6 ways to support working parents

6 ways to support working parents

Happy parents are happy workers.

There's good news for working parents and their employers -- it turns out, having kids makes some parents more productive, which can be a boon to a business' bottom line. And those organizations that go above and beyond in supporting working parents also benefit from a more loyal, engaged and happy workforce.

According to a paper from the research division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, titled Parenthood and productivity of highly skilled labor: Evidence from the Grove of Academe, mothers of at least two children are, on average, more professionally productive than mothers of only one child, and mothers are generally more productive than childless women. Fathers of at least two children are also more productive than fathers of one child and childless men.

"Family-friendly benefits can help reduce absenteeism, boost productivity, and help attract and retain talent. Not to mention, bad morale and job satisfaction levels can cost companies billions of dollars annually in lost productivity," says co-founder and vice president of workplace solutions Donna Levin.

Here are some ways businesses can better support working parents and reap the benefits of this increased productivity.

Be flexible

One of the simplest strategies Levin recommends is flexibility. Whether through remote or flexible work arrangements, job-sharing, staggered hours or otherwise, working parents need flexibility. "Parents need to be able to go to doctor's appointments, their kids' baseball games, school conferences or to work from home if their child is sick. We say around here, 'if it's working at home, it's working at work,' so you have to make sure you're doing what you can to make it work for parents at home," Levin says.

Dependent care assistance

You don't have to offer an on-site daycare, though many progressive businesses do, but you should consider offering some type of subsidy for child care assistance, Levin says. If you have child-free workers, consider offering elder care or another comparable benefit. Not only do these kind of benefits inspire loyalty, but they're a great perk to mention when you're trying to attract and hire talent. "This is one of the largest expenses for families, so employers who can offer any kind of support are going to have a major advantage when attracting talent. It's not limited to full-time child care either, any kind of 'backup care', elder care and the like is a great benefit," Levin says.

Paid parental leave

Modern dads are more engaged than ever in all aspects of caregiving. As of 2010, fathers are the primary caregivers for about 25 percent of preschool-aged kids, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the federal government mandates parental leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, that time is unpaid, leaving many two-parent working families trying to make ends meet without one income. It's even more difficult for single parents.

Many companies are beginning to expand their options for parental leave. last year announced it would offer 18 weeks of paid leave, and in June 2015, Virgin CEO Richard Branson announced his company would offer a full year of paid leave for any employee who'd been with the company for at least four years.

It's important to shift thinking and terminology, from maternity leave and toward parental leave. "Both parents want and need time to bond with their children, so this is not just about working moms. The fathers are equally as important. Make sure all working parents know exactly what kinds of family-friendly benefits there are at your firm, and make sure they are aware of leave policies and other perks that can help them," Levin says.

Create affinity groups

Another simple way to support working parents that is gaining traction is through the creation of support and/or affinity groups. "We are seeing informal, casual affinity groups working really well in the business world. For instance, a group for new moms to help them integrate back into the workplace, or a group for working dads to connect with each other," Levin says. It can be a great way for employees to share information about perks and benefits, and to connect more closely with others at their company who are facing the same challenges.

Offer on-site perks

One of the major challenges faced by working parents is time, says Levin. Between work, household responsibilities and the demands of everyday life, it can seem impossible to get it all done. "A great perk that's often overlooked is a way to outsource errands. On-site dry-cleaning, for example. Help with grocery delivery, laundry service, car services -- all of these are necessities for working professionals, but it's tough to get them done during work hours," Levin says. Many companies that offer these services will often do so at a discount for corporate clients.

"A client of ours realized that while working parents were great about keeping up with medical appointments and checkups for their kids, they weren't doing the same for themselves. So they contracted with a company that offers a mobile medical clinic that will come right to the office," Levin says.

Set an example for all parents

Of course, these benefits and perks aren't any good if your workforce doesn't use them. In many cases, there are societal pressures and norms that prevent working fathers from taking advantage of available leave and other benefits. "We've talked to many working dads who just aren't taking advantage of paid leave opportunities; when we asked why, we found many thought they 'couldn't afford it.' They felt the perception at their workplace would be negative -- that they'd have to work even harder when they returned, their coworkers would consider them lazy and that they might lose their jobs," Levin says.

It's important for companies to not only inform their employees of these benefits, but to also encourage their use. Engaged and happy employees are more loyal and productive. They positively impact the bottom line, and family-friendly benefits can help keep them productive."

Companies are motivated by financial incentives, and you can't afford for people to jump ship. Family benefits enhance productivity, keep people much more focused and they're appreciative. Your turnover is reduced. It helps with recruiting talent, too, because while candidates might not ask out loud about these benefits, they go to Glassdoor and read about them, and that helps them want to work for you," Levin says.

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