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Can working parents succeed?

Imagine you’re a few months into a new job when your newborn is diagnosed with a developmental delay. You’re too new to the company and therefore ineligible for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Your child’s pediatrician recommends physical therapy once a week. You assume a recurring once-a-week appointment during business hours is a reasonable enough request from a working parent. You ask for moderate flexibility and the answer goes something like this:

“The department needs someone who can be here 100% of the time for collaboration. But we’d be happy to write you a recommendation!”

Labor laws don’t require employers to retain employees with less than the hours of service required who can’t work, even if the reason is legitimate.

Now you find yourself—a seasoned pro turned parent—stuck at appointments and playgrounds, even though you want to work. If this is the reality for working parents of special needs children, what about parents who are burning out or who just want to be home more?

We could steer into the skid here and write a blog post we’ve essentially written before, touting the need for clarity when discussing flexibility, and the benefits of strong, authentic company values. But that is not our purpose for this post. What we want you to see is how easily parenthood can sideline a person’s career, and what you as a manager and employer can do to help.

Help working parents succeed

There are more ways to help your employees besides the laws that force you to, which despite federal regulations are still subject to loopholes and violations if the eligibility requirements don’t already exclude them. Employers can help working parents succeed at home and work by providing expanded parental leaves, more flexibility with hours, and remote working options.

When it comes to hiring, rather than battle your competition for full-time fresh blood who require a lot of handholding with no guarantee of a return on investment, why not tap the parental talent pool interested in part time work?

Professional parents are often eager to work, just in a different way. Some want to work less than the full 40 hours a week, some prefer to work from home, or set a schedule that deviates from the standard 9 to 5 and rather work the hours needed to get the job done.

Communicate needs

We’ve said it before and we’ll surely say it again: Communication is key. When it comes to hiring parents, be clear about the needs of your company, and ask them about their specific needs. Does their child have a sitting appointment every week which requires a modified schedule? Will they need to arrive early and leave late? Whatever the needs on both sides, communicating and agreeing to them helps new hires integrate faster and stick around longer.

“Returnships” & “Maternityships”

You’re no doubt familiar with internships and similar work-training programs. What about a hybrid program that helps parents reclaim their professional status? A returnship is great for employees who’ve been out focusing on caregiving for a few years, but who already have most of the hard skills your company needs. A maternityship option covers your out-going employee with a parent who’s looking to reenter the workforce.

Just like the traditional contract, these innovative work-training programs are a great way for parents to dip their toes back in the professional waters, and they help companies try potential hires on for size. Plus, there are obvious moral implications that just make you feel good if not also work for your public relations exposure.

Increase female diversity

 It comes as no surprise that corporate diversity is good for everyone. By helping mothers reenter the workforce, your organization can grow its female leadership with experienced and diverse professionals. Not only will this talent help meet your diversity initiatives, but they’ll be able to immediately flex their skills and contribute to your organization.

Fathers are parents too!

We and a lot of other organizations recognize that fathers are parents too. That’s a good start, but let’s take it a step further. Employers can help fathers be deeply involved in raising their children by simply allowing the same standards and attitudes for working dads as they do working moms. This includes things like fully paid extended paternity leave and adoption leave, support for children with special needs, backup childcare, flexible schedules/telecommuting, and employee resource groups specifically for men, just to name a few!


Building a workplace that’s parent friendly is bigger than just accommodating those with kids. It takes an all-around supportive culture, meaning the big wigs and the little wigs support working parents. But it’s not just about catering to the parents. Finding ways that truly help balance work and home life boosts morale, productivity and financial performance. So not only are parental policies the right thing to do, they’re also good for business.