When work and parenthood collide, undeniably, sparks will fly.
The two paradigms of career and family have often been seen as connected, yet still separate parts of our lives, very much with their own agendas. When those agendas cross over – we call it ‘the juggle’ zone.
With the rise of smart technology and throw in a pandemic, we have increasingly seen work encroach on home territory and this has drastically changed the way we work, rest and play. It’s blurred our relationships between how we interact with colleagues and family and altered when and how we get our job done.
Whilst the challenges and impact of parents juggling work and home-schooling has been widely reported, thankfully, many employers have stepped up to help. By comparison, it is new parents on parental leave that have largely been invisible to their workplace and colleagues during the pandemic.
The truth is, employers and employees alike, had their plates full in response to the imposed restrictions, with many struggling with their own juggling act. As such, many new parents today find themselves returning to a workplace that looks very different to the one they left behind and adjusting to this takes time.
The New Normal
The workplace as we know it has changed in the last 18 months. The way we work and connect is different and it can no longer be taken as a given that we’re returning to the office resuming traditional routines around how we perform our job and interact with colleagues and customers.
That’s left many new parents feeling isolated and returning to work ‘at home’ without the usual ability to reconnect and catch up on workplace developments that occur more naturally when returning to the office.
For many, the return to work will be lonely and uncertain as new parents work through how to balance work at home with childcare. The impact of Covid on childcare accessibility and affordability has been devastating, leaving many new parents with limited care options.
What’s the impact – what workplaces need to be aware of?
A recent study of more than 15,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-level executives by HR research and advisory firm Oracle revealed the heavy impact Covid has had on working families globally.
62% of respondents found 2021 to be the most stressful year at work ever and more than half (52 percent) of people struggled with mental health at work more in 2021 than in 2020. To confirm these findings, PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) has reported a 51% increase in callers to their Helpline in the last 12 months, a concerning increase to say the least for new parents.
Further to these findings, 89% said the meaning of success has changed for them since the pandemic, with 43% stating work-life balance as a top priority and 85% of employees across the globe being unsatisfied with their employer’s support.
These statistics reveal much of the impact of Covid on work life wellbeing and the call from employees for more support to achieve their work life balance goals.
The impact of Covid on Women’s Workforce Participation
A report released by the Grattan Institute identified ‘a range of barriers to Australian women with children making a choice to participate in the workforce or to increase their hours of paid work.’
Of those barriers the most significant reported by women as to why they don’t take on extra paid work was childcare costs and the poor financial pay off for working more.
It simply isn’t possible to increase women’s workforce participation (and wellbeing) without providing access to affordable, high-quality early education and child care.
Following on from the Grattan Institute’s findings, the Deloitte Women@Work – A Global Outlook report released in May 2021 found that prior to Covid19, 69% of Australian women ranked their job satisfaction as good or extremely good as opposed to 47% post covid. A difference of more than 20% in just one year.
The report also highlighted that ‘Women’s wellbeing had been negatively impacted over the course of the pandemic with the 70% of women in Australia ranking their mental wellbeing as good or extremely good prior to Covid dropping to 35%.'
Child Care Costs and Scarcity continues to impact
- In February this year the ABS reported close to 140,000 Australians wanted paid employment but didn’t look for it because they couldn’t find suitable childcare? Over 90 per cent of them were women.
- In June 2021, Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute reported childcare to be currently unaffordable for 386,000 Australian families or 39% of families who use childcare.
- Another report commissioned by the SDA that surveyed 6,500 workers nationally found they lacked a genuine choice about their working hours and therefore had difficulty accessing childcare and early learning services. Many workers also found early learning and childcare unaffordable.
The Parenthood’s Georgie Dent says “The burden of early learning and care fees force too many working families into terrible choices, including discouraging women from going back to work and removing young children from early learning programs that are crucial for their early development.”
Clearly we have work to do.
What does this all have to do with new parents transitioning to and from the workplace and how can workplaces help to make the transition easier?
The research clearly reveals that organisations will need to find new ways to stand out from competitors in order to attract and retain talent, especially when it comes to our millennials who are entering the workforce with family and more specifically, work life balance, in mind.
Our millennials…and all of us, are calling for more Family Friendly Workplaces.
The short and long-term benefits of parental leave transition support have been widely recognised as vital to women’s ongoing career and economic security. We recommend two main areas of focus for employers wanting to help new parents with the transition to and from work.
Flexibility and engaged leaders
We know that access to ‘true’ flexible work is critical to new parents when returning. It allows parents to re-establish a back at work routine that supports their work and family life. But flexibility isn’t the silver bullet. Leaders need to go the extra mile to ensure returning employees are welcomed back, are reconnected into the organisation, and reorientated around the changed ways of working that the team/s have adopted post Covid.
Support with Childcare
Working parents and caregivers usually form a major part of an organisation’s workforce, yet a range of challenges can prevent people from delivering their best work and the high cost of care can result in unnecessary absenteeism. Many employers have begun to address the diverse needs of the carer workforce by providing caregiver search tools, childcare and nanny subsidies, onsite childcare programs, virtual vacation care programs and resources for employees with elder care demands.
Coaching and mentoring
Evidence suggests that those employees returning to work that have access to 1:1 coaching and mentoring to support their planning and transition experience have a much smoother experience. Not only that, but they feel more supported and engaged to get up to speed quicker.
Over the past ten years Parents At Work has coached thousands of working parents through their parental leave transition and return to work. Since Covid, the added pressures placed on new parents has seen a huge demand for our coaching services. Employers more than ever are realising the need to support their working families during this crucial time.
Here is what some of our coachee’s have to say:
“Coaching had a significant impact on my decision to remain at [my company] after my parental leave – my coach helped me have the conversations that were needed”.
“I was blown away by the level of support and coaching insights I received. I had anticipated discussions predominantly about being a parent, but the depth of the insight into how to better manage my career, look forward 5 years and balance this all with my family life was a pleasant surprise. I feel happier and more in control than ever before and cannot recommend this program highly enough! “
“My coach took the time to understand me and my situation in detail and through every conversation helped me understand my situation better. They asked the right questions that led me to break down my situation to the absolute detail, understand what I was worried about at each stage and then think through a solution to tackle this. Without a Parents At Work coach I would not be as comfortable in my shoes as I am today.”
Our team of coaches go to the heart of each employee, supporting with what matters most to them and ensuring they are comfortable with every step of the transition to baby and back to work.
Imagine a world where every new parent felt supported in their transition to and from work.
By Emma Walsh, Founder Family Friendly Workplaces & CEO Parents At Work
Article first published by Women's Agenda