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How Can HR Best Support Working Parents?

Becoming a parent is a complex life transition. For many, the extent of the impact on their life and wellbeing can come as a surprise because although the birth and the first few weeks and months are assumed to be challenging, it is the longer-term impact that can take its toll. Returning to work after maternity or family leave is known to be a big transition and one which benefits from specialised support such as coaching, but as children develop, their needs – and the needs of their parents – evolve and change.  

The Bright Horizons Modern Families Report 2024 found that demand for employers that provide support for working families is higher than ever. Mental health concerns for both parents and children are becoming more important and they found that women are “most impacted on almost every level” citing the mental load and the difficulties progressing in their careers whilst working flexibly as key barriers. Based on my experience of coaching working parents for several years, I would add that as children grow and lives change, working parents face challenges that impact on their wellbeing in other ways. For example, educational or behavioural difficulties in their children, financial concerns and divorce. 


Mental Health 

Two in five (39%) of working parents of children under the age of eighteen say they’d like mental health support in the workplace (YouGov poll). Mental health can fluctuate as circumstances change and has many different symptoms and signs. Organisations can take proactive steps to ensure that mental health is talked about and provide support. For example: 


  • Introduce trained mental health champions 

  • Engage senior stakeholders to promote active mental health and share stories  

  • Run regular staff surveys to check in on wellbeing and gather feedback 

  • Invest in training line managers to spot signs and take appropriate action 

  • Develop a wellbeing strategy that may include access to exercise classes, workshops on nutrition and sleep and corporate subscriptions to mindfulness apps 

  • Encourage lunch breaks and consider offering wellbeing or health days 

  • Provide real and practical help such as support with childcare, parenting guidance and access to a GP 

  • Offer coaching beyond the parental transition. For example, specialist coaching for the menopause and divorce.  


Mental Load 

Research by BCG found that the increased mental load on women has consequences for most companies, primarily by slowing the progression of talent through the pipeline. Women who are parents are still ambitious, but it is much harder when they are juggling so much both at home and at work. Forward thinking organisations can take steps to support parents by ensuring flexible working options are available and by establishing peer-to-peer networks. Helping parents to help each other enables them to feel less alone, share ideas and resources and facilitates a sense of community. Offering broader structural support is also highly valued. For example, access to childcare, emergency nannies, financial and wellbeing advice. 


For parents themselves, in my coaching practice a practical step that I see many parents take is to implement a framework to help them manage the mental load. After all, what gets measured, usually gets done! This may be a weekly meeting to review what needs to be done and when, or even a shared task list. However, for single parent households, the mental load often sits on one person’s shoulders and if relations between parents are fractious, this can amplify any mental health challenges. One in four households are headed by a single parent, and research by Gingerbread shows that the financial situation of 2 in 3 single parents is worse than 12 months prior (2022) and the cost-of-living crisis is taking a significant toll on the wellbeing of single parents.  


In summary, organisations that take a proactive and comprehensive approach to supporting working parents and actively market this will enjoy a competitive advantage. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about how we can support you and your working parents. 

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.  

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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