Late summer usually marks the beginning of the back-to-school push. But this is no ordinary summer.
COVID-19 is causing lingering uncertainty about schools reopening, even while most states are ramping up business re-openings. This is creating some tough choices for families, and many parents are leaving jobs for good.
But the economy needs parents to fill important roles in the workforce. Here are four practical tips to keep parents on the payroll.
Who’s Leaving the Workforce and Why?
Some dual-working families are responding by having one parent leave the workforce, or not return to the workforce if they’ve been laid off. There are growing numbers of parents who are not returning to work after taking leave for new babies, or health and safety considerations. Single parents are struggling to balance remote work and caring for kids. And, still another subset of parents have taken pay cuts or are furloughed, causing financial strain at home.
Consider these 2019 pre-coronavirus numbers:
- 64% of women decide to leave their job before they have their baby
- 34% of new mothers don’t return to work after maternity leave
- 80% of fathers have experienced first-hand stigma from taking leave
- 36% of new dads never discussed their parental leave benefits with HR
This data shows there were already issues for working parents before COVID-19, but the pandemic is really shining a spotlight on the difficulties.
What's the Damage for Businesses?
Simply put, hemorrhaging working parents is bad for business and the economy in general. In 2019, of the nation’s 33.4 million families with children, at least one parent was employed in 91.3% of those families.
Drive Parent Engagement
Now that we know why parents leave the workplace, and what damage this causes organizations, we can address how to slow the drain, and perhaps, even leverage parents’ expertise better to drive long-term competitiveness.
- Implement a solid return-to-work program focused on employee health and safety. In general, employees are scared of returning to work. For months they’ve been hearing about the dangers of COVID-19, how quickly it can spread, why people should practice social distancing, and the near-constant updates on the tragic death toll. Parents are particularly frightened about their children contracting coronavirus, or worse, spreading it to others. Creating a thoughtful, comprehensive health safety plan that considers employees’ fears of contracting the coronavirus and provides equipment and cleaning procedures to allay those anxieties is a top priority. Parents may feel less stressed knowing there are new procedures already in place before coming back to work.
- Evaluate leave programs from an employee’s perspective. This is an opportunity for HR to work directly with parents and ask them their questions, concerns, and thoughts about taking initial leave and how they see themselves re-entering the workplace. This can be implemented for any type of leave, such as maternity/paternity or sick leave. It’s based on the idea that we typically spend a lot of time talking about the lead-up to taking leave, but we rarely re-visit an employee's expectation of re-entry. Whether a person has welcomed a child, or has recovered from a life-threatening illness, their needs and expectations of returning to work may have shifted during that time. Re-visiting their ‘new normal’ for re-entry creates an opportunity to engage and empathize with a parent, outline new initiatives or measures you’ve taken in the workplace, and find some common ground to successfully transition the parent back.
- Create support programs. Being a parent comes with a unique set of challenges and there is no playbook at home. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a parent playbook at work, though? We’re not talking about diaper-changing tips, but rather an outline of training opportunities, mentorship programs, childcare options, and re-entry tools available to parents as they return to work. A playbook speaks volumes about your company culture and demonstrates your commitment to retain working parents by showing you understand the new stage of their life and career. In turn, parents may stay committed to you.
- Offer flexible work options. Parents want to bring their best selves to work. You may just have to expand your idea of how they do that. If the current pandemic has taught us anything from a people management standpoint, it’s that providing flexible working hours for multitasking moms and dads is a must. Perhaps you can keep them remote, or consider hybrid work weeks or shifts. Focusing on output and completion of objectives, instead of relying solely on time-based standards also builds trust between you and employees. Allowing fathers to work from home helps retain female employees, too. One leading researcher found men who work remotely do about 50 percent more child care than men who must report to the office.
The Workplace and Workforce 2.0
The bottom line is this: parents want to work for parent-friendly companies. The amount of chaos thrust upon parents throughout COVID-19 has made them value flexibility, transparency, and empathy more than ever before. They’re seeking a re-imagined workplace.
From an enterprise perspective, the high unemployment rate has created an opportunity for businesses to select from the best talent pool of parents that the labor market has seen in recent memory. With the right return-to-work program that promotes parent empathy and understanding, you can attract that top talent.
Return to Work with EBI