Parenthood Motivates Workers To Be More Productive, New Report Shows

Being a parent is actually a superpower in the workforce and employers need to recognize it.

<p>GettyImages/Delmaine Donson</p>

GettyImages/Delmaine Donson

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

When I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, I also found out that the company I worked for at the time had no formal maternity leave policy. It was up to me—with zero direction or support from HR or my manager—to “Frankenstein” together a combination of sick time, vacation time, and short-term disability. That still only added up to a few weeks of paid time off without taking into account any possible complications.

The bigger stress, however, would be going back to work. My company wasn’t supportive of my imminent postpartum needs so it was no shock that any flexibility as a full-fledged “working mom” was non-existent. It was actually a relief when that company laid me off at six months pregnant.

That was almost 10 years ago and, since then, I took control of my work schedule and caregiving needs by becoming a full-time freelancer. But I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if I didn’t get laid off. Could I have successfully made a case for myself and all the caregivers at that company?

My experience is commonplace in the workforce. A new survey found parents are seeking more family-friendly benefits. And when businesses support parents’ caregiving needs, those parents can become their most productive and profitable employees.

The Fifth Trimester, a company that helps businesses support and retain caregiving employees to advance their gender equity goals, conducted the research with Vivvi, a company providing child care and early learning for families while partnering with employers to make care more accessible and affordable for working parents.

“People don't care about their caregiving population as much as they should, so we wanted to prove the value of that population and how it benefits leaders and CEOs,” explains Lauren Hobbs, the CMO of Vivvi. “Company leadership at large get scared off by thinking that they have to spend millions of dollars to provide something, when in fact we really uncovered that that's not necessary. Of course, it's amazing, but it's not actually the silver bullet approach to every employee's needs.”

One of the most important caveats is these findings do not only apply to major, Fortune 500 companies with seemingly bigger budgets. “Many examples, from an ROI (return on investment) impact perspective, were just as impactful from companies that were starting small with a reimbursement or a flexible backup care program—companies that didn't necessarily have the resources to build infrastructure on their campus or have subsidized full-time care,” says Hobbs.

What the Report on Working Parents Shows

In the report, “The R.O.I. of Caregiving Benefits,” they surveyed more than 300 caregivers and featured 10 individual case studies from employees at companies, including Etsy and Estée Lauder, as well as school teachers and hourly employees.

The numbers from the survey show that family benefits are becoming non-negotiable as 9 out of 10 respondents said that they’d rather have an ongoing child care subsidy of $10,000 than an immediate $10,000 cash bonus. And many ranked child care benefits to be more desirable than a 401k retirement plan.

These benefits make being a working caregiver easier. It also helps them stay motivated, disproving the narrative that once you have a kid, you might under-deliver in the workplace.

“Everything we were seeing in our day-to-day work showed the exact opposite—that’s why it was important to give CEOs and business leaders the data that actually shows what's real,” explains Lauren Brody, CEO of The Fifth Trimester. “When people have the support they need, their children actually motivate them to be more productive, to be more profitable, to want to stay at their jobs longer.”

Survey respondents shared that their caregiving responsibilities do encourage them to be “more productive and efficient” and to “do meaningful work” with 57% of respondents saying that if their employer had backup or subsidized child care, they would take on higher-level work.

For example, Evangeline Eng, an associate fellow at Estée Lauder Companies, does the majority of her work in the early morning hours to align with her kids' school day, as well as the members of her team in Europe. Because so much of her work is done early, Eng takes advantage by using the afternoon to hold office hours and use that time—time she would not have otherwise—to mentor other employees. “That's a much more exponentially valuable use of her time than just answering some emails,” explains Brody.

It's a similar situation for Madeline Bloch, senior director of strategic marketing at Phreesia, who is the mother of a baby girl. She works on a fully remote team and explains that the supportive culture at Phreesia has increased her productivity and helped with balancing her work and family life. The company, she says, honors when parents have to sign off to pick up a child or take time to accompany a sick relative to an appointment. 

Marissa Comart, assistant general counsel for employment at Etsy, says, “At Etsy, we have seen firsthand how providing comprehensive caregiving benefits is good for business,” explains Comart, who adds Etsy provides robust benefits across all life stages for all employees who live in nearly all 50 states.

Benefits matter, as does having a culture that embraces working caregivers. “Parents and women get promoted just as much as non-parents and men,” says Comart. “This isn’t just good for women, it’s good for business.”

"57% of respondents say that if their employer had backup or subsidized child care, they would take on higher-level work. "

Being Seen in the Workplace Can Be Tough When You’re a Parent

Unfortunately, not everyone feels their company understands their needs with only 22% of survey respondents feeling “very welcome” to express their identity as caregivers at work. And only 21% report that their current benefits “mostly” or “very well” address that identity.

With the skyrocketing costs of child care and all the demands, it can be why many parents have left their jobs. Shortly after the pandemic, about 3.5 million moms with school-age children left the workforce, according to the Census Bureau.

Leslie Forde, CEO and founder of Moms Hierarchy of Needs, says if you’re looking at a long-term employment match, just like with any relationship, you want to be able to come in with your whole self.

“You want to be able to ascend to the top of the 'mom's hierarchy of needs' on a daily basis, which includes sleep, movement, nutrition, stress management, healthy adult relationships, and learning—all the things that allow us to manage cortisol in our bodies and manage stress,” Forde explains. “Otherwise, you burn out. It's bad for your family. It's bad for you. It's bad for your career. So you need to find an employer that not only says they're flexible, but actually demonstrates it.”

If you’re unsure that your manger or overall employer is going to be supportive, Forde advises finding a safe space inside of your organization—such as an Employee Resource Group [ERG] for parents and caregivers—and use it to advocate for the type of flexibility, benefits, or practices that you need. And if you don't have an ERG, try and collaborate with your colleagues.

"I've seen many examples of people who informally got together with other parents to ask for and advocate for those things,” says Forde. “There’s some safety in numbers. It can feel very career limiting to try to self-advocate or even try to set healthy boundaries with your boss or employer if you don't feel you have psychological safety.”

And if you are not able to work with a group, Forde recommends presenting what would be the “win” for your organization.

“It might be saying, ‘I’m so excited about project A. Thank you for choosing me to work on it. But last week, project B was the most important thing and if I start working on project A too, it will consume a lot of resources. Can we reprioritize or consider a different deadline for project B? Which one is more important?’” explains Forde. “You then put the question to your employer, and you let them tell you what is priority and force them to recognize that too many competing spinning plates will lead to a bad outcome for the organization—not just a bad outcome for you as an individual.”

How To Make These Results Work for You

Whether you’re job searching or want to improve the benefits your current employer offers for caregivers, Brody empowers you to use the results of the research to back up your asks. And it's not just for families with babies and young children. For example, 18% of survey respondents provide care for a non-spouse adult such as an aging parent.

The first step in any negotiation is convincing yourself.

"It often feels that the first time people negotiate for anything, it's with the highest stake of having a brand new baby—and that's really, really hard to do,” says Brody. “But if you know that you're doing it not just for your own personal need, but that actually you're helping your business be better and be able to recruit higher quality people, retain them longer, and help you do better work—that really helps people come into those conversations in a way that is much more aimed at a mutually beneficial solution.”

Forde emphasizes that caring for your own health is critical to manage all of the stress, strain, and effort that comes with parenting—because if you go down in flames, it won’t be good for you, your kids, or your family.

“Burnout and success are not positively correlated. That exhausted person who hasn't had enough sleep, who doesn't have enough staff to support their key performance indicators at work, who is over indexing on responsibility at home or at work—that person is not going to come up with the innovative idea or have the clarity of thought to solve the next big problem at an organization,” says Forde. “It's beneficial for the organization to have healthy, happy, and clear headed employees—and that comes with people taking care of themselves.”

And with that support, parents are more productive, more profitable, and more motivated at work—and they also have more desire to find meaning in their work.

Bottom line: you have agency over your career decisions, says Brody. You can decide if where you are working—even with a good salary—is worth it without the right caregiving support and benefits.

“I call it the ‘compromise’ math that you can do in your head to determine if it’s worth it and how much it matters to you,” says Brody. “The research shows that support that lets you thrive is going to matter and mean even more to you [and other workers] in a way that impacts your deliverables.”

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