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Why employers need to support working parents

Being a working parent can be tough – with incivility and lack of social opportunities affecting both work and home life. What can employers do to help?

While civility should be extended to everyone in the workplace (in an ideal world), your colleagues with children may need it more than most, because their little ones could be bearing the brunt of a bad day in the office.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

A study by the American Psychological Association found that women who experience rudeness in the workplace can adopt a more authoritarian parenting style as a result. The research surveyed 146 mothers and their spouses, with women saying that negativity in the workplace made them less confident parents and more likely to be strict on their children. Their partners also witnessed a more authoritative parenting approach in mothers who had experienced rudeness at work.

“Incivility is defined as rude, disrespectful, or insensitive behaviour … the tricky part is that it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, so it’s all subjective; it’s how people feel based on someone’s actions,” says Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace. Incivility can incorporate anything from verbal aggression and mistreatment or ignoring a co-worker, intentionally or otherwise.

Of the study, Canadian-based Carleton University researcher Angela Dionisi says: “In uncovering how this mistreatment in the workplace interferes with positive mother-child interactions, this research also speaks to a previously unacknowledged group of indirect incivility victims, namely children”.

If you needed another reason to be kind to your co-workers, this is it…

Be a friend

What working parents often need most in the workplace is a friend. Research by Gallup found that two thirds of working parents don’t have positive social interactions in the workplace – especially as they are faced with challenges and responsibilities that their co-workers without children don’t experience, or can’t relate to. Poor social wellbeing leads to isolation in the workplace and has a negative impact on engagement and productivity.

While friendship can’t be forced, empathy, civility and support can go a long way. An atmosphere of competition, suspicion and exclusion erodes trust and inhibits collaboration, and ultimately, engagement. Fostering an environment where open conversations can be approached about work and home obligations with managers and team mates can allow working parents to feel open, at ease, and willing and able to get on with the job.

As discussed in a previous HRM article, HR can help facilitate workplace relationships by providing opportunities for employees to connect through after-work activities or office bonding rituals – “managers need to give teams the space to create these authentic relationships without feeling guilty about wasting time, or crossing professional lines”.

When in doubt, turn to technology

Returning to work after having a child can be one of the most difficult experiences for parents. But easing a new parents’ transition back into work is a well-advised approach for employers, reducing turnover and the resulting impact on the bottom line.

Parenting app Cleo, a new platform offered by tech companies such as Slack, Reddit, Box and Pinterest, offers both pre and post-natal advice to parents, through their child’s early years. The platform digitally connects employees with specialists in fields such as birth preparation, sleep, lactation, career coaching, couples counselling and wellness. Cleo claims that 93 per cent of its female users have returned to work.

Sarah Guo, general partner at Greylock, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that recently invested in Cleo, says: “It boggles my mind as a parent that the entire world has gone through this. But all of this institutional knowledge is not transferred in a really accessible way. It is just like random information and blogs on the internet. There is some great content out there, but who can tell?”

When Box introduced the platform, 61 employees from various global office signed up – with 40 per cent of users being dads, demonstrating that it’s not just mums that need a little help when returning to work post-bub.

Taking a keen interest in the wellbeing of working parents can help retention rates and cultivate a healthy and happy workforce. A win for both employers and employees.

Have an HR question about inclusion and diversity? Access AHRI:ASSIST resources for HR guidelines, checklists and policy templates on different HR topics. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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