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Looking After Parents At Work

The personal and organisational challenges of working parenthood can seem daunting, but the most powerful work-life solutions for parents are ones that every organisation can implement.

If you’re a sleep-deprived new parent, a sympathetic manager, an MD, or all of the above, it’s good to know that looking after parents (and their children) doesn’t need to be costly, largely it takes a whole heap of common sense. Our ambition is to have a culture that looks after everyone in the team and their circumstances. We attract and keep great people, and this means thinking practically about what we can do to help parents, here we share our thoughts and practices…

Be flexible

Parenting and work don’t always feel compatible, and that’s partly down to the unpredictable: What with kids’ sick days, or being let down with childcare, sometimes the pressure can become too much to be everywhere for everybody all at once. Too many parents feel they should work as if they don’t have children, and parent as if they don’t have a job. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Incredibly stressful, yet there’s a huge amount that companies can do to relieve it a little.

Here, we have flexible working. From working from home sometimes, to being able to work earlier or later hours, it means we can take care of our children’s needs and continue to work. It’s rare to find any form of childcare that goes beyond 6pm, normal agency life just simply doesn’t lend itself to that. Agencies have the option to rethink, or to miss out on the talent and passion of many parents who simply have to make that 6pm deadline.

Be open, get personal

Managing the challenges of being a working parent is not something anyone can do alone. So having an open and honest ethos is essential. Many bosses shy away from personal conversations for fear of being inappropriate, and often employees won’t discuss personal issues as they’re worried about seeming unprofessional or unfocused.

Savvy managers can help employees nip many issues in the bud and make their team feel supported, simply by talking about life in general. For instance, before our reviews at JH we’re asked to write down any issues we’re facing that work could help us with – this, as an example, effectively opens this door.

More casually than that though, are the more day-to-day interactions. Of course, we’re naturally always asking eachother how the kids are, we have a Slack channel set up (#parents) to share photos, ask one another for advice and so on. When there’ve been problems with sleep, changing childcare and so on, there’s always lots of support from others in the same boat.

Let people feel “whole” at work

By this we mean, make sure they don’t feel that in being at work they’re having to turn their backs on one major, the most important, part of their lives – their children. At some agencies, even to mention you’ve got to go and collect the children would be a no no. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to mention you have them at all for fear of introducing a disadvantage or offending somebody.

Here you can regularly heard it said that children, family and our health come first. For those of us who’ve worked at other agencies, the relief when hearing this sentiment is immeasurable. If your child’s off sick, or if you haven’t slept in nights because of your newborn, being able to be honest, saying what’s wrong, and finding support can make a big difference at an exhausting time. The flexitime programme we have here means you can build hours in lieu and take flexi days and half days to suit your circumstances. No lengthy conversations, or asking for the time, just earn it, request it, take it.

In the last couple of years we’ve started the Childcare Voucher scheme, which means that parents aren’t taxed on the money they earn that then goes to childcare, another big help to many here.

Placing well-being at the heart of your company can be extraordinarily powerful, and looking after the parents you have in your team will be an enormous part of that. Organisational giants – think Facebook, QVC, and Microsoft for starters – are all leading the way here, but whatever the size of business, start with being open, honest, and not seeing your employees ‘life’ as something that can be construed as apart from their work.

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