Post-pandemic, we find ourselves in a unique position where the way we work seems to be up for redefinition. Many people are no longer willing to put up with unfavourable working conditions (see the Great Resignation as evidence), and the tides of power are shifting from employers intent on sticking to ‘how it’s always been’ to those thinking about ‘how it might be’.
So what does this mean for working parents? To help me answer this question, I enlisted the help of Stuart Edmonds, Rebecca Jones, Dominic Webster and Sami Ahmed — four working parents from the Patch community working in various knowledge-based roles from running Chelmsford-based SMEs to working at large organisations in London.
Key challenges facing working parents
Throughout my conversations, one message was clear: being a parent is a joy but it’s exhausting. You are essentially working three jobs — as a caregiver, teacher, and employee — and somehow expected to find the time to do them well; the discipline to divide yourself equally; and the mental agility to transition seamlessly between the three roles, powering down ‘work mummy/daddy’ and booting up ‘home mummy/daddy’ in a matter of minutes.
Add to that a lack of flexibility from your employer, fears over career progression, and the astronomical price of childcare, and you can understand why articles on working parents are so often accompanied by phrases like ‘survival guide’ and ‘impossible juggling act’.
Professor Robert Kelly is interrupted by his children during a live BBC News interview
In some ways, the pandemic eased a few of these challenges. We all remember the video of ‘BBC Dad’, A.K.A. Professor Robert Kelly, who was interrupted by his children in the middle of a live broadcast. Five years later, we are all BBC Dad, or at least can relate to him, with all those endless Zoom calls offering a snapshot into what it means to be a caregiver and a professional under one roof. In fact, for property services Managing Director Sami Ahmed, these background interruptions served as bonding moments between fellow working parents, who could relate entirely to what they were seeing on screen.
Greater acceptance of working rhythms also soared, but with it came a question mark over what this new, digital way of working might mean, explained marketing agency founder, Stuart Edmonds. When the expectation is that everything can be delivered super-fast and from anywhere, the lines between work and home blur very quickly.
What might the future look like?
Smart employers recognise the value of making life easier for working parents. This demographic makes up a core (and often senior) part of their workforce, and in supporting them they can better retain talent, bolster a company’s diversity and inclusion, and help to close the gender wage gap. But what might this support look like?
- Better childcare support from companies: The UK has some of the highest childcare costs in the world, with many families in the UK spending approximately a third of their income on childminders and nurseries according to a survey by TUC. Leading employers are now factoring this into their support scheme, with tech giant Cisco offering an onsite nursery with heavily discounted rates, whilst fashion retailer, Next, provides childcare vouchers as part of its salary sacrifice scheme
- Additional support offerings: Other companies are exploring support systems outside of childcare such as coaching and development schemes, or budgets to put towards goods or services. Adobe UK offers its employees a £450 wellness budget which parents can share with dependents, whilst Deloitte UK’s award-winning Working Parents Transitions Programme helps parents and their team leaders manage the transition into parenthood.
- Greater workplace flexibility. Flexibility is a top priority for parents looking to juggle school runs and bedtime stories with a career, multi-company founder, Dominic Webster, tells me. Twitter and Ford have offered their employees the option to work entirely remotely, whilst the pioneering First Locate has transitioned to offer parents shifts based around the school run plus all of the school holidays off. For many, the pandemic served as evidence for the success of outcome-based working for parents, with Rebecca Jones saying “I would hope that the last two years have taught businesses that parents are infinitely resourceful and can work in hugely stressful situations and still get things done”.
- Co-working spaces. As flexible working becomes more accepted and companies save on office rentals, should they contribute to a ‘work near home’ space for their employees? This would create a sense of separation between work and home whilst still allowing parents to perform core caregiving duties, plus tackle the feelings of isolation associated with working from home. Both Dominic and Sami also flagged the added networking benefits, a wonderful example of which was Sami’s collaboration with his Patch neighbour, PR firm owner Helen Curry, on his company’s new branding.
- Creating a better family culture. A positive and uplifting workplace culture is a plus for everyone, and much of this comes down to open communication. Shame over expressing needs to employers was flagged by several of those I spoke to, highlighting that parental stereotyping and discrimination are a real concern. Patagonia is an example of a company that has turned this on its head and built company into the very core of its culture, with on-site childcare, caretakers assigned to accompany parents on business trips, and an open, inclusive culture where nursing in meetings is absolutely fine. It’s no wonder, then, that Patagonia has repeatedly seen a 100% retention rate of mothers returning to work after maternity leave.
As solutions continue to emerge and employers embrace new ways of working, we look forward to exploring this topic further and creating a world of work that can better support those within it.
The prediction of comedy double act, The Pin, on what the future of work might look like for parents