It is not always easy to bring our whole selves to work, and for parents who have children at home, it is almost impossible to leave our family lives at the office door.
Between everyday worries such as ‘will they be OK at school today?’ and the bigger challenges that impact children, like relationship breakdown or bereavement, parents are often juggling concerns to do with their children in parallel to their professional lives.
As businesses, it is important to both acknowledge and support the two very different worlds in which parents operate as they manage family and demanding work lives.
Companies that do this recognise the benefits of offering tools and strategies to improve the home lives of their workforce, from directors to administrators and executives. They realise that emotional health at home has a direct benefit on emotional health, productivity and engagement at work.
At Emotional Health at Work, we have seen some great practices taking place in many of the organisations with whom we have worked. From this, we have put together three key ways to support the emotional health of parents at work that also benefit the business.
1. Promote parent forums and groups
Honouring our staff who are parents and allowing them to bring their whole selves to work is crucial. Forums, groups and workshops for parents that are held during lunchtimes or after work can provide a space for team members to meet other parents, talk and learn from each other, and discuss everything that comes with family life. It is also a great place to host guest speakers.
For employees who are joining a company and might be new to the area, a parenting forum could be an attractive perk that will help them to meet people at a similar stage of life, as well as embed themselves into a company culture that considers staff as whole people, not just workers.
Parenting forums and groups can also be an arena for team members with children to share resources, tools and strategies that did (or didn’t) work, as well as a place to blow off steam about any worries and receive encouragement from each other.
By creating a space for the team to discuss triumphs and challenges in family life, businesses can help foster a culture where people are happier, more relaxed and well-supported.
2. Put empathy at the heart of everything
Our definition of empathy is the ability to tune into and try to understand someone else’s emotional state. When used correctly, empathy can help build strong working relationships, support team members to work through challenges and allow staff to feel valued and understood.
Remaining emotionally neutral, avoiding trying to fix things or making judgements, and using facilitatory sentences such as 'It sounds like you’re feeling anxious/excited/really pleased about...', are techniques that can really make the difference between an individual feeling heard, or not.
That’s why putting empathy at the heart of all relationships can be a real ace card in terms of generating understanding and good working practice between colleagues.
3. Parents need support, regardless of the age of their child
When we think of 'parenting', often we may just think about those with babies or younger children. However families with teenage children, or even children in young adulthood, will be facing challenges of their own, despite having been parents for over a decade.
Early intervention to support parents doesn’t necessarily mean that it happens only in the early years of a child’s lifetime. There are also opportunities to support families as their children come into adolescence and beyond.
Two key moments in a child’s lifetime are the start of school and puberty, and parents may well need support, tools and strategies to help them navigate these periods, especially as they balance work and family.
Acknowledging that colleagues are dealing with various issues all the way through their child’s lifetime can further help to create a supportive, understanding workplace where people feel valued and understood.
These are just a few suggestions for how businesses can support parents’ emotional health at work, and there will be many other methods that can both fit within your business and your team.
Starting to think about how individuals’ home lives and emotional health can impact work is the first important step, and by recognising this, the workforce and business as a whole can only benefit.
About Nick Haisman-Smith
Nick Haisman-Smith is CEO of Family Links, a national charity dedicated to empowering children, parents, families, schools and workplaces to be emotionally healthy. We have 20 years’ experience developing, delivering and evaluating emotional health programmes across the UK, working with national and local government organisations, corporates and charities, universities, schools and families.
Family Links’ Emotional Health at Work programmes support organisations and individuals to be emotionally healthy – helping improve employee engagement, increase staff retention, reduce stress and absenteeism, increase employee focus, productivity and motivation and lower levels of mental and physical health difficulties.