I am the Managing Partner for Australia and New Zealand at Veldhoen + Company. Like many jobs, it has its highs and lows and is equally challenging and rewarding, but at the end of the day, I feel like my life is clear. I can relax and rewind with my partner and our dog. However, some of my team members deal with much more complexity, and combine work with their arguably more important role of being a parent or guardian.
The tenacity of working parents to be dedicated nurturers to future generations and valuable members of workplace teams is admirable, to say the least. But as a leader, having admiration for the working parents on my team is simply not enough. Admiration is not action; it does not practically help my team members achieve and perform at their best in both of their roles. Trust and empowerment, however, do.
With the Future Forum reporting that 82% of working mothers desire greater location flexibility in these hybrid working times, how can leaders practically trust and empower working parents to ensure a high level of mental wellbeing and workplace engagement?
1. Lead With Trust
To lead with trust and clarity is to enable working parents to freely thrive. With hybrid working, explicitly demonstrating your trust in working parents and being clear on your expectations of them empowers them to make their own organisational decisions regarding their home and work commitments. Working parents may log onto work a little later in the morning or decide to leave the office at noon to make the afternoon school pick-up run. The decision to work in time and place independent ways should be encouraged by having their leaders trust and support their choices. Of course, this type of working culture comes with working towards outcomes rather than hours, meaning there can be a shift towards valuing the quality rather than quantity of work.
2. Establish Rhythms and Rituals
Among the unexpected chaos that is to be expected with raising children, the essence of routine in the workplace may be valuable to working parents. Rhythms and rituals foster workplace culture and a sense of belonging without being too restrictive or vague. Implementing these simple structures empowers working parents to connect with their colleagues and the wider company spirit regardless of how, when, and where they decide to carry out their work. Establishing team agreements provides a valuable hybrid working tool and avenue for all team members to make their work schedules and structures known, and for different workstyles to be accommodated as best as possible.
3. Create the Space to Communicate Candidly
A working parent may decide to come into the office three days a week, but what if this becomes too hard to maintain with their caring duties? Leaders should create a safe space for open and transparent communication to give working parents the space to experiment with their hybrid working routine. If an arrangement doesn’t work, they should feel safe to communicate these issues candidly to their leaders. From this, refinements can be made for working parents to remain happy and committed at work. Open and transparent communication can also lend itself to nurturing human relationships between working parents and their leaders. It is where related workplace concerns such as proximity bias can be raised, and mitigation strategies to be co-created.
Ultimately, the best support leaders can give to working parents is to respond from a behavioural and cultural perspective. It is not easy to strike the right balance between the different roles at home and work at once, so it should be experimented with and refined over time within a workplace culture that supports this through both words and actions.