Being a working parent is never easy. Juggling kids' schedules and work demands is tough enough when two partners are contributing, but when you're the only parent in the house, your job is that much harder.
Despite the challenges, single parents are often some of the most committed employees because they aren't just the major breadwinners in the house, but the only breadwinners, says single parent expert Dr. Leah Klungness.
How can HR help? Here are five things that would benefit your single parent employees as they manage the chaos of work and home better.
Backup Child Care
If the single parent fairy could grant a wish for single parent employees, many would hope for help with child care, says Klungness. Offering a place to bring a child who is too sick with a cold to go to school and yet too young to stay home alone would relieve one of the biggest challenges working families -- and working single parents especially -- cope with. Having backup care services as an employee benefit gives employees peace of mind and lets them get on with work. "The single parent's fantasy is to use their sick days for when they are sick," she says.
A single parent with an informed manager who welcomes communication is going to face fewer glitches when the unexpected happens. "Companies need to start with training their managers on handling workplace issues," says Angel Perez, president-elect for the South Florida affiliate of theNational Human Resources Association.
If managers have some understanding of the issues single parent employees face, they will be able to have an open conversation with employees when something comes up. And if HR provides management training programs to help managers get their expectations clearly stated, employees know what is expected of them when they face a blip in family life.
Helpful Tips for Parents
Offering more work-life programs is beneficial, says Ken Pinnock, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s ethics and corporate social responsibility and sustainability special expertise panel. Having those programs or classes during a lunch hour and not after work (when child care can be a problem) is even better.
"Single parents have many of the same needs as parents with partners," says Klungness, "but many of the tips HR puts out are wrong for many single parents." Time management tips like getting your spouse to take on more chores or stress reduction tips that include taking a bubble bath or running an extra mile often don't work for parents who have no one else to take up the slack when they're overloaded with chores or needing some time to relax.
Make sure your work-life programs address these needs. Ask your single parent employees about the stressors they face and then develop programs to help.
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No, starting a child care co-op isn't on the radar of most companies, but if it's something you're willing to try, your employees might benefit greatly, says Klungness. "Help single parents find support in creative ways to get that extra help and not overlook that single and married parents share the same challenges," she says. A parenting co-op through colleagues, where parents trade hours for hours, offers a reliable solution for all parents. The idea can even extend to rides for employees who live in the same area.
Flex Work Options
Just like other employees who have family care issues, sometimes a single parent's life will be turned around if a child gets sick or schools are closed. With no other parent to stay home, the single parent finds this an especially hard challenge. Workplace flexibility that offers the chance to work from home or to have an alternative schedule (maybe four 10-hour days, for example) helps single parents juggle all their commitments. If employees find the workplace unfriendly to their needs, they'll likely look somewhere else for a job.
The process is a two-way street. "HR can help facilitate parenting logistics," says Klungness. By helping make single parents' lives calmer and easier, they can become more productive workers.