So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

SIDE NOTE:  My blog is moving to our website — http://www.Education-Navigation.com — shortly so please visit me there.  I welcome your comments and more…

 

A Discussion Whose Time Has Come

I love pets.  Dogs, cats…wonderful creatures.  They share our homes and make us laugh in YouTube videos.   They’re special members of our families.  I used to have pets so I get it.  Truly.  And I know that comparing a Collie or short-hair to anything else is probably unfair.  But life isn’t always fair.

In the world of work/life where companies are striving for employees be happy and productive, many are offering “pet insurance” to ease the financial pressures pet owners face.  The thinking is that employees will worry less about the vet bill and more about the looming client deadline.  I’m in favor of anything that helps an employee balance — or better juggle — their often competing life responsibilities.  Which brings me to the comparison.

I just read an article where the focus was parents talking to parents about what to expect when their child is diagnosed with autism.  Nothing new, as I’ve spent 14 years *listening* in corporations, online forums, parent support groups, and a host of other places where parents come together to share the “real scoop” on life pre and post an autism diagnosis.  I’ve heard most of it and with every story heard, I find myself shaking my head both in disbelief and admiration.

In this recent article, one parent said: “Be prepared to go into debt, borrow from family, increase your mortgage, take out a line of credit to pay for interventions…”.   Go into debt.  Borrow from family.  Take out a line of credit. Can you imagine being a parent who needs to take out a loan to get your child what he or she needs?  Sitting down with your parents to ask them for money so their grandchild can learn to speak … or make a friend?  Trying to decide whether you can keep working to pay off that loan or repay your parents (not to mention pay for all the *other* needs) when the time you’ll need to orchestrate your child’s daily and weekly schedule will take far more than two weeks paid vacation or short-term family leave?

Which brings me back to pets.   I realize this may not be popular with the “pet set,” but if — as a former HR Director with a choice to make — I had to choose between supporting the needs of employees with children or pets, children win.  Hands-down.  Before the barbs are tossed, it’s important to say that in an ideal world, every employee’s needs would be supported so that everyone would be fully productive and engaged.  But this isn’t the ideal world and choices are part of the equation.  Companies grapple with decisions about where to put their limited benefits dollars and how many choices to offer employees when benefits options are included.  But — and my shield is poised — there’s a huge difference between helping an employee pay for a flea treatment vs. helping an employee raise a child.

Children who will attend college, work in companies, pay taxes.  Children who will make contributions to science, technology, performing arts.  Who will move from dependent children to independent adults poised to purchase the products and services your company produces or provides.  No one would ever want less for a child.  And no one would ever dare limit a child by a diagnosis.  Yet the future for these children rests on their parents — current working parents facing choices that defy description.

So it’s baffling to me that smart, forward-thinking companies seem to place more importance on helping employees care for their pets than to raise their children.   Is it a lack of understanding or a reluctance to get involved?  Or is it a preconceived idea that children with autism will not reach the expectations that many consider to be “typical” of children moving into adulthood so why bother?  No, it can’t be that.

A number of years ago, I worked with parents who sold their home and moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment turning their second bedroom into a therapy room for their child.  They also sold their second car and carried their “change of season” clothes packed into large plastic containers in the trunk of their car.  And just recently, I met parents who are in the throws of bankruptcy because they used every penny they had and maxed out their credit cards to support their child’s needs.  Life-altering choices are being made by employees every day to help their children.

Companies play a pivotal role here.   The same subsidies offered to employees trying to adopt should be offered to employees to help offset the staggering costs of therapies or home-interventions.  Discounts on legal support should be extended to employees in need of a special education attorney to secure a private school for their child.  On-site health fairs should include experts in special needs and special education to enable employees to access supports and resources easily and more cost-effectively.  With health and stress-reduction being core areas of focus in the workplace, few things compare to the financial, family, work, and personal pressures on an employee raising a 6-year-old or 13-year-old with autism.

I have nothing against pets.  Really, no problems at all.  But a problem does exist when supporting tails that wag or fluffy balls that purr seem to take priority.  A disconnect exists — companies are striving and competing to achieve “best company” status yet are overlooking the growing number of working parents desperately needing a lifeline.  Pets and children can live together beautifully both at home and in the workplace, however when a choice needs to be made, the child has to win every time.

Train To Sustain & Retain

I count myself among those who believe that organizations can adapt and respond to fast-changing employee needs.  And indeed, many organizations do provide a range of programs and supports geared toward meeting some of these needs and keeping their employees happy or, at least, helping them to better manage their work/life responsibilities.

Yet there is a critical piece of the equation often lacking yet it surfaces periodically in articles and commentaries about today’s work environment and deserves more focus — the importance of training and supporting those charged with actually implementing many of these programs and supports.  Take flexible work options, for example.  Policies may be in place for employees to be able to work flexibly yet many state that they do not take advantage of these policies for fear that it will preclude them from … fill-in-the-blank — being considered for the next promotion, being assigned the upcoming project, or being asked to travel unexpectedly to a client site.

Policies that are not utilized need to be examined and more times than not, there are obstacles both on the “giving” and “receiving” side.  Without question, the obstacles are rooted in a lack of understanding, familiarity, and skills to enable both parties to have a win/win so that the programs and supports — often touted as being a critical part of the organization’s retention efforts — are actually used.  With the ever-increasing competition to be recognized as a “best” company, organizations need to move beyond the offering stage to ensure that what’s offered in writing is being used in practice.

If a manager has never managed someone who is telecommuting two days per week, they need training to understand how to do it.  This makes the policy sustainable because, well…it’s being used.  If an employee needs or wants to utilize a program or service yet is reluctant to do so for whatever the reason, internal communications vehicles need to assess this and determine three things:

  1. What is the obstacle (or obstacles);
  2. What is the reason for the obstacle/s; and
  3. What do we need to do to remove the obstacle/s to generate and increase usage.

It usually falls to an employee’s manager to give the “go-ahead” whether verbally or otherwise to proceed.  And while the words can be “yes,” more times than not it’s the non-verbals that convey otherwise.  Organization-wide training is essential when any new program or service is offered and the training needs to go well beyond describing what it is, who can use it, how much it will cost, and when it begins.  The training needs to continue well into implementation for there’s a huge difference between offering something and using it.

Value-added training drills down into the culture of the organization to understand the opportunities and barriers.  It enables organizations to know how change needs to be introduced and what adjustments need to be made along the way.  As we all know, change often comes slowly and this is definitely the case when an organization is providing employees with an opportunity to do things differently.  Even with the good stuff, it’s essential to train in order to sustain and to retain.