Experts on a panel discussion at The Work & Family Show last week advocated a more transparent culture to stop staff suffering in silence. If people realise others are also unhappy, they’ll be more likely to speak up, the panel said.
“Sometimes when you start a discussion, you realise that you are all in it together,” said Louise Webster, founder of beyondtheschoolrun.com, a website for working parents.
“Organisations are changing,” added Suzy Levy, human capital and diversity lead at Accenture, who chaired the panel. “Most people I know are building a workplace where they want people to be open.”
Although the problem isn’t limited to parents, it’s one area where employees could be struggling more than they are letting on. The 2015 Modern Families Index, conducted by Bright Horizons and Working Families, revealed that less than half of working parents feel confident discussing family-related issues with their employer.
Speakers at the show encouraged parents to be more open about their concerns: “We can’t expect the people without children to really know what it’s like,” said Webster.
Speakers also called for employers to be more proactive about managing the times when business is most busy, rather than springing big projects on employees and expecting them to be available. Levy said she had noticed more City firms proactively organising their busy periods, encouraging staff to share the times they needed to be away from the office.
But managers also need to be understanding of the unexpected, she said. Her boss described parenting as ‘a house of cards’ and is understanding if any of his team are having what he calls “a house of cards day”.
“You can plan for holidays but when you wake up with a vomiting child…” she told the audience, who knew all too well what she meant.
Creating a network for parents in your business could also help. Kerry Haynes, founder and director of networking organisation Enterprising Mums, described her personal support network as “absolutely critical” for when things go awry.
Maxine Dolan, representative for the Women’s Business Council and former academy director at Tesco, explained that the retailer had set up a woman’s network to offer support.
“Be other people’s plan B or plan C,” said Harriet Waley-Cohen, health and well-being coach.
The panel’s advice comes with the news that the average cost of childcare for working parents has once again increased to an average of £115.45 per week, according to the latest survey from The Family and Childcare Trust.
The organisation said offering employees childcare vouchers would enable them to save money now and give them the right to choose the most beneficial scheme for their family once tax-free childcare is launched this autumn.