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Employers Must Better Support Working Parents – Here’s How

It’s safe to say that across the board, UK employers are more enlightened and understanding when it comes to working parents than 20 years ago. But the reality is that there is more work to be done. In many cases, a lack of flexibility and consistency as well as preconceptions and stereotyping are among the issues faced by those returning to work after becoming parents. So, what are the key challenges working parents face and how can employers do better at supporting working parents?

Feelings of Guilt

The working mums’ and working dads’ workshops that PUSH run revealed the extent of the problems some working parents experience. One of the key findings was that individuals feel they often can’t do as good a job as a parent, or an employee, because they can’t apply themselves properly to either. The resulting no-win exacerbates feelings of guilt and frustration and ultimately has a negative impact on the individual’s wellbeing and performance.

Lack of Consistency

In short, a lot of employers are getting it wrong on a number of levels. While flexible working could help with many of these problems, it is not being applied as it should. Inconsistencies in how people are treated depending on departments and managers also prevail while a lack of transparency and openness means culturally co-workers can lack the knowledge and understanding required to work alongside returning parents. 

Language and Perceptions

Passive aggressive comments from co-workers such as “good afternoon” when a person comes in half an hour late because of parental duties, for instance, certainly don’t help anyone. And participants in our workshops also reported that maternity and paternity leave is still perceived as a “holiday” or even a “privilege” by some co-workers.

Pressure and New Identity

But pressure also comes from the individual themselves. A working mum told us how as a returning mother she felt mentally, physically and emotionally different than she did before and this “different version” of herself found it hard to step back into the same role. A working dad, meanwhile, who was previously defined by work, had internal conflicts about not being able to work long hours any more because his priorities had changed and he was also concerned about what colleagues thought of him. 

Management Practices

Even when flexible working practices are in place, it isn’t always managed as well as it could be nor accompanied by a flexible mindset. Employers fail to really think through how it could work for the company or the individual with one mum saying it felt like a “demotion” with colleagues not involving her in the same way. 

Being Truly Flexible

There also has to be flexibility on the part of the returning parent. The business still has to run efficiently and effectively and it may be that with the best will in the world, the role – or perhaps clients – aren’t compatible with flexible hours.

So What Needs To Change?

PUSH is determined to address these issues and holds working parent sessions for companies and bespoke workshops for mums and dads. No two parents are the same, no two companies are the same and our workshops have taught us that mums and dads can face very similar and very different challenges. A general lack of recognition of the difficulties dad’s experience, for instance, can be at the root of many problems simply because they are far less talked about. Indeed, one dad described it as an “invisible challenge” for many companies.

What has emerged loud and clear in our work in this area to date though, is that by putting in education and  support structures before, during and after a child is born can make a huge difference and start to create the right culture for working parents to thrive at work and enjoy their home life and being a parent. 

Moreover, we are finding that many of the issues that need to be addressed don’t just affect working parents but are part of the wider discussion about how flexible working should be implemented.


Here Is The PUSH 10-point Guide To Better Supporting Working Parents

Lead By Example From The Top

Working parents in senior leadership positions need to role model the right behaviour as well as openly discuss and share the challenges they face. Senior leaders who try to be heroes rather than confront the problems they and others face aren’t doing anyone any favours, including themselves.

Mind Your Language

Educate the workforce at all levels about the right and wrong language to use. Impress upon them the importance of not throwing out glib comments that can make mums and dads feel uncomfortable.

Accept It Might Be Different For Dads

While policies and procedures must be equal, PUSH workshops have shown that the challenges dads face are different and they are more at risk of being overlooked. Talk to both about their pain points and it might require more effort to encourage Dad’s to talk openly about issues.

Introduce New Ideas

Consider what new measures you could put in place such as return-to-work days, home visits, Mum and Dad buddies who will be able to directly relate to new working parents, and bringing-kids-to-work days.

Promote A Two-Way Street

While working parents can face issues, tensions can arise if other members of the workforce feel parents aren’t being as flexible as they could be. Continually bagging the best holiday dates because they have children, for instance, can annoy colleagues. This is where understanding and open communication on both sides is absolutely key. 

Hold Coaching Sessions And Workshops

These can help prepare parents who are about to go on maternity and paternity leave as well as returners by helping them understand how they will feel  at each stage and that such feelings are normal.

Avoid Social Exclusion

Even if working parents may no longer able to go for drinks after work or join in with other social activities, they should still be invited, even when they are on leave. Also try to arrange events at times they can attend.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It

Even with the best will in the world it may not be practical for the individual to return to the same role and, for example, service the same clients. Trying too hard to make it work won’t help either side and it is far better to make the right adjustments to personnel and role as long as it’s done in an open and transparent way.

Put In Place A Support Network

Ensure working parents feel that the communication channels are always open and put in place a support network that includes HR professionals but also fellow working parents.

Working Parents Still Have Careers

Finally, it is important that parents still feel they are on the career ladder so ensure they are treated in the same way as anyone else when it comes to career and promotion options. They are also still part of the company even when they are on leave so communicate any key changes and developments in the workplace and organisation to them.


Get in touch to find out how PUSH can help you to support working parents in your organisation through tailored sessions with our expert Coaches.

Why Is Company Culture Important And What Can It Achieve?

Although you can’t see it, company culture is an extremely powerful force in the workplace. The right culture can mean the difference between an employee coming to work happy, performing well and going the extra mile or a person turning over in bed on a Monday morning and opting for a duvet day. Catalina Marketing are a brilliant example of an organisation that recognise the importance of culture and were able to optimise their employee’s wellbeing and also the company’s performance. 

PUSH has witnessed good, bad and indifferent cultures dictate the mood at organisations and they can have a dramatic impact on the wellness of the workforce. Transforming culture can be difficult and takes time, effort and commitment. In some cases, the culture isn’t bad or toxic but has suffered because of challenging business conditions. And there have been no shortage of those in the last 10 years. 

PUSH client Catalina Marketing, for instance, faced ongoing change due to the shifting landscapes of both the retail and marketing industries. No workforce likes constant change and uncertainty at the top tier and an apparent difference of direction compounded the stress and anxiety the team was feeling. Employee attrition rates rose to 22 per cent at this time. 

The general manager knew the problems needed to be addressed and PUSH was brought in to transform the culture as well as increase productivity. 

For many years, business in general paid lip service to culture, proclaiming its importance but deep-down seeing it as a touchy feely, HR nice-to-have rather than something that truly impacted the bottom line. We say a big thank-you, therefore, to the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) who back in 2016 published a study that explored the importance of culture to long-term value and how corporate cultures are being defined, embedded and monitored. Finally, culture was given a tangible link to business value. 

The report was the culmination of the FRC’s Culture Coalition, a collaboration with organisations such as the City Values Forum and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), as well as interviews with more than 250 chairmen, CEOs and leading industry experts, from the UK’s largest companies. 

At the time, FRC chairman Sir Winfried Bischoff said that a healthy corporate culture leads to long-term success by both protecting and generating value in the UK economy. It is therefore important to have “a consistent and constant focus on culture”, rather than wait for a crisis, he said, adding: “A strong culture will endure in times of stress and change.”

PUSH’s forward-thinking clients have been among those to recognise the importance of culture to their employee’s wellbeing and also the organisation’s performance. 

When it comes to culture transformation, our approach is to find out exactly what is affecting the team, examining the underlying issues and blindspots and assessing what is required to create positive and sustainable cultural change. 

Typically, we will run audits and speak to the entire team to get to the heart of what is going on internally. In the case of Catalina, four core themes emerged from the data that highlighted the changes required to improve creativity, innovation and resilience: bring to life the company vision and unite the team behind it; reignite the organisation’s passion and support the team’s energy levels; improve team integration and company-wide communication; and increase the opportunity for reflection, feedback and celebration. 

Over the next eight months we delivered a programme of activity that included personal development workshops and coaching and we also appointed internal Culture Champions who went on to create the Catalina UK Manifesto outlining behaviours, values, goals and aspirations. Another audit was carried out a few months later which shone a light on what else we needed to do to fully effect the culture change, which involved embedding the Manifesto behaviours in the team. 

The ultimate success of the programme can be judged by the metrics: team churn reduced from 34.5 per cent in 2018 to 14.8 per cent in 2019; absenteeism saw a huge drop from 210.5 days to 76 says across the year; and the total number of working days lost to stress dropped from 48 to zero to date in 2019. 

Amply demonstrating the link between culture change and productivity, the company saw an impressive improvement in the lead times of high-quality campaign delivery from eight weeks to two. The company also calculated it is saving around 9.5 to 17.5 hours a week due to the focus on efficiency, which amounts to 40-75 hours of available time to do great work for customers each month.

Statistics never tell the full story though and one of the most gratifying aspects of working on a culture change programme is seeing how much happier people are in their jobs. 

At PUSH, we believe that nobody should dread going to work and by creating real change in organisations, we are one step closer to achieving this every single day. Get in touch to talk about how we can transform your organisations culture.

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