Why parenting is an HR issue

Why parenting is an HR issue

One of the areas of greatest disconnect between corporate culture and the wider world, is the issue of parenting.  This is going to present significant challenges to many organisations in terms of H.R. policy  in the upcoming years, especially for those that don’t confront those issues.

The successful running of organisations is largely dependent on a fully functioning nuclear family. That is: a revenue generator (usually the man) and a childcare/homemaker (usually the woman.)  Any move to deviate from this model impacts the employee and therefore ultimately the organisation.

We are already seeing major repercussions.

Outdated model

By 2015 Gen Y will out number Boomers in the workforce.  They are the 21st century generation of men and women who want something different for themselves, their careers and their families than their parents.  Added to this we see the emergence of other demographics:

  1. the rise of the single parent
  2. the rise of the two career family,
  3. men who don’t want the stress of being the single bread winner or to be pigeonholed into gender stereotyping roles assigned in a bygone era.
  4. Reverse parenting: elder care

These significant cultural changes render the old school model  flawed and potentially ineffective.

Crusader vs Realist

These developments impact organisations in a number of areas and requires some out of the box thinking to adapt to changes in the supply side of the employee market. Some organisations have evolved, yet for most their systems remain resolutely unchanged. In the last two weeks I have been conflicted in my roles as crusader for change and realistic coach, fully aware of the all too prevalent discrimination that exists around family obligations for both men and women.

I have discussed with candidates the wisdom of embracing motherhood on their CVs and LinkedIn summaries. How to handle resume gaps of 15 years for stay at home Mums is a frequent challenge, with lack of continuous service heavily penalised.  Cap that with the dilemmas facing men who have taken or wish to take paternity leave  when they are viewed with suspicion.  Or more serious still,  STUDS (Spouses Trailing Under Duress)  who have given their partner’s career priority.  And of course stay at home dads.  I know of some couples who don’t broadcast their non stereotypical approach for concerns about social stigma.

This blinkered thinking impacts human resource programmes in a number of key areas, as organisations are slow to  recognise and respond to the pace of change.

What we see is an approach to find people to suit the model, rather than changing the model to suit the workforce

Where does this happen?

Recruitment:  with as many as 30-40% of families  in some geographies now being headed up by a single parent oftentimes the mother, organisations are struggling to attract the best talent to suit their corporate culture. They are obliged to restrict themselves to candidates who are available,  rather than the best. Combined this with stereotyping prejudice related to childcare  responsibilities in the recruitment process where illegal questioning is still commonplace, many excellent potential candidates are cut or not fully considered.

Absenteeism:  Many single parents do not have the 10 hours per day required by many employers locked into presence rather than results models. What they could offer is core, prime time hours contracts with flex time covering non core hours. Lack of flexibility leads to increased levels of absenteeism. U.S. companies reportedly lose $3 billion each year attributable to childcare related absences.

Lack of mobility:  many single parents cannot be geographically mobile. They may be restricted by custody and access arrangements under divorce agreements to relocate or travel. Perhaps they are reliant on local family members for support. Two career couples are also in the same situation having to factor in the overall responsibility of running their families. In a recent 3Plus Mini-Coaching event on Having it All ,  one participants told us that in her couple when it comes to travel “the first into the Google calendar wins.” This impacts recruitment cycles.

Retention:  with schools still operating on the same schedules that they have done probably for a hundred years, closed for 14 weeks a year with a 3.00pm or 4.00pm pick- up,  making that after school gap until they get home from work a parent’s worst nightmare to fill. This has spawned a host of after school businesses which eat into the incomes of all involved with no tax breaks or support.  Add to this routine medical care and possibly emergency  attention for kids,  there are a number of different demands made on parents which contribute to making life hard to manage.  There might also be an element of senior care and reverse parenting as their own parents age.  Under duress many women in particular leave their companies unable to find that elusive work/life balance.

Under-performance:  Other employees work below their potential accepting lower level jobs in exchange for flexibility.  Men who would be willing and want to share in these responsibilities and take paternity leave  are also discouraged by macho cultures. It is reported that men are twice as likely to be refused flex working conditions as  a woman.  Any investment made in employees early in their careers is  therefore not maximised.

Succession planning: Research from Right Management suggests that  an increasing number of Boomers are postponing complete retirement with a shift to working part-time. This can be attributed to the devaluation of savings and pensions,  but as the Boomer divorce rate surges many men at least,  go on to have second families well into their 50s. This makes early retirement a pipe dream with family commitments for an increasing number as late as mid- 60s,  reducing turnover at senior levels and therefore development opportunities for employees lower down the hierarchy.

So in an era of a declining population in most developed economies with aging populations to support,  organisations have to move away from out of date thinking and come up with some new approaches.  It is essentially basic maths. Something’s got to give.   The nuclear family is no longer the mainstay of our wider culture and cannot continue to be the lynch pin for our corporate environments.

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