- Balancing family and job priorities can often be a challenge for working parents.
- Policies and benefits that help parents in the workplace can help ease this burden and improve inclusivity and productivity for the company as a whole.
- There are simple measures employers can take to support employees with kids, but more robust measures will have a greater impact.
Given the baby boom in 2021, parental leave policies and benefits that support employees as parents have become a top priority. Most employers must comply with federal and state minimum requirements, but any measures beyond that — like paid parental leave and family-friendly benefits, for example — are typically offered at the employer’s discretion.
However, investing in employees’ abilities to care for their families can offer significant benefits for the employee, their co-workers, and the business as a whole. This investment can take a range of forms, from very small measures like updating policy language to larger ones like implementing on-site childcare. The right approach will balance the needs of the company with what working parents need to succeed.
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How Can Employers Support Working Parents?
Paid parental leave is one of the most impactful benefits for employees who have recently welcomed a new child into their family. However, there are a number of other ways employers can provide ongoing support for working parents in addition to paid leave.
Read more: Leave Management Tools and Best Practices
Draft more inclusive policy language
Companies can start by examining their policy language to see if they are inadvertently excluding some employees.
In most cases, it’s best to avoid gendered labels like “mothers” and “fathers” and instead opt for terms like “parents,” “guardians,” or “caregivers” that encompass a wider range of identities. Furthermore, distinguishing between “birthing parents” and “non-birthing parents” recognizes the nuanced paths many employees take toward parenthood, including adoption and surrogacy.
Those charged with drafting or revising policy should also look for terminology that implies assumptions about parenthood, such as the distinction between primary and secondary caregivers. For more equitable parental policies, businesses should assume any parent is a primary caregiver.
Parental leave policies should consider diverse family structures, pregnancy complications, and common parental leave circumstances outside of what’s normalized. Surrogacy and pregnancy loss, for example, are life-changing events that inevitably affect employees’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being but are not protected by FMLA.
Follow communication best practices with employees on leave
Establishing communication cadences between the employee and their manager before, during, and after parental leave makes a difference between a stressful or manageable employee hiatus for all parties involved.
To help managers and colleagues avoid bombarding the on-leave employee with communication, time-tracking and HR software like GoCo help document when an employee is expected to be on leave, so their manager and co-workers can plan accordingly. For example, while the employee is on leave, the manager or a co-worker can be designated to keep a log of important changes that happen in the company while the employee is out.
Even if employees are aware of all major updates that happened during their leave, however, they shouldn’t be expected to jump back in at the same pace right away. A clearly-communicated re-boarding plan can help set realistic expectations for the employee’s first days and weeks back on the job and prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.
Explore flexible work arrangements
Sometimes, parents are forced to adjust their schedules or work arrangements to accommodate their children’s needs. In these instances, any flexibility an employer can offer is tremendously impactful.
Flexibility can take various forms. For example, an employee may need to swap schedules at the last minute because their childcare fell through, or they may need to shift their work hours so they can pick up their kids from daycare or school. Even allowing extra flexibility with remote work can help parents manage their work-life balance more effectively.
An Amazon Web Services employee who weighed in on this topic implores employers to show working parents some grace in less formal ways, too: “…we may not be on video because we have a sleeping baby on us. Or we may be muted…because the baby is crying or playing. But we’re still here, still contributing–it just looks a little different now.” If they’re not doing so already, managers should focus on results rather than rigid work processes to accommodate employees’ different work styles and schedules.
Consider benefits beyond paid parental leave
Outside of parental leave and flexible work arrangements, employers can examine their benefits packages for opportunities to support employees who have kids or are looking to become parents. These include mental health, childcare, and fertility benefits.
Mental health benefits
Mental health services benefit all employees facing crises or burnout but are particularly beneficial for parents adjusting to parenthood. Postpartum parents or those who have suffered pregnancy loss can especially make use of employee-sponsored access to mental health apps and services.
Childcare is another major source of financial stress for working parents. Employers may consider offering childcare stipends to offset these costs, or providing on-site childcare may be a more practical and cost-effective solution. Alternatively, some companies have started partnering with Vivvi, an employer-sponsored childcare provider, to source affordable daycare programs for employees. Vivvi currently operates in New York City but plans to expand its locations to Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and other cities.
Fertility benefits matter to employees and can impact their career choices. In the 2021 Fertility At Work Report, 59% of respondents said fertility and family planning negatively impacted their work performance, and most employees (88%) indicated they would consider switching jobs if it meant receiving fertility benefits.
To address this, some employers have started partnering with fertility services and technology providers to offer discounted or no-cost family planning benefits to employees.
Ovia Health, for example, is an app that assists with many family planning experiences and goals, including:
- Prenatal and postpartum wellness
- Stages of adoption
- In-vitro fertilization treatments
- LGBTQ+ parenting
Additionally, Carrot is a fertility services platform that gives employees a way to save up for fertility treatment or family-building care, similar to an FSA or HSA. Carrot helps employers set realistic and competitive goals for what they want to contribute, which can range from a $5,000–75,000 lifetime maximum.
Offering fertility benefits with Ovia Health, Carrot, or other providers could help attract and retain employees. The Fertility at Work Report also found that 77% of employees would stay at their company longer if they offered fertility benefits. At a time when many people are experiencing fertility challenges, these benefits can make employers more attractive to current and prospective employees.
Support lactating employees
Federal law requires workplaces to provide a designated space and breaks for expressing breast milk. However, it doesn’t specify how these spaces look and what they should be equipped with.
Additionally, some states have their own laws to provide designated accommodations for lactating employees. New York, for example, recently enacted a new law that outlines more detailed requirements for “safe, hygienic, and convenient” lactation spaces. Among many stipulations, this law requires most employers to provide a private area near the employee’s own workspace that includes a chair, table, sink, and electrical outlet.
Regardless of legal mandates, however, employers should go above and beyond the minimum requirements to consider the unique challenges and needs of their employees. For example, more than one employee may need to pump at a time, so the room should be able to accommodate multiple people and afford each person some privacy and space. The room should also be outfitted with a full-size refrigerator — not a mini fridge — that can store multiple employees’ lactation supplies.
Business Impact of Supporting Employees as Parents
Employers that value DE&I can make a significant impact through measures like these that support working parents. Investing in employees’ abilities to care for their families yields business benefits as well, such as improved employee retention, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. Supporting working parents in their caregiving roles enables them to show up as better employees.
Check out the Benefits Administration Software Guide to explore platforms that support a range of family-friendly benefits.