How to support working parents: Five steps every HR team should take

With more parents working than ever before, it's important for companies to address their employees' needs and support them when it comes to parental leave, flexible working, childcare benefits and more.

min read

With nearly three-quarters (73.9%) of couple families having both parents working and 66% of single parents employed, balancing professional responsibilities with family life is more challenging than ever. One in 10 working mothers have quit their jobs, with one in five considering leaving work due to the challenges that come with balancing professional and childcare duties.

This situation calls for empathy and action from employers. The workforce is evolving, and it's time for companies to step up and support their employees, especially working parents. By offering compassionate and practical solutions like helping with childcare costs and flexible work arrangements, employers can show that they care about their employees as individuals, and not just workers. This support can reduce stress and improve mental health, increase productivity, and make sure that all team members feel valued and understood. Here are some actionable strategies for companies to consider in 2024:

1. Update and refresh parental leave policies

Parental leave plays an important role in supporting new parents. Companies should reassess and refresh their parental leave policies to make sure they are comprehensive, inclusive, and reflective of all family dynamics. Family-friendly policies mean offering equitable leave options for both mothers and fathers (there should be no discrimination based on gender identity or relationship status) or second parents, as well as providing additional support for adoptive or surrogate parents, and single parents as well. Pay attention to the eligibility criteria within your company's policies, and make sure these policies are aligned with the living wage or national living wage standards, as well as with employment law.

New legislation has broadened employee rights for both flexible working an paid/unpaid leave. From April 2024, employees can now submit two requests per year for flexible working instead of one, and employers must respond within two months instead of three. Employees are also entitled to one week of unpaid leave annually for caregiving responsibilities, which can include childcare for parent employees. Anyone taking paternity leave can split their two weeks into two separate one-week blocks and use them at any time within the first year after their child's birth, rather than within the initial eight weeks as previously required.

If you want to know more about maternity and paternity leave laws in the UK, check out our guide here.

Eligible parents should be able to use your company's policies flexibly, because personal circumstances will look different for every employee. Leave some room for discussion with your employees so that policies can be amended as needed.

2. Offer your employees flexibility

Flexible working arrangements have become a cornerstone of modern workplace culture, especially post-pandemic. Companies should be prioritising flexibility in order to accommodate the diverse needs of all their employees, including the caring responsibilities of working parents. This could involve implementing flexible hours, remote work options, job-sharing arrangements, or compressed workweeks. Maybe you allow your employees to work less hours per week one week, and more the next, if that's an accommodation they need. It could also include alternative options like giving people additional time to complete certain tasks.

Flexible work arrangements are crucial for parent employees as it helps them juggle family responsibilities while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. By prioritising flexible working options, you empower your team to be their best both at home and at work, creating a supportive environment where everyone can thrive.

3. Create a supportive culture

People thrive when they feel supported, and the same goes for working parents. Companies can create a supportive culture by opening communication channels where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and challenges. What can this look like in practice? If leadership is comfortable saying they need to leave work a little bit early to pick up their child from school, employees will feel comfortable doing the same. Support can also come from policy, as mentioned above.

4. Training and development for managers

Managers play a critical role in supporting working parents within their teams. Companies should invest in training and development programmes to give managers the necessary skills and knowledge to manage flexible and hybrid working arrangements. This means teaching them to be understanding and empathetic, to listen to what each employee needs, and to help make it easy to talk about family stuff at work. Managers should also be knowledgeable about childcare choices and available childcare schemes, like tax-free childcare and childcare vouchers.

5. Tailored benefits and support

Companies can be a huge support to working parents by providing benefits and programmes tailored to their needs. These benefits can help reduce stress and make it easier to balance work and family life. Some examples include providing affordable childcare options or assistance with the cost of childcare, or offering resources to help parents transition into parenthood, like postnatal counselling.

Taking care of parents' reproductive and mental health is equally important, and Fertifa offers a proactive approach to benefits. Through us, your employees can access both 1-2-1 care from our expert clinical team, as well as a curated library of resources answering all the questions they might have about their reproductive health. If you're interested in how we can help you at Fertifa, get in touch here.

It's equally important to make sure that employees know about these benefits and understand how they can access them. Be sure to include signposting to available public funds benefits outside of what your company offers, like Universal Credit, Child Benefit to help with National Insurance contributions, or childcare entitlement for working parents, also known as working parent entitlement. These can provide financial security and help cover some of the extra costs associated with childcare, which is often one of the biggest costs for parents.

6. A results-oriented culture

Shifting the focus from hours worked to outcomes achieved can create a culture of trust and autonomy. Companies should prioritise results over rigid work schedules, empowering employees to manage their time effectively while delivering high-quality work. This means not counting the hours per week that they work, but rather the work they produce. This approach not only benefits working parents but also promotes a culture of accountability and performance excellence across the organisation. This can be especially important during school term time when parents might need extra flexibility to manage childcare hours. 

7. Continuous feedback and improvement

Lastly, companies should be regularly asking for feedback from their employees to see how they can improve. Benefits and support should be driven by the needs of the employees. There's no point in providing benefits that no one will use! If your company sets the precedent of continuous improvement, it will contribute to a culture that prioritises the wellbeing of all employees, and will create that sense of loyalty to the company that will help you retain employees. When employees have a say in their work-life balance, they'll be happier. Simple as that!

Supporting working parents is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic investment for companies looking to get a competitive advantage and attract and retain top talent.

Working parents want real solutions, like subsidised childcare providers, reduced childcare costs, flexible working hours to align with the hours of childcare, and financial security more broadly. By implementing these strategies, your company can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment, boosting employee satisfaction, where working parents can thrive both personally and professionally.

If you're looking to implement benefits for working parents within your company, give us a call using the button below. We'd love to talk 💜