What Working Parents Really Want

Historically, most American families could subsist on a single income. In the Donna Reed era, earning a livable family wage was not only commonplace but also comfortable. Those days are long gone as modern parents are forced to juggle their professional and familial responsibilities.

According to The Washington Post, decades of falling or stagnant earnings and rising costs make two-paycheck homes a necessity. There also has been a shift in mothers’ roles in and out of the home, whether by necessity or choice. Consider the following statistics from the Department of Labor (2017):

  • Women now comprise 47 percent of the U.S. workforce
  • About 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 work
  • Seventy-five percent of working moms do so full-time
  • Women are the primary or sole earner in 40 percent of households with children
  • Women own nearly ten million businesses, which account for $1.4 million in receipts

Unfortunately, changes in the workplace have not come easily thanks, in part, to lingering notions about the roles of men and women. Whatever the catalyst, the transition to this brave new world of working parenthood comes with complications—issues that could be minimized dramatically by thoughtful workplace policies.

The Cost of Change

Social adjustment to the new work-home dynamic has been slow. While research shows modern dads are much more involved in child care and household tasks than in previous generations, women still do most of the housework and take more time off to tend to sick children and other family-related issues. When one parent needs to leave the workforce for family reasons, many fathers and employers expect women to oblige. This belief contributes to persistent earnings and advancement gaps between the sexes.

Modern work life is also fluid. In this era of smartphones and continuous access to email, work does not necessarily end when a professional leaves the office. Employees also may be expected to support colleagues on vacation or taking sick days. Work-life balance has become a key issue all around, but families are especially affected. These days, family time is a novelty and often harried. Experts warn this new lifestyle contributes to a number of negative trends for parents, kids, and employers.

What Happens When Employers Don’t Support Parents

Research suggests a lack of supportive workplace policies may contribute to:

  • Higher maternal depression rates
  • Behavioral or achievement difficulties for kids in middle class and wealthy families; the opposite is true in financially at-risk families
  • Marital difficulties
  • Childhood obesity

It is important to note that working parenthood has its advantages. Working women tend to have higher-achieving daughters, for instance, and normalize equality between the sexes. Two incomes can also mean better food, healthcare, and more. The problem is finding a healthy balance. Family-friendly company policies can go a long way toward achieving that goal—a change that benefits employers just as much as employees.

Why Companies Should Support Working Parents

Research shows employers can improve workers’ quality of life and their own bottom lines by enacting family-friendly work policies—a practice at which U.S. companies notoriously fail. On the surface, the benefits of family-positive workplace policies seem simple: happier parents mean happier workers and, in turn, a more positive workplace culture. According to the University of Kansas, however, there are other, more direct benefits for organizations who invest in the right programs, including:

  • Increased productivity
  • A happier, less stressful work environment
  • Ability to attract top talent
  • Better retention rates for quality employees

The key for most companies is to invest in family-friendly perks that benefit their employees in meaningful way, and that starts with knowing what working parents really need most.

Workplace Policies Parents Want Most

Each year, experts review major companies’ parent-friendly policies and their impact. It’s no surprise that the companies that perform the best offer programs that address the negative family trends associated with two-earner homes, such as the freedom to spend more time and bond with young children; the flexibility to meet the demands of family life; and better child care options. Here are some of the best perks for working parents, including examples of companies leading the charge toward a more family-friendly workforce, based on reports by Inc. and Parents Magazine.

Paid Maternity and Paternity Leave

In the United States—the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave—the freedom to bond with your newborn without financial consequences is a luxury. As other nations have discovered, allowing parents more time with newborns and infants offers babies a solid leg up in life while improving employee attitudes, performance, and quality of life. Depression rates and physical health problems decline as well, especially when women are granted at least six months of leave. As men assume more child care responsibilities, they are subject to many of the same concerns as women. Paid paternity provides essential benefits for them, their children, and exhausted mothers.

Leading Companies

American Express. This financial giant offers a full 20 weeks of paid leave to moms and dads, plus an extra six-to-eight weeks for birth mothers. What separates AmEx from other companies offering paid leave? It extends the same benefit to adoptive, surrogate, and foster parents.

Google. Google is known for its employee perks, many of which focus on work-life balance. Not only does the tech giant offer paid maternity and paternity leave, it throws in an extra $500 in “baby bonding” cash for good measure. Four on-site, child care centers also make the transition back to the office easier.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Parenthood carries both expected and unexpected events that pay no heed to the average 9-to-5 work day. Companies that allow parents to adjust their schedules to meet those needs help parents balance work and life while increasing employee productivity. There are even more advantages associated with policies that allow mom or dad to work remotely, such as providing additional bonding and care time with the baby or the freedom to tend to a sick child without falling behind.

Leading Companies

Procter & Gamble. This consumer goods company gives working parents several ways to balance work and home responsibilities, including reduced or adjusted work hours, compressed schedules that extend their weekends, the option to telecommute, and leaves of absence. Procter & Gamble also offers paid maternity leave and a peer mentoring program for new moms and dads.

General Mills. Parents working for product giant General Mills get a reprieve from the 9-to-5 schedule so that they can see to their family’s needs. Among the perks: telecommuting, flexible scheduling, and free Friday afternoons through the summer. The company also offers on-site child care and adoption support.

A 6-12 Month Grace Period

The transition from leave to the office is difficult for parents and baby. Forward-thinking companies seek to ease this burden by providing on-site nurseries, the option to work from home, extra paid days off, and a reduced hourly threshold for full-time pay and benefits. Some organizations also grant new parents a 12-month relief from travel. In circumstances where travel is necessary, employers may allow women to ship their breast milk home on the company dime.

Leading Companies

Vodafone. This UK-based tech company lets new mothers to earn full pay and benefits at just 30 hours a week. The perk lasts for a full six months after Vodafone employees return from several weeks of paid leave.

Deloitte. New parents working at this professional-services firm are encouraged to adjust their schedules to meet family needs and are granted up to 30 additional paid days off each year. As an added benefit, Deloitte offers up to 16 weeks of paid leave for new dads and up to six months for moms.

On-Site and Subsidized Child Care

For many new parents, sending the little ones to daycare for the first time is a scary proposition. The sentiment only grows when employees are unable to check in with or breastfeed their children throughout the day. A number of U.S. companies now offer on-site daycare; some, like Abbot, even offer full-day kindergarten. Progressive organizations unable to provide on-site child care find other ways to accommodate new parents. These may include subsidized child care, cost-matching programs for pre-tax child care accounts, or even partnerships with nearby centers that provide priority slots and discounts.

Leading Companies

SAS. In addition to subsidized child care, this analytics software developer offers an on-site healthcare center and a work/life center staffed with counselors who help workers adjust to life as a working parent.

Prudent Financial. This financial-services firm offers on-site child care and wellness clinics at many of their sites and daycare discounts at those that don’t. Parents also receive 200 hours of subsidized backup care each year. Additional benefits include 25 percent matching on pretax child care accounts, paid leave for new moms, and $10,000 in aid for adoptive parents.

More Policies that Support Working Parents

There are few things working parents appreciate more than a supportive workplace culture that lets them care for their children without guilt or fear of lost positions or wages. A few policies embraced by modern companies:

  • Lactation support. This may include private rooms, free breast pumps, free breast milk shipping for traveling moms, or even on-site lactation counseling.
  • Mentoring programs. Peer mentoring programs for new parents are increasingly common at forward-thinking organizations, as are resources and counselors that ease the transition to parenthood. Some organizations offer internal forums or social groups especially for parents.
  • Additional leave support. There are many ways modern companies support employees while on maternity or paternity leave, such as additional cash bonuses, home care services, and continued training opportunities for extended leaves of absence.
  • Fertility and adoption benefits. The unfortunate reality is that many couples are unable to conceive children without outside help. A few major companies now offer policies that subsidized the cost of fertility treatments and adoption fees.

Leading Companies

Facebook. In addition to giving employees with new babies $4,000 in extra spending cash, Facebook, Inc. helps offset adoption fees and covers $20,000 for fertility treatments. All of this is in addition to on-site child care, laundry services, and other perks enjoyed by all workers.

Abbott. Employees considering adoption receive plenty of support at this healthcare firm, including $20,000 in reimbursement and two paid weeks of leave to sort through paperwork or bond with baby. Abbott also offers free lactation counseling to breastfeeding moms and extended on-site child care through kindergarten.

PwC. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Mentor Moms program provides peer support for employees throughout all stages of parenthood. PwC also offers subsidized backup child care and ongoing networking and training opportunities for parents who leave the workforce to care for their little ones.

Aimee Hosler
Aimee Hosler

Aimee Hosler is a long-time journalist specializing in education and technology. She is an advocate for experiential learning among all ages and serves as the director of communications for a non-profit community makerspace. She holds a degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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