NATIONAL REPORT — Although workforce participation among women with children under the age of 5 was 70.4% in 2023 per the Brookings Institute, companies are moving away from remote and hybrid schedules could impact a parent's ability to continue working.
In a recent HR Brew article entitled "How HR Can Support Working Parents by Normalizing Caregiving in the Workplace," Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder and CEO of Mindful Return, a community for parents returning to work after having kids, provided tips for how organizations and their human resources (HR) departments can support working parents.
It's the Norm
Normalizing caregiving in the workplace is the first step HR teams can take toward supporting working parents, Mihalich-Levin said.
"Adopt a mindset that anyone could have to take leave for any reason or could have to leave early in the day to care for someone," she told HR Brew. "The tone and mindset that you're setting from HR can come through making sure that managers are trained in the issues that come up for working parents."
The HR expert said organizations can start by degendering and destigmatizing flexibility, because working parents can belong to any gender identity.
[Read more: Creating & Maintaining a Top Workplace for Women]
Leaders should also be sensitive when talking about caregiving, she noted. While working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a leader at Mihalich-Levin's former company said, "Now we all have more time for work, because we're not commuting."
"I was sitting there with a first grader and a third grader' I didn't even know when I was going to be able to put in an hour of work. It was very tone deaf," she recalled.
Mihalich-Levin suggests HR collect data about the caregivers in their organization, including the number of caregivers, the resources they use, and their retention and promotion rates. This information can help inform the support systems people professionals put in place.
When parents return to work after being on leave, they aren't always familiar with the resources available to them, Mihalich-Levin pointed out. HR should communicate what resources are available on an ongoing basis.
HR can also encourage managers to prorate goals for parents who may be on alternative schedules and implement "ramp up and ramp down periods when people do take a [parental] leave," she said. For example, newly returning parents might be expected to complete 60% of their normal workload their first month back, 80% the second and 100% the third.
Community and connection can go a long way in supporting caregivers, she said, and HR can build these by establishing employee resource groups and matching new and experienced working parents in mentoring programs. Celebrating caregivers and how their unique skills contribute to their jobs can help, too.
"Whether it's prioritization, empathy, the ability to juggle a million things, all of these skills come with caregiving," she said. "The more leaders can talk about the fact that caregiving is making them better at their jobs, it instills confidence in people."