The most progressive employer policies and benefits for working parents

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the nation's 83.2 million families, 78.5% had at least one employed member in 2021. Your team or business could stand to gain from encouraging parents and helping them achieve work-life balance. Working parents make up a huge chunk of the workforce, and companies that improve their employees' quality of life can help keep production stable during hard times. Investing in more policies supportive of working parents can encourage productivity, reduce work stress, and retain quality team members. Let's get into what working parents should expect from a great company, and how to deliver the same for the parents you employ.

Paid parental leave

Many federal and state contractors award maternity or paternity leave after events like a birth of a child or receiving an adopted child, as well as taking in a foster child and similar situations. Offering some degree of pregnancy-related leave, sometimes lumped in with general maternity leave, is quite common. However, that isn't quite the same as offering equal parental leave for parents based on child needs and employee efficiency.

Instead of offering a disparity in benefits, the most progressive approach might be an equally applied parental leave policy. The system could let you consistently apply paid time off, unpaid time off, or something in between for parental leave, all while spotting and avoiding potential bias-based differences in how employees are treated.

New parent assistance

Although paid leave is important, there's more to bringing a child into the world or raising them than having time off. Every new parent is unique and faces their own obstacles. Your company can stand out with things like more thorough and supportive fertility assistance policies. In a similar way, lactation assistance policies help new mothers on your team care for their newborns, working through any issues to help them continue breastfeeding.

Daycare and childcare

Any parent understands that some children are too young or not ready to be left on their own all day. Child care costs a median of 14% of working parent income, and many families can't afford their own solutions. Knowing their children are looked after and doing well, a moment's walk away no less, helps encourage a working parent's productivity and concentration. Although the practical opportunities for on-site childcare might be limited depending on your company's size, you might be able to offer support toward getting third-party childcare or daycare.

Schedule flexibility

Sometimes called flex time, policies that allow your employees to make their own hours are hugely effective in boosting productivity and motivation. Outside of choosing what hours and days to work, employees are generally fond of being able to work from home. It helps to study what your competitors do, your general industry expectations, and if perhaps you could do something better.

For example, if work became available through an online system and divided into different tasks that people could request or mark themselves as "available" for, this wouldn't just benefit the employees. You would also be able to get an even better grasp of who is ready to do what tasks, sensing patterns and getting data on worker productivity.

Your company might allow paid leave in ways that prioritize the varying needs of each employee and their parenting situations.

When creating a progressive workplace, your policies should consider what will effectively satisfy all your working parents, as well as employees in general, while also helping your business or team succeed and reach their goals. It helps to think "How can I give my employees more freedom to decide how they want to work?" There is no one-size-fits-all schedule policy that applies to every employee, but you can think of ways to empower your working parents to create the most effective working schedules for themselves.

Emergency family leave and support

Parental leave is usually associated with the reception or birth of a new child, but that isn't the only time a parent may need to take time away. If there are serious family issues that require them to leave their work temporarily and handle something as a parent, your company has an opportunity to be supportive and offer separate days of leave from your parental leave policy.

When these situations crop up, you can be a progressive employer by making requests for this type of leave quick and painless. Even if full-time paid leave is difficult to offer, just think of ways you can help during such emergencies. Make it easier for your working parents to strengthen and protect their families, and you'll lead the way to a stronger workplace family as well.

Job sharing

When two people can work the same a job at different times for prorated salary, such as a husband swapping in for a wife on maternity leave, this is usually referred to as job sharing. Allowing these situations when justified can be very employer-friendly, as it allows workers who might have had no other way of still working for you to continue.

Job sharing does pose some challenges. For instance, if the work schedule isn't split cleanly, one person might have trouble suddenly filling in for the other. Two times as many people on a job means more available attention and talent but also twice as many potential interpersonal challenges.

If you create an effective, tested way of splitting the work or passing it off and then make this opportunity clear across the board when hiring, parents can be confident they can turn to their spouse, as an example, when they need a break to handle a family incident or do something important for their children. If you're going to allow job sharing in certain cases, you just need to be confident in both peoples' ability to do any required tasks. It's also best to have a clearly-explained policy about promotion opportunities.

Policies to protect migrant, seasonal, and contract workers

Multiple situations can make certain kinds of work less protected, like the jobs of migrant workers trying to support a family move or contract workers who don't receive in-company benefits. Some examples to help workers with different work situations include:

  • Policies that give W-2 and 1099 workers equal access to parental time off
  • Policies that allow seasonal workers to take on other roles in the off-season
  • Policies that help migrant workers get the time they need to see family

Anyone who works for your company probably belongs to a category that faces their own challenges or needs. Addressing those in a way that is fair to every employee, working parents or not, is the most progressive approach.

Employee education support

There are many ways to design a progressive policy on education for working parents. On a smaller to larger scale, some examples of an employer offering education support might include:

  • Back-to-school events and supply drives for employees with kids
  • In-company courses or classes made free to working parents and their kids
  • Paid internship opportunities for children of employees
  • Student loan repayment assistance for the children of working parents
  • Scholarships and education loans for a employee's children 

Sometimes employers might offer these types of benefits in a restrictive way. For instance, if a company makes a decision from up top to start a new product line and that requires a large number of employees to train in a new skill, it wouldn't be fair for them to have to pay what it costs to achieve this new knowledge without support from the company. The progressive option is to offer employee education support related to their jobs and also support their children's education when possible.

Now that you've seen examples of policies or benefits available to working parents, you probably have at least one new idea for how to make your workplace better. When designing a more progressive or employee-friendly workplace, the best thing you can do is decide what is paramount to your company culture. From there, you can find something that would make things easier for working parents, letting all of them enjoy a fair, supportive distribution of benefits, all while living up to your company's values.

More tips for employers:

Get the straight truth on whether post-pandemic perks get people back into the office.

See why you should define your company culture to build a stronger team.

Can't offer remote work? Here's how to attract great candidates to your job posting anyway.

Check if you know these three tactics to improve hiring effectiveness by engaging employees.

Learn seven things to put in your job postings and two to leave out.

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