How can Leaders Support Working Parents?

Recent studies have revealed quite a lot about our current workplace dynamics,  with statistics that most people would find hard to believe. For example, a Harvard Business Review study found that close to 100% of managers surveyed rated themselves as supportive, but just around 50% of their subordinates agreed with them. When you think about the current state of the workplace, and how companies have responded to the ongoing turmoil, you wouldn’t think there would be a gap in perception this big, and yet here we are. How did we get here?

Even though a global pandemic —and how to handle its effects on people’s lives— is not one-size-fits-all kind of situation, it’s clear that most companies & managers have cared about their employees’ wellbeing, at least to an extent—so the first inquiry is: why don’t subordinates see it, and feel it? The possible key, according to Sanja Licina, Maddie Grant and Kelly Schwind Wilson, could be on who they’re asking, the size of the team, and the granular differences between individuals’ preferences in a post-covid world.

The art of asking the right questions to the right people

Any good manager knows that it’s impossible to have great relationships with everyone. So, the key to get to the bottom of how employees define support, and what you can do to help them, is to design and ask different questions for different employees, which will help you be able to make better decisions that impact the culture at large, and not just a sampled group. This is more commonly known as “designing your workplace around the broad needs of your employees,” and it’s crucial—especially after covid, when the majority of your organization has been interacting a lot less.

And while even some of the companies with the best culture are scratching their heads about what to do when it comes to a potential return to the office, one fact stands above others: people want flexibility. Some want to have in-person meetings, other just want to meet their goals no matter what, while getting the power to choose where and how to work. There’s even a sizeable group that would be okay with no remote work! So, it’s time to ask yourself: what does your culture look like? Do you know your employees prefer to spark magic in person to incite collaboration, or has their productivity gone up during the Great Remote Work Experiment?

The future of work is nuanced; what works for one person, might not for others. Indeed, while some people want to stay fully remote, some want a mix of both in-person experiences and WFH. That said, there’s more to the story than just flexibility. A big portion of your company is fearful that electing part or full-time remote work, when given the option, will have a negative impact in eventual promotions, just by sake of not being around the office—and this group is disproportionately female, specifically women with children under the age of 10, who are choosing to work at home to care for their young kids.

Being mindful of that, say Sanja, Maddie and Kelly, is very important when building a good culture—in other words, you need to manage expectations, and be clear of what happens when you pick flexibility for your role. Don’t have a penalty for not showing up—when both management and workforce agree—and be as transparent as you can when planning your employee’s career within the organization. Establish core hours—when you expect people to be available for meetings and teamwork—and designate alternate hours, when they can work at their own pace.

The evolution of emotions and empathy at work

One thing the pandemic has brought to light is that employees are finally asking for and getting emotional support, both within the company and from others. This means that the way an organization treats their employees and the options they give them impacts way more people than just them—think of their families, partners, children and even friends and acquaintances. Because of their specific family needs, some people won’t be able to remote work—even during covid—while others (who split domestic tasks in a more egalitarian way) will perform more effectively while being at home and handling things at their own time. 

Giving employees the power to choose how they work best, and negotiating awareness regarding core hours and alternate hours, will be, over time, a win/win for the company. And if you don’t, get ready to watch them leave, as recent surveys show that over 75% of Americans are open to work, and 42% actively looking—and they are indeed looking for companies that will adapt to their needs.

Work/life balancing is a two-way street

The last piece of the puzzle is having the right conversations as a manager. The workforce has changed, and you need to evolve with them—remember how we talked about asking for (and getting) help? Now, up to 49% of surveyed employees want their superiors to “ask them how their work/life balance is,” finally beating the more traditional “checking on progress of work assignments” that came second with 46%. “Expectations are shifting, and most employees want to bring their whole selves to work,” say Sanja, Maddie and Kelly. “It’s my leader’s responsibility to know and be aware of a worker’s personal situation. It makes people’s life so much easier to balance, less stressed out and therefore more productive.”

We know traditionally it hasn’t been an expectation for the check-in meetings, but that has changed, and it’s become essential to know how your employees are doing—regardless of their performance review. And it’s also becoming more important for managers to serve as role models. We’re all asking more and more about each other’s wellbeing and our families—whether you’re C-suite or entry level—and even interruptions during one-on-ones and conference calls are more normalized. The world is slowly becoming more empathetic, and now the workplace needs to follow suit.

Learn more about how to get ongoing feedback from your employees and start taking action to make a positive impact in your organization with QuestionPro Workforce.