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Building Better Workplaces for Working Parents – an OD & HR Opportunity

When I started working in the corporate world there were virtually no women in top leadership positions unless their family name was on the building; even then it wasn’t a given. I lived in the Detroit area and worked on an automotive account team, and our leader was a woman – the first in the Detroit-based industry. Dawn was a brash, hyper-intelligent, highly competent woman with a drive for excellence and a willingness to play a man’s game. Back then you had to “smoke like a chimney, drink like a fish, and talk like a sailor,” a persona she inhabited during that intensely driven part of her career. She paid a price for the long hours, personal façade, and extreme dedication to her work. She was quite literally wedded to her job, going through four childless marriages.

Today’s women are raised being told they can “have it all” – work and family. While this may, indeed be true, it comes at a cost. In her book entitled Self-Compassion, Kristen Neff points out, “. . . women are now supposed to be successful at their careers in addition to being the loving wife and ultimate nurturer at home.”

I recently wrote a piece on Workplace Grief and the New Momand outlined seven (7) tips for working parents, regardless of gender/role. I also indicated that there is more that organizations can and should be doing to support working parents and alleviate the stress of balancing young families and demanding work. Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a HuffPost/YouGov survey say companies should do more to help parents return to work.[1] We want working parents in the workforce – they are a voice we need to hear and have talents we need to include. I’ve had new parent coaching clients cite how their perspectives changed, making them more efficient, focused, and resourceful; all things a manager wants.

It is important to note that organization development (OD) and HR policy strategies have positive impact on those colleagues who are not parents as well. This is, in essence, building a culture of thriving for all. Here are some examples of how Organizational Development and HR can help alleviate the stress of working parents while also improving the work life of all employees:

1. Care about the kids; assist with first-rate child care. A big reason women leave their professional careers is lack of flexible, quality, cost-effective care for their children.

  • Many organizations are in a position to assist with affordable, high-quality child care. While often seen as an expense, it can be just the opposite when employees miss less work and are more mindfully present. In fact, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a nonpartisan policy institute in Washington, D.C., indicates that it costs businesses upwards of $4 billion a year when parents have to miss work because someone needs to be with the kids due to challenges with child care.[2] It also impacts the work loads of those who must do the work in their absence.
  • Use your corporate influence to lobby for tax incentives for child care; work to win positive legislation for parents, organizations, and caregivers.

2. Offer quality paid family leave. Today, we know that paid family and medical leave, paid sick days and pregnancy accommodations strengthen families, support businesses, and bolster our economy.[3] Parenting policies are not only about the new mother. Gender roles are changing, and more men are leaning in to prioritize family time. Offer paternity/parent leave; less than one in five companies offer any such leave.[4]

3. Build environments of support for new working parents.

  • Be gracious about accepting that new parents may need to skip the after-work-team-bonding event while they try to catch up on sleep; let them opt out without career repercussions or judgement. In fact, all employees should be able to skip these after-work events when necessary and without negative consequences.
  • Allow the time and place for nursing moms to take care of their needs. I worked with an office in New York City where space was extremely tight, and they prioritized an area to build a small, but comfortable, room for nursing mothers to privately and tactfully retreat to when required.

4. Build organizations with flexible spaces, hours, and locations. Consider such culture/policy changes as flex time, shortened work week, and remote options. The New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, has been testing a 4-day work week and has found that employees are more creative and present, and overall job performance is not impacted with one less day.[5] Everyone benefits from these policies and people generally know when they need to be in their chair. This may mean adopting technology and online tools that enable accessing work, contributing to meetings, and effectively communicating from anywhere.

5. Encourage taking time to recharge. It is shown that people are able to focus effectively in increments of approximately 90 minutes. Encourage quick mindful meditations, stretches, or walking breaks to re-focus the brain and return to productivity. Some companies are requiring employees to take earned time off to get away and re-energize. Others are adopting walking meetings whenever possible. Remember that building in play is another way of recharging. Take a look at my writing on Play – A Powerful Builder of Belonging.”

6. Listen regularly and often. Encourage honest, open conversations without political consequences but with accountability. I once worked for a person who whenever an employee came to him to report a problem, he would listen intently and then ask them how they were thinking about it, or what action they thought it required. Before long, people were finding their own solutions and asking for advice far less often, and more specifically. Use regular check-in meetings and short surveys to ensure that all voices are heard.

7. Encourage gratitude for each other. Recognize that all bring authentic and individual strengths to the organization that together make better decisions; it’s what inclusion is all about.
Supporting working parents is part of building a thriving workplace that is a benefit for all employees. It requires experienced leadership in OD and HR who have the vision to see the advantages for the organization’s future sustainability by developing a culture of thriving that makes your establishment an employer of choice and retains its talented employees.


For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

executive coach Montclair NJ