Support for Working Parents Starts With Family-Friendly Policies

April 25, 2019

Father with son on his lap working on computer near window
Erin Ollila

In an increasingly busy world, parents face one of the hardest dilemmas: to financially provide for their children while also being a constant, nurturing presence in their lives. Rising cost of living, health care and child care expenses all add up. Is there a way for companies to show support for working parents in this significant period of their lives, working alongside them rather than against them? Consider these thoughts from experts on aligning your company values to create a family-friendly environment.

Foster a Supportive Company Culture With Family Friendly Policies at Work

"The best thing an employer can do is to believe in their new parent employees for the long haul and to let them know about your support for them," says Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder of Mindful Return and partner at an international law firm, in an interview for this article. She continues, "The physically intense period of pregnancy, birth, sleepless nights, and often breastfeeding is a short season of life, in the scheme of things. Parents gain so many amazing leadership skills through parenthood that are directly applicable to their jobs. Think: problem-solving, meeting the needs of demanding clients, rolling with the punches. As an employer, accommodating of the needs of working parents will gain you immense loyalty and allow you to retain employees with these skills."

Understanding Legislature Regarding Parental Leaves of Absence

The first thing organizations can do is learn about the laws that protect their employees, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), in addition to any state laws for parental leave. However, federal and state legislature is changing rapidly, so keep up-to-date with any updates to ensure you're following current laws.

To offer a truly family-friendly environment, consider how your organization approaches your own leave policies. While paid leave is not a federal requirement in the U.S. at this point, some states, such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, offer partially paid leave for employees. Other states, like Massachusetts and New York have signed legislation to introduce paid leave in the near future.

Mihalich-Levin adds, "In addition to mandatory paid leave, the other most significant way legislation could help working parents would be around the cost and availability of child care. The Care Report by the Better Life Lab at the New America Foundation does an excellent job of describing this crisis and provides creative policy solutions."

Implementing Family Friendly Policies at Work

One way to showcase this family-friendly culture is to create organizational-specific parental leave policies. While they may be guided by federal and state law, each company has the opportunity to customize their policies in a way that best suits both the organization and employees.

In an interview for this article, Maternal Health Consultant Arianna Taboada says, "Overall flexibility as a part of office culture goes a long way for all employees and parents especially benefit. This might include things like the flexibility to determine your own hours, work from home on certain days, and remotely attend meetings or events that are outside of typical childcare hours. Any benefits that address childcare are also useful, such as back up care, or nanny/family support while traveling for work."

And let's be sure these policies are family-focused. Taboada says," The best available evidence shows that parental leave policies that are not gender or birthing parent specific help with equity issues."

Mihalich-Levin agrees and adds, "The most supportive paid parental leave policies are gender-neutral and do not distinguish between a 'primary' and 'secondary' caregiver. In today's world, where many families have two working parents, there simply is no such thing as the 'primary' parent. And studies have shown that the more engaged fathers are from the beginning of a child's life, the more career success their partners have."

Remember to Prep for An Employees Return Too

Support for working parents means considering their return to work after having a baby, and not just the prenatal and newborn phases. Consider the difficulties employees phase upon return. They went from bonding with their child to suddenly leaving them all day with a family member, friend or brand new-to-them childcare. Taboada suggests that employers consider a transition period of return. She says, "Particularly for post parental leave, having formal guidelines about 'ramping up' — such as being able to start with shorter weeks, or shorter days —can make the return much easier."

Then, consider other options for supporting the working parents. Both experts suggest promoting affinity groups for parents with babies or young children. Mihalich-Levin says, "Affinity groups help working parents feel less isolated and more confident that they can navigate the challenges of working parenthood."

There are also some practical concerns employers can address to support new parents. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) requires employers provide mothers with a safe place to pump breastmilk, which can be a major effort and stressor for mothers who are simply working to nourish their child. Mihalich-Levin says, "Also, provide support for any changes that need to be made to accommodate a new mom's pumping schedule."

Remote work may also temporarily or permanently benefit both employee and employer. Taboada says, "You reach a whole talent pool that wants to avoid commuting or keeping traditional office hours. When you make remote work an option, you allow people to show up for work without many of the additional stressors that make working parenthood challenging."

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