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When HR debates parenting it has tended to be about maternity/paternity leave and flexi-working. It’s time the debate moved on.
Whereas most employers seem to behave as if parenting stops when the nappy months are over, any parent will tell you that in many ways it gets only harder. Office crèches are one thing but knowing how to deal with a child who doesn’t sleep or won’t eat vegetables or is struggling at school would be far more helpful.
Parents know with increasing certainty that how children are brought up makes a difference to their success at school, self-esteem and stability of relationships in the future so the stakes are high.
While there’s little doubt that the flexible working or parental leave which enlightened employers provide can help, almost all employed parents still say they get stressed trying to balance responsibilities at work with those at home. Focusing on the launch of a new product, becomes exponentially more difficult if you are also worried about your child’s difficult start in a new school.
In addition, job satisfaction plummets in the five years after the birth of a first child. Parents who had previously may have enjoyed work find that, though their job hasn’t changed, it is now much less satisfying.
The flip side of this challenge is that where employers make an effort to help employees reconcile work and family responsibilities, they show enormous commitment. So what can employers do to access this loyalty and get parent power working for them rather than against?
One innovative solution is to help parents in their role as parents. There is an increasing body of research which supports the efficacy of parenting programmes in reducing the stress associated with being a parent. These programmes build the practical skills that make employees better parents at home and more productive and engaged in the workplace. It’s a popular initiative too with 85% of working parents saying they want this help.
Over the last few decades, research has clarified the essential elements of “good parenting”. Balancing boundaries and affection is the key to raising well balanced, socially confident children. Talking to children in their early years improves verbal reasoning later on, whilst reading to children every day improves their literacy.
Describing what a child does and praising them for their effort rather than just the outcome will help them develop a “growth mindset” where they assume that their abilities can be improved with effort. In the longer run, this encourages children to develop a love of learning and the resilience to view setbacks as learning opportunities rather than a blow to their self-esteem.
This technique has application in the workplace too. Excellent managers too know the power of praise to motivate employees and the impact on performance of being specific about what has gone well and where improvements can be made.
Recent research observed the transferability of experiences and skills between work and family life and companies keen to encourage staff to adopt new habits could look to build on this idea. Royal Mail offered a series of workshops on topics like “Guiding Hand: How to Help Someone Who’s Stuck’. These were promoted as a way to support your children with, say, their homework, but the hope was that supervisors would also use them to help new recruits settle in. Six weeks later 75% of those who took part said they had successfully used the techniques at home and 86% at work.
However much employees love their job, their company or their boss - their children are always going to be more important. Enlightened employers will look for ways to turn this to their advantage seeing the benefits of engaged and productive employees as well as the positive effects on society of creating harmonious happy families.