It’s Time to Double Down on Our Support for Working Parents

Working parents enrich companies with life experiences, productivity, loyalty, and diverse perspectives.

If COVID-19 has shown us anything about working parents, it’s that they can adapt, be flexible, and rise to a challenge. Of the 33.4 million families with children in the United States, 91.3% of them have a parent who is working more hours, juggling more tasks, and caring for the next generation in incomprehensible ways. In fact, in a recent Cleo member survey, more than 50% of respondents said they were without childcare and that either one or both parents were sharing childcare responsibilities. It’s no surprise then that 52% feel that their productivity is 75% or less than usual and 25% feel their productivity is less than 50%. And while company leaders and society in general works out unprecedented challenges, working parents are hanging on and showing up.

Although the challenges of working parents are many, their capacity is great. Working parents are leaders, trained at home and on the job to influence others, set clear boundaries, think creatively, fail fast, and re-adjust as often as their child (or work) requires. If you want your employees to prioritize what matters in life in order to increase satisfaction and efficiency, ask a working parent how it’s done. If you want a company culture where honest, hard, life-changing conversations inform decision making, promote trust and increase integrity, a working parent is ready to deliver. By hiring working parents and creatively supporting them, companies can attract incredible talent, invest in the future, and grow. People with children often exemplify the qualities we wish for in our employees such as long-term commitment, the ability to prioritize, and a mature perspective. And their role modeling is something every company should enjoy.

If we don’t invest in working parents, increase their job satisfaction, and increase the rate of hiring working parents, their ability to stay the course will wane. Cleo’s recent Return to Work Member Survey showed that one in five working parents said that either they or their partner are considering leaving the workforce to care for their children. We can’t afford to lose them.

Excellent working parents don’t come for free. To get the payoff, companies will need to invest in making work work for parents. But the rewards are worth it. Handled well, working parents can be your best employees.

Keeping Several Balls in the Air Requires Multitasking and Doing More in Less Time

The proverb, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person” caught on 150 years ago for good reason. The more there is to do, the more organization and focus it all requires. Working parents know this best. In order to succeed, they need to organize their many tasks, prioritize and cut projects that don’t pass a values test and do several things at once to keep work and life moving forward.

Having children does not compromise efficiency and productivity at work. In fact, a 2014 working paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis looked deeply at parenthood and productivity, particularly in 10,000 academic economists. The study found that motherhood overall is not associated with low research productivity.

Other studies focus on the effects that family-friendly policies such as Paid Family Leave have on productivity. In its examination of more than 250 companies and 25 HR leaders, the Boston Consulting Group discovered that “paid family leave policies lead to improvements in employee morale, engagement, and productivity,” and further reports that more than 70% of companies surveyed saw an increase in productivity. Another study from the London School of Economics and Political Science showed that “workplaces which offer an extensive range of family-friendly policies are much more likely to have above-average performance than those with no such practices.” These policies can include generous parental leave policies, child care subsidies, sensitivity training for managers, part-time work schedules as needed and parenting or mental health benefits to support them, just to name a few.

On the surface, it would seem that parents have too many things to juggle. Looking deeper, we see that having more balls in the air actually brings about a higher level of attention and skill.

Parents today have more experience in the world, in their careers, and in managing others

The average age of becoming a parentis 26 for women and 31 for men in the United States, and these numbers rise for educated parents living in big cities. Many parents have to plan for, delicately balance, and work towards career growth and secure live-able wages while funding college savings plans and childcare. That kind of determination and planning expertise cannot be overlooked, and with a decade of adulthood under their belts, these employees can rise to the challenge of working parenthood. They’ve had time to travel, get advanced degrees, volunteer in their communities, find career-driven passions, and make a lot of mistakes along the way. Rather than interviewing a parent with their potential deficiencies in mind, employers should consider that they come to the table with experience and skills worth leveraging. With a little flexibility, they can learn a lot in short order and introduce new systems, ideas, and perspectives where others may have blind spots.

Parents return to work for reasons beyond money and benefits. Stacey Lastoe from the Muse interviewed several parents about what motivated them to return to work. She found parents who wanted to learn, grow, leverage their hard earned education, feel successful, and connect with colleagues. Parents also said they were seeking structure and intellectual stimulation outside of parenting. One said that, beyond money, returning to work is “about exercising the part of my brain that has to do with my creativity, my non-parent-related skill set.” Another said she wanted “an opportunity to use my brain in ways that challenge me differently than parenting challenges me…” Parents want to feel smart and competent at a time when they may doubt themselves. Never underestimate the ambition of a parent who wants to increase their feelings of self-worth and belonging in the adult world.

Parents also make great managers. Balancing patience and empathy with boundary setting is an art, whether you’re limiting time on the iPad, hosting a (family or work) meeting, or redirecting an employee to a project better suited to their skill set. Parents are forced every day to see the world through the eyes of people very different from themselves, which can help them make better deals, manage teams, and mock up a slide deck that speaks to its audience.

Settling into a secure and stable work life brings peace to working parents and loyalty to their companies.

This is very simple and even more obvious. Keeping a satisfying job that pays the bills and minimizes big transitions is a parent’s gold mine. They have mouths to feed, housing costs, sensitive kids and daycare expenses. Their focus on settling down and having a stable family life aligns perfectly with giving loyalty to a company that offers financial stability and consistent work.

The commitment toward mutual loyalty has to work both ways. On top of the sacrifices working parents are willing to make, companies will get more from their working parents if they support them with family friendly policies and resources.

CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki shared in a 2017 HuffPost article that “when Google increased its paid maternity leave policy from 12-to-18 weeks, we saw the rate at which new mothers quit fall by 50 percent.” She shares one statistic after another to prove her point, and follows it with a plea to tech companies to offer generous paid leave as a way of boosting retention, raising awareness and inspiring the nation. She also advises employees to leave companies that lack basic parental support in favor of companies that do.

Investing in working parents is the right thing to do.

Given that working parents make up a significant portion of the labor force (The US Department of Labor reports that “among married-couple families with children, over 97 percent had at least one employed parent in 2019, and 64 percent had both parents employed), don’t we have a responsibility to create work environments that work for them too, especially in a world where big companies are often located in areas that require two incomes to make ends meet? For the sake of all, we need to check our biases at the door and show up for job interviews with open minds and open hearts. If, during an interview, a little voice in our head says, “Will they disappear a lot to pick up their kids from school?” or “Can they really handle three kids and this demanding job?” we can let the answer be a resounding yes.

If the statistics don’t beckon you, consider that whatever market you serve, the rich perspective of a parent can help you serve these customers better. And if that doesn’t help, remember that the world is watching. Caring companies are banding together to sign the Invest in Parents pledge, coauthored by Cleo, The Mom Project, PL+US and Happiest Baby, and it includes a promise to support working families, especially in the face of COVID-19. Participating companies commit to raising awareness, offering flexible options, providing resources and engaging in the challenging questions of how to support working parents, particularly mothers, so they stay the course and truly thrive in the workplace. Join us by signing the pledge here.

Written by Rachel G. Sklar, Parent coach, educator and Cleo Kids expert.