7 Ways Employers Can Support Working Parents

Rodney HessBy Rodney Hess
February 20th, 2024 • 8 Minutes

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Imagine the daily juggling act of meeting work deadlines while managing tantrums, navigating rush-hour daycare drop-offs and grappling with the ever-present guilt of missing precious moments. Welcome to the world of working parents, especially those navigating varying stages of childhood. While companies prioritize generous parental leave policies for the first stages of life, the reality is that childcare support for working parents often vanishes just as the challenges intensify. 

“I view the ways companies support working parents similarly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the foundation are basic benefits like healthcare plans, short-term disability, and FMLA job protection—these provide a sense of psychological safety for working parents,” says Vanessa Jupe, Founder and CEO of Leva, a mobile ecosystem and community for working mothers.

“In the middle of the hierarchy, you’d find benefits like paid parental leave: although it seems like it should be at the foundation, it’s not required in most U.S. states and the majority of workers in the country don’t have access to this.

Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, are differentiated benefits that signal employers’ recognition of their employees as whole individuals—things like lactation programs, maternal mental health services, etc.

There’s a significant gap in employers offering these middle and top-tier benefits, though tech companies are really leading the way. More companies are going to have to pay attention in order to stay competitive, as firms offering better support for families see 94% higher employee satisfaction and almost 80% increased employee retention.

Without continued childcare support, your company’s productivity and morale may suffer. You could even risk losing valuable talent to competitors offering better family-friendly benefits. 

Offering support at all stages attracts skilled workers, improves your employer branding and creates a positive work environment, which all lead to long-term success.

Is your company unintentionally leaving working parents behind at the finish line? We’ll share some innovative solutions to help you support your employees at every stage of parenthood.

Common Challenges of Parents in the Workforce

A 2021 study from the International Journal of Human Resources Studies found that the five most pressing challenges faced by working parents include:

Work-life balance

Balancing work and personal life is difficult for most employees, but parents face extra hurdles. Parenthood responsibilities like school drop-offs, extracurriculars and extra doctor’s appointments can make working parents’ lives much more unpredictable.

Working parents constantly juggle out-of-sync holidays, unexpected school closures, dealing with sickness, appointments and more—as seen in this out-of-office message from Emily Fritz, Managing Director of Employer Brand at exaqueo. Her light-hearted note exemplifies the day-to-day unpredictability that can turn work schedules upside down, reminding us that adaptability and a sense of humor are indispensable tools for any working parent.

Stereotyping

Working parents encounter numerous stereotypes that undermine their professionalism and dedication. These biases, particularly prevalent against working others, impact hiring, promotion, and salary decisions, leading to strained relationships and career setbacks.

Burnout and exhaustion

Although most employees deal with burnout (65% of workers said they experienced it in 2023), working parents experience a unique version—also known as parental burnout

The term, coined in an Ohio State University report, describes intense exhaustion from parenting pressure that leaves parents feeling depleted. While not an official clinical diagnosis, psychologists consider it a subtype of burnout. The World Health Organization even recognizes it as an occupational phenomenon. 

Unfortunately, parental burnout persists in the post-pandemic scene due to a lack of structural support for working parents. “Parental burnout isn’t just going to end magically when the pandemic finally ends,” said Bernadette Melnyk, Dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State and an author of the report. “The chronicity of the pandemic has taken a toll and depleted many parents’ coping reserves that will take time and patience to build up again.”

Work schedules

Parents in the workforce typically need flexible schedules to accommodate the unpredictable nature of childhood responsibilities. Rigid work schedules can negatively interfere with their parenting abilities, which often leads to disengagement. Unexpected events (like school closures or a family member getting sick) can cause added stress and affect their work performance. 

Career growth opportunities

Biases against working parents can negatively impact career advancement, and mothers disproportionately bear this burden. A 2023 study from the Humanities and Social Sciences Communications found that mothers were more likely to report negative career bias triggered by parenthood. This phenomenon is known as maternal wall bias and is a common form of discrimination against working mothers.

It can present itself in many different forms and can come from any source. Maternal wall bias is often seen from hiring committees, colleagues, and managers conducting performance evaluations. Working parents can often get penalized for certain assumptions: one example is when moms working remotely are assumed to spend more time taking care of their kids, instead of focusing on their job duties. 

Childcare

Finding quality, affordable, and reliable childcare is more difficult than ever. The global pandemic led to labor shortages, reduced hours and smaller service scopes across the childcare industry. It also still hasn’t completely recovered, according to a 2022 McKinsey study. 

Working parents deal with five main pain points when securing sustainable, equitable childcare: 

  • Affordability
  • Quality
  • Reliability
  • Convenience
  • Accessibility

Employer-provided support won’t just help retain your current working parents. Providing top-notch employee benefits for parents can make your recruitment efforts easier as a cornerstone of your EVP and employer brand.

How Supporting Working Parents Can Benefit Your Business

Offering family benefits to working parents improves employee satisfaction while strengthening your company’s reputation as a family-friendly employer. Supporting your employees’ lives outside of work attracts top talent and reduces turnover, which ultimately enhances productivity and loyalty in the workplace.

Although 84% of employers think they offer strong family-building policies, over half of employees have left or considered leaving a job because of inadequate family benefits according to a 2022 Maven report. Approximately 40% of the U.S. labor force is composed of working parents. Prospective employees who are parents expect companies to offer family-friendly benefits, and those who fail to do so may deemed less desirable.

Tim Allen, CEO of Care.com, notes that care services are becoming as essential as health insurance, dental, 401(k)s, and other expected benefits for white-collar workers. Family benefits have grown sharply since the pandemic, and are expected to increase throughout 2024.

Supporting working parents doesn’t just strengthen your organization’s recruitment efforts and enhance employee engagement. It also helps your company crush its business goals. 

Great Place to Work partnered with Maven, a virtual women’s health clinic, to conduct the largest-ever study of parents in the workforce. The study surveyed 440,000 working parents across 1,244 U.S. companies. One main goal was to understand how organizations that support working parents outperform their competitors.

Companies with comprehensive policies for working parents experience tangible benefits like:

  • 5.5x higher revenue from stronger innovation
  • Increased employee advocacy, as 92% would promote the company to their family and friends as a great place to work
  • Higher employee retention, with 89% of respondents stating that they are interested in long-term employment
  • Improved employee engagement, with 92% of employees stating that they would give extra effort to get their job done

What Are Some Ways Employers Can Support Working Parents?

In today’s challenging hiring environment, supporting your employees’ families can be a strategic advantage for companies. While it may seem daunting to integrate family support into your recruiting efforts, it doesn’t have to be complex or costly. Here are seven easy strategies employers can implement to support working parents: 

1. Offer Family-Friendly Benefits and Perks

Fun perks like free snack boxes and gym memberships are great for most employees. But do you offer family-focused benefits for the working parents on your team?

Some examples of unique benefits that are tailored for those with families include:  

  • Childcare discounts/stipends
  • New baby bonus
  • College assistance for children
  • Personalized parenthood apps

2. Rethink Your Parental Leave Policies

When was the last time your human resources (HR) team sat down and reevaluated your parental leave policies? If your answer is, “It’s been a while,” you may need to dust off those company handbooks and look at your procedures with a fresh set of eyes. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately only 27% of employees in the private sector are offered paid family leave. That means nearly 75% of workers don’t have access to parental leave at all. These employees often have to use their limited vacation time to spend time with their newborns. 

If your company doesn’t already provide paid parental leave, now is the time to start. It’s also important to offer family leave to all parents, not just working mothers. Fathers in the workplace often don’t receive the same amount of leave during this time, if at all. Try to offer an equivalent amount of paternal leave if possible.

3. Create a Flexible, Family-Friendly Work Culture 

Work-life balance quickly became one of the most popular benefits for parents during the pandemic, and that trend isn’t stopping any time soon. With the rise of return-to-office mandates from large companies like Bank of America and UPS, working parents are pushing back by applying to companies that embrace flexible work models. 

According to the 2024 Salary Guide from Robert Half, 68% of working parents would rather stay at a job with a flexible work environment over a job with a strict in-office environment—even if it offered higher pay. 

Make sure that your company has the organizational frameworks it needs to support a flexible work environment. This can mean setting clear objectives and guidelines (like core work hours and No Meeting Fridays) or providing ample training. It can also entail building a good digital workspace. A well-curated technology stack maximizes employee collaboration, communication and productivity, no matter when or where your employees work. 

4. Trust and Respect Your Working Parents

When you’re busy dealing with children at home, the last thing you want to experience is being treated like a kid at work. A key aspect of fostering a family-friendly work environment relies on trust and autonomy. So, try not to micromanage your employees on how they work. Instead, trust them to have the knowledge, skills and insight needed to work in the best way possible. 

Every working parent has their own unique job duties, preferences and family dynamics. Allow your employees to fulfill those needs using their own best judgment. That could look like your employees blocking drop-off and pick-up times in their calendar, or working asynchronously so they can attend school events. When you place this type of faith in your employees, they’ll thrive personally and professionally.

5. Build Safe Spaces for Working Parents

Fostering a supportive environment for working parents goes beyond building robust benefits and policies. You also need to provide social and physical resources to help them flourish.

One popular example is employee resource groups (ERGs). These support groups allow working parents to seek advice, encouragement, and advocacy from other employees. They also encourage employee engagement by building connections and celebrating different perspectives. 

If your company is fully in-office or hybrid, you can implement this tip into your physical spaces too. Your organization can provide designated lactation rooms or even offer on-site childcare facilities.

6. Create Wellness and Well-being Programs

Burnout is a common challenge faced by working parents, and a robust employee well-being program can act as a preventative (or recovery) method for colleagues on the edge of exhaustion. These programs can help employees adjust to the growing pains of parenthood with mental health and stress management resources. For example, your organization can offer therapy access or stress workshops as part of your benefits package.  

7. Support Career Development

Despite negative stereotypes that paint working parents as unambitious employees, studies have proven that the opposite is true. Research from Accenture revealed findings such as:

    • Working mothers have the same or higher levels of career ambition compared to those without children
    • Around 70% of working mothers in the U.S. are just as likely to aspire to be in a senior leadership position 
    • Working moms are 2.5x more likely to change jobs for a promotion or higher pay

Working parents have lofty career aspirations, so help them achieve their goals with additional career development resources. Consider offering personalized support, like 1:1 career coaching. You can even offer other concrete benefits like learning and development stipends—it’ll benefit employees without children as well.

Build a Better Workplace for Working Parents

The research makes it clear: invest in happy parents and reap the rewards. It isn’t just a moral imperative, but also a strategic business advantage. You can build loyalty, attract top talent and fuel business growth when you support working parents. Make your company a recruitment magnet, a champion for families, and a guaranteed winner in the future of work.

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