3 Steps HR can take to retain working parents

How much influence does HR have over the longer-term success of parental-leave returners?  How much of it is down to managers?  Or does the ‘secret’ to retention lie purely in an individual’s personal circumstances and outlook?

If we have the answers to these questions, it puts us in a much stronger position to support and build that talent pipeline.  And in the face of the fact that there are now 1 million more working mums in England alone than there were 20 years ago, we need to know what to do about it.

The Harvard Business Review also recognises the importance of retaining working parents:

In the current economic and cultural landscape, the Working Parent Problem has moved up to the forefront of leadership concerns, and it’s going to stay there. Ignored, it can become a powerful and insidious threat to your team and organization’s success.

So what can HR do?

  1. Be passionate

We work with some amazing HR teams.  The HR individuals who make the biggest difference are undoubtedly the ones with the most passion and drive to retain female talent and the ones who recognise that working dads also need support to carve healthier work/family balance.  One-to-one meetings through the parental-transition period ensure new parents feel supported and part of the organisation.  Explanation of the policies and entitlements can also be really helpful – some parents we speak to didn’t understand Shared Parental Leave so missed out completely.  In addition, being an enabler and champion of flexible working discussions is something which is valued highly.

  1. Help managers

It’s common knowledge that employees don’t leave their organisations, they leave their managers.  Communication breakdown or failure to build the manager/employee relationship are the 2 most common reasons for parents leaving, especially because love of the job (or at least deriving a sense of value from work) is more important to any parent sacrificing family time for work-life.  If managers can learn to embrace flexibility and be open and creative to achieving productivity in different ways, all employees benefit, not just working parents.  However, they need help!  Ensure your managers have access to good leadership development, coaching and mentoring.

  1. Support individuals

Most parents HAVE to work to keep the roof over the family’s head or to save for the family’s future security.  However, the happiest working parents, and therefore probably those who stay the longest and progress to senior roles, are the ones who know what their future goals are and recognise where they are heading longer-term, even when going through the bad patches.

Life as a working parent can deplete emotional and physical energy levels.  Those with a positive, optimistic and open attitude, and a willingness to change and develop, will have the edge for long-term success – but are you giving them the time and space for reflection?  Sometimes people just need to feel listened to – does your HR team or your EAP offer this?

These individuals are also much more likely to seek out support networks in and out of work, or mentoring opportunities – both can support progression into more senior roles.

So, can we make a difference to retention and productivity?  Of course!  Thinking about supporting from these 3 angles is, however, of fundamental importance, as one level of support builds on the other.  Coaching, mentoring and networking opportunities for the individuals to assess their circumstances and develop a positive outlook, coupled with supportive managers and HR will make all the difference.