Today is National Working Parents day.
A 2017 study found that 70.5% of women and 92.8% of men with children under the age of 18 are working in the US labour force. That same study found that more than half of these parents find it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. As a working parent myself, I know how hard it can be.
Parents constantly work to balance the responsibilities of the job, to themselves, and to their children. It can result in the inability to find a proper work-life with no time to feel steady, secure or even calm in between. I believe that this highlights a gap where companies themselves can be doing more to support the parents who work for them.
That is why, on this National Working Parents Day, I want to talk about the missing support for parents from companies and how companies in construction can be doing more to support working parents.
Women in the Workplace
Women in particular are greatly affected by a lack of corporate support once they become moms. Referred to as The Motherhood Penalty, being a mom has been proven to negatively impact a woman's career more than almost any other factor. These impacts include a decrease in wages of up to 4% and being passed on for promotions because of stereotypes that they can’t handle the pressure and focus of a high level job while being a mom. The Motherhood Penalty results in women being forced into a career plateau and ultimately supports the stereotype that a woman must sacrifice her professional career for motherhood.
Companies need to be held accountable in supporting working parents - both moms and dads - in every industry, including construction.
In light of the labour shortage the industry has been facing, women have been identified as the next generation of construction workers and equipment operators. If companies do not do more to support working parents then they are turning away women from the industry before they even apply.
At the same time, men are becoming more involved in childcare duties. In fact, parenting trends indicated that millennials expect parenting benefits for both mothers and fathers from jobs. This relates to the fact that both parents work full time in 46% of families - both are working and both want to be involved at home. It is imperative to the future of construction itself to do more to support parents or risk falling behind the new expectations of employees.
Supporting Parents Is Good For Business
Aside from securing the next generation of workers, supporting parents is actually a smart business move. An article by Forbes explores how supporting parents can contribute to company growth in the future. Studies show that empowering employees to maintain a work-life balance increases productivity, supports future business growth and generates greater profits for a company. In addition to this, happier employees actually have more productive work hours, leading to increased profits for companies overall.
Traditional Support for Working Parents
Companies often try to step up for their employees by offering flexible working hours and additional sick days for parents. While this can work well for those who are in an office or are paid by salary, construction is a unique industry that these “go to” solutions won’t necessarily work in.
Construction Manager published an article which challenges this and examines how flex working hours can work for moms in the construction industry. In this article, Lucy Homer, head of design at Lendlease Construction, stated that finding a system for parents working a site job is possible if everyone is open to it.
“It’s all a question of organization and education. Organization in terms of scheduling your work and how that impacts others and the project, and education in terms of communicating to colleagues and suppliers that you work to a particular set of hours.” - Lucy Homer
While Homer makes an excellent point about the importance of everyone being on board with the changes, of being open to education and organizational change and the role active communication can have in supporting these changes, sometimes the nature of the job simply does not support or allow flexible working hours.
The industry is based largely around hourly wages and full crews needing to be present to work together to get the job done.
Does this mean that if a company cannot provide flexible working hours, they can’t take steps to support working parents?
No. That is not true at all.
How Construction Companies Can Support Working Parents
The education and organizational adjustment that Homer talked about can be applied in ways that offer support to parents even without providing flex hours. Companies should think bigger than flex hours and embrace how they can support working parents and help them find and maintain a proper work life balance.
Some ways that companies can support working parent are to:
have paid maternity and paternity leave
provide family health and dental benefits
support a work culture that supports emergency family care days
help parents in securing a child care provider
create a safe place for returning moms to pump breast milk
Paid Maternity & Paternity Leave
Paid maternity and paternity leave should be a standard for all companies. While maternity leave is more than common, paternity leave is not. The expectation of millennial workers, however, is that both are provided. 89% of millennial men expect paternity leave to be offered to them and 83% said they were more likely to join a company that offers a benefit like paternity leave.
Job insecurity can lead to chronic stress and is known to actually make people sick. Knowing that you can take the time to spend with a new baby without being afraid of losing your job is of great value. It is a standard way that companies can support parents and should be offered by all companies to both fathers and mothers.
Health & Dental Benefits
An article by Construction Dive explores how more than half of the top 20 professions in the USA least likely to have insurance are in the construction industry. Construction is a physical industry so healthcare should be a priority. Parents should be confident in their ability to have access to healthcare for themselves and their family if they were to get sick or if something were to happen at work. Studies have shown that access to health insurance actually reduces parental stress, both emotionally and financially.
Guilt-Free Emergency Days Without Penalty
Providing guilt-free emergency care days for parents for situations that involve children can help alleviate the pressure parents feel to choose between work and their children. A study conducted in 2014 about the balance between working women and childcare found that 39% of mothers and 3% of fathers had to stay home when their children are sick. Being understanding and shame-free about a parent having to stay home one day is a great and easy way for companies to support working parents
Support with Child Care
Being able to get to work on time goes hand-in-hand with having a reliable child care provider. Construction jobs often require early hours or extended hours and finding a child care provider who is able to offer the hours of coverage needed can be hard.
Subsidizing the cost of daycare and setting up a relationship with a local child care provider who can provide care and maybe even hold spots for employee’s children are great ways to support parents. Having a backup care provider for extended work hours or if a primary care provider is sick is another way to help parents get to work every day as stress-free as possible.
A Place to Pump
Taking Homer’s note about organization and education to heart, companies can plan ahead to help make new moms comfortable at work and feel welcomed back as a mom. Support from a supervisor who encourages the additional break time needed and who sets up an allocated spot for women to pump breast milk can greatly decrease the amount of stress a new mom could have when returning to work.
Companies and supervisors can plan ahead and make it their responsibility to plan ahead instead of putting it upon the mom to “figure out”. Having a separate office trailer set up on site with a locking door, hydro and fridge to store pumped breast milk can support new moms. No mom should be asked to pump in their cars or the site porta potty.
Ownership Should Start At The Top
By taking ownership of the role they play between a parent and their children, companies can help to ease the stress parents feel and support their employees to live happier lives
The role of both men and women as parents is changing; men are becoming more involved in childcare while women have become a large part of the workforce. If more than half of working parents are stressed about maintaining a work-life balance then there is a lot of good that can be done by companies by supporting parents.