on other team members who are not working parents. Why should working parents be singled for support? It isn’t fair for everyone else.
The commercial imperative for supporting working parents is clear. In many organisations graduate intakes are fairly balanced between men and women, yet further up an organisation, the split is skewed heavily towards men. Women disproportionately leave when children are born or later on when the arrival of a second child or children starting school makes the juggle too hard.
Even if you aren’t concerned about the gender balance (and the research shows that you should be with companies with diverse boards performing better than those without), losing valuable staff you have spent money and time investing in does not make commercial sense. We are having our children later in life (2015 being the first year in British history that more women over the age of 35 than under the age of 25 had children) so we have often had more investment and are more senior in our roles. Recruitment is expensive at these levels and involves leaders in the business having to give time to see candidates taking them away from the income-generating aspects of their job.
I would argue though that the reasons for supporting working parents go beyond basic commercials. Even though it is often planned and an active choice, the transition from being a working person to working parent can be tricky, as can the ongoing juggle of work and home. At that time an individual may need compassion, understanding and extra support.
Others in the team may not have become parents but may need the same compassion, understanding and support at different times of their lives e.g. caring for elderly relatives, time off for extra study, serious illness, bereavement to name a few. Some of these times may be planned, others may not be predictable. I think it would be a lucky person in life who didn’t need to be given a ‘break’ by their employer when they needed it. Wouldn’t we all want to be working in organisations that show compassion and provide support at the point when we need it personally, even if that means we may be given ‘special treatment’ at that time? And linking back to the commercials, wouldn’t we return that support with additional effort and loyalty to the organisation?
So, yes, put in the effort supporting working parents, even if it doesn’t feel fair to the rest of the team, as others may need differential support at another point in their lives. Be brave as a line manager and tackle these potential resentments head-on by talking openly in team meetings about balancing the output required from the team and what each team members needs for their life at that time.