Being a parent, especially a new parent, can certainly be stressful. Many moms and dads struggle to get enough sleep, manage mealtimes, help with homework, and make sure their kids get to school and all their extracurricular activities on time, all while juggling their own careers or supporting a spouse’s career. And employees who bring stress from home into the office can’t do their best work. So what can employers and businesses do to make balancing kids and career easier by providing a great workplace for parents?
They can adopt policies that act to the mutual advantage of both their workers and themselves. These can cover areas like:
Here’s a closer look at each of these policy areas.
Provide location and schedule flexibility
Obviously in times of national crisis or emergency, be it due to weather or a pandemic, remote work is a necessity for many companies.
But apart from those times, the ability to work remotely at least some days, if not every day, can be a huge help to parents. It can eliminate expensive child care costs and allow moms and dads to spend more time with their kids. Location flexibility, especially when combined with schedule flexibility that lets parents get their work done at the hours that are best for them—when kids are asleep, at school, or otherwise occupied—can make it much easier to balance career and family.
Suburban Jungle is a real estate strategic relocation firm with offices in major cities nationwide. Founder Alison Bernstein is a mother of four, and most of her workforce consists of other moms. “What we have done to support our team of moms is to encourage them to work hard, but on their own schedules,” Bernstein explained. “This allows Suburban Jungle to tap into the workforce of great talent, and empower our team to truly succeed on their terms. What we get out of it is enhanced productivity, overall happiness, and a greater work product.”
Thanks to connective technology, companies can offer workday flexibility that means talented moms don’t have to drop out of the workforce due to time constraints, family obligations, lack of childcare, and overall guilt, Bernstein said. This arrangement works well for workers who are self-motivated, driven and not looking to take advantage of the autonomy and lack of direct supervision.
Indeed, location flexibility has gone mainstream, and companies that don’t offer this option, when it makes sense, will be less attractive to parents who might make great employees. A survey by the Families and Work Institute found that 4 in 10 employers allow employees to regularly work from home, and two-thirds allow employees to work from home occasionally.1
Offer plenty of parental leave
When it comes to paid maternity leave, private companies can determine what to offer their employees. According to a 2018 survey by the consulting firm Mercer, 40 percent of employers now offer some form of paid maternity leave. And among private employers that offer paid parental leave, 80 percent provide full pay during the leave period. On average, paid maternity leave lasts four weeks.1
Stacy Johnston, a human resources solutions specialist with Audacity HR Solutions, works with employers to create policies and practices to engage and retain employees. She said that being a great place for parents to work helps with recruitment, retention, and engagement.
“With the many demands placed on their time, working for an understanding employer reduces a major stressor for working parents,” she said. “This is a powerful tool in attracting top talent in a competitive environment.”
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year during which group health benefits are maintained. Employees can take time away for pregnancy complications, for the birth and care of their own child, to adopt a child, or to care for a child with a serious health condition. But this law has many restrictions. It only applies to employees of companies with 50 or more employees and to employees of elementary schools and public agencies. Only employees who have worked with their employers for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours (about 25 hours per week) over those 12 months are eligible. And most crucially for many parents, FMLA leave is unpaid. Its purpose is to ensure that employees don’t lose their jobs when major family or health issues arise that require them to miss work.
At the state level, things aren’t much different: only California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island require paid family leave. A few states require that employers grant parents a few hours per year to attend school-related events for their children .
“A parental leave policy that goes beyond federal or state law requirements will communicate to working parents that your organization understands and supports the unique demands placed on parents upon the birth or adoption of a child,” Johnston said. She also suggested that employers with older policies and practices make sure to update their policies to reflect the changing needs, desires, values, and demographics of their employees.
More than 40 percent of medium to large companies said in a 2016 survey that they offer no paid parental leave. Companies who do offer leave, especially generous leave, stand out.
Offer insurance to protect partners and children
Financial stress is the most common type of stress employees face, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and that stress may be greatest for parents, who need to provide not only for themselves but also for their children and possibly for a stay-at-home caretaking spouse or partner.2Employers who provide a great voluntary benefits package can alleviate parents’ financial stress, helping to make existing workers more productive and helping to attract the best candidates when filling open positions.
Disability income insurance can help protect a portion percent of your income if you become unable to work for an extended time due to illness or injury. It can help ensure that you can keep paying the mortgage or rent and other essential bills to minimize the disruption to your and your children’s lives. Employers can provide group disability income insurance as a benefit and also create the opportunity for their employees to purchase additional individual disability insurance as needed. A portable policy can provide lifelong protection throughout job changes and during time out of the workforce as long as the policyholder keeps paying the premiums. (Learn more: Is disability income insurance worth it?)
Disability insurance can also help businesses protect themselves against the loss of key employees.
Life insurance gives parents the ability to make sure their survivors will be taken care of, especially if they pass away while their children are still dependents. It can help cover the loss of a breadwinner’s income and possibly contribute to covering the cost of childcare and homemaking activities.
As with disability income insurance, companies can not only provide group life insurance to their employees but also make it easy for their workers to purchase additional insurance in the form of an individual policy that they can keep even if they change jobs or leave the workforce. (Calculator: How much life insurance do I need?)
In addition to these two cornerstone policies, employers can offer critical illness insurance to provide a lump sum to help employees with their medical bills if they experience a heart attack, stroke, or invasive cancer. They can also offer accident coverage to provide a lump sum to help with the cost of certain injuries.
By providing these benefits through the workplace, employers can alleviate several sources of stress for parents. They eliminate the time required to research quality insurers and policies. They simplify the underwriting process and may allow parents to qualify even with preexisting conditions in some cases. They can help parents lock in a policy at a young age, when premiums are lower. And through group discounts and, if it’s affordable, premium subsidies, employers can minimize the cost of these products for their employees.
A major percentage of adults are parents, and most parents emotionally prioritize their children over work. Instead of having workplace policies that conflict with parents’ instincts and force them into a difficult balancing act, companies can provide supportive policies that allow parents to be excellent caretakers while performing well at their jobs without undue stress.
So there is an opportunity for businesses to act mutually for the benefit of their workers and themselves.
Policies such as location and schedule flexibility, paid parental leave, and top-notch insurance benefits help parents feel supported so they can do their best work for their employers while also being present for their children.
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This article was originally published in August 2018. It has been updated.
1 Mercer. "The pressure is on to modernize time-off benefits: 6 survey findings," March 31, 2018.
2 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Financial Wellness at Work, August 2014.