Supporting Working Parents: A Guide for Companies and Coworkers

Why parents need help navigating the workplace

“Give parents space and generosity. We’re trying to keep the species going, and it’s not easy to do that.”

Life as a working parent is incredibly fulfilling, but it isn’t always easy. Armed with pro-tips, advice, and sheer determination, moms and dads everywhere are performing the ultimate juggling act by blending their work and life hours together to create a routine that works for their careers and their families.

According to Gallup, Americans with children under the age of 18 are more likely than those without children to report feeling stressed or as though they don’t have enough time.

But it’s not just on parents to “hack” their way into managing this extra stress. They need more than a little help from the companies they’re doing so much work for.

Several members of the Evernote team recently met to discuss the ups and downs of life as working parents. In the second part of our series on working while parenting, they share their thoughts on how companies and coworkers can do their part to make the load a bit lighter. From providing benefits to setting the tone for a more caring culture, there’s a lot that businesses, managers, and colleagues without children can do to support working parents with space, empathy, and a little human kindness.

The bottom line: parent-friendly is good for business

Beyond the human dimension of caring for your workers, there’s a real business case for building a workplace that’s easy for parents to be a part of.

In 2016, almost 90 percent of US families with children had at least one parent that was employed. That’s a pretty big slice of the working population. So crafting family-friendly policies could give you a leg up in the war for talent. Research from Care.com showed that 62 percent of employees would leave a job for better benefits, while a Glassdoor survey revealed that four out five workers would take new benefits over a pay raise. And this pressure will only increase in the future. By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the US workforce — and they’ve already shown that flexibility and paid leave matter a lot to them.

But it’s not just about catering to the parents. There are some real benefits to business too. For example, when Google increased their paid maternity leave period, they found that the rate at which new mothers quit decreased by an impressive 50 percent, while a fascinating New America Foundation report on paid family leave cited studies showing that it boosted morale, productivity, and financial performance. So it turns out that finding ways to help out on the homefront keeps employees happier, more engaged, and more productive at work, which is always good for business.

Policies with purpose: helping out, inclusively

What should these perks and policies look like? There are tangible benefits businesses could introduce, such as on-site daycare, backup child-care coverage, or a subsidy to help cover the costs.

Parental leave policies are also a huge way to make an impact. And it’s not just about the specified time off either — the transition period is important too. Easing back to work with part-time or work-from-home options can be very helpful for new parents in the first few months back from leave.

But these policies need to be inclusive. We need to remember that supporting working parents isn’t just confined to the visible new mom who needs a place to pump as she eases back from maternity leave. Parenting is an 18-year gig that affects men, women, adoptive and biological parents, parents with newborns and teenagers — all in different ways. Companies should think about crafting policies accordingly.

For example, studies have shown that increasing paternity leave makes it more likely that moms are able to return to work full-time (in addition to other benefits such as dads being more actively involved throughout the child’s life).

Here at Evernote, we offer both mothers and fathers six weeks of paid leave in the U.S., in addition to federal and state leave programs, with two weeks of part-time work available to ease the return afterwards. This includes the birth of a child or adoption or foster care placement, in order to encourage family bonding. We’ve also rolled out Lucy, a new perk that offers a tech-enabled support system for new parents by providing prenatal and postpartum care, resources, and guidance.

Flexible days to fit real life

We all know that way we work is changing, from remote work to virtual teams to unlimited vacation time. So companies should focus on creating an environment that enables flexibility for working parents.

From work from home days to relaxed hours, parents need the space to go to those parent-teacher conference meetings, recitals, and dentist appointments. And a traditional 9–5 schedule isn’t exactly conducive for fitting those things in.

“Evernote is very good with stuff like letting us leave midday to take care of a doctor’s appointment and come back,” observed Benson Wong, a Senior IT Administrator and dad to an adorable two-year-old girl. “As long as you get your stuff done and meet your deadlines, it’s very much a ‘you do you’ vibe, which is really nice as a parent,” he said.

Craft the supportive culture

But it’s not enough to just talk about it or introduce new policies. If moms feel guilty about stepping out of the office for that appointment, or if dads don’t really use their paternity leave in practice, then it’s not really helping. Flexibility has to permeate the culture.

Thankfully, office culture is starting to shift away from “presenteeism” to one more focused on results. And this can be a true differentiator. As a member of Evernote’s leadership team, head of marketing Andrew Malcolm conducts a lot of hiring interviews. “I get asked all the time: ‘What’s the most unique thing about Evernote?,’” he said. “And one of the things I keep coming back to is that there aren’t that many places where you can be a great employee and a great dad at the same time. That’s part of what we’re trying to do here.”

A how-to guide for supporting your coworkers

And it’s not just the corporate powers that be that can support parents — coworkers and managers need to do their part too. Here are some tips anyone can use to create a more supportive office environment for colleagues with children:

1) Give space and generosity.

It’s important that coworkers who don’t have kids “understand that there is such a wide range of ways that having a child can affect you,” product designer manager Jesse Day shared. “Even from the first to the second kid, there can be a big difference in your experience, so be sure to give parents space and generosity,” he continued. “We’re trying to keep the species going, and it’s not easy to do that.”

2) It’s all about empathy.

A recurring theme running through the advice we heard was empathy. “You have no idea what someone has been through,” said Andrew. “If you’re at a meeting at 10 AM, you may not know that the person sitting across from you could have been up since 3 AM with his kid and to him it feels like it’s time for happy hour now,” he said. Jesse agreed, noting that “if you see a parent and they seem like they are having a bad day, they probably are. It’s not you, so just remember it’s not personal.”

3) Consider a parent’s schedule.

Remember that it’s not so easy for a parent to join in for those after-work drinks or last-minute get togethers. When organizing team events, throw in some lunches or breakfasts, or move the event start time up so more people can make it. And don’t feel stressed when you get those 4 AM emails — parents fit in work where they can.

4) Manage the conversations.

When managing a working parent, there are some additional things you need to take into account. A study revealed that 41 percent of US working parents don’t believe they could be successful without a supportive boss. When asked how managers could cultivate that support, conversations about career growth was a clear area for discussion.

Jesse shared the need to consider that some parents may be focused on “maintaining where they’re at for now and then working to that next level when their kids are a bit older.” But others disagreed, noting that for women especially, there’s a real fear of being “mommy tracked” at work. “It can be dangerous to assume parents don’t want to advance their careers while they are in their child-raising years,” said Nancy Fu Magee, director of product at Evernote. “It’s a valid choice, but don’t just assume that’s the one people want to make.” Knowing that both of these schools of thought are out there, it’s important to take both perspectives into account when starting conversations with the people you manage.

It takes a village

At the end of the day, building a workplace that’s parent-friendly is bigger than just accommodating those of us with kids. It’s about truly living out the idea of showing up as our authentic selves, baggage, sippy cups, and all.

And as Andrew noted, we don’t really have much choice in the matter. “You really do bring your whole self to work, whether you like it or not,” he observed.

But if you work at a place that makes room for that sort of thing, it’s a little bit easier.

Be sure to check out the first part of this series, where we explored the ups, downs, and pro-tips of life as a working parent.


If you’re a working parent, how could your company and coworkers better support you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Jessi Craige Shikman just got married, but she’s not having kids anytime soon. Sorry, Mom.