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How Managers Can Support Working Parents

Dad working from home while caring for baby.

Working parents have their hands full like never before. So do businesses.

Parents of kids in K-12 schools or even college may need to overhaul their household in response to learning-method shifts that can happen at the drop of a hat. Those with younger children must secure childcare in an environment where many day care centers are closed and extended family members may or may not be able to pitch in.

Businesses have to adjust on the fly to new market realities, new processes and communication methods, and new demands on often rapidly evolving organizational charts. And that’s on top of managing the regular slate of deadlines and quotas. 

Working parents have to make huge adjustments on both sides of the work/life divide. 

And managers have to lead, encourage and support working parents to deliver without sacrificing productivity.

To find out how managers can support working parents, we spoke to two Mom managers at Aerotek: Director of Employee Experience Mary Ann Jolliffe and Director of Market Operations Jodi Nutall. 

They recommend the following adjustments to your managerial approach:

Understand specific challenges faced by each parent 

Managers who don't have kids but manage working parents might need to do a little more work to truly understand parental challenges, manage their team’s workflows, and empower team members with kids to get work done. 

But even for managers with kids of their own, assuming you understand each team member’s specific situation based on your own experience is a mistake.


“You can’t classify parents into one group,” says Jolliffe. “Just as every kid is different, the challenges faced by their parents depend on a variety of factors - ages, abilities, schools, districts, and risk factors all add up to a unique situation.”

Managers across every industry have been familiar with the maxim “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” since it first appeared in Stephen Covey’s landmark 1989 book, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." In the current environment, this rule has taken on renewed significance.

Encourage honest communication

Effective communication is a two-way street. Just as managers need to understand challenges, they also need to encourage honest feedback about pain points and struggles.

“Employers and employees both need to be up front about what is needed from each to meet business deadlines,” says Nutall. To get to the point of establishing the necessary transparency on both sides of the relationship, adds Jolliffe, “Think of every contact point in terms of creating connection and building confidence.”

To encourage honest feedback from employees, managers need to respond by instituting flexible methods, collaborative experimentation, and continual process adjustments. “When there’s dialogue, you learn more. You may even find a new way of doing things that works better for everybody,” says Jolliffe. 

That’s only achievable in a trusting environment where everybody is honest and open.

Set detailed performance expectations

It may seem counterintuitive, but setting clear expectations for performance, production, and delivery actually reduces the stress felt by employees - especially overburdened parents.

“Setting expectations is critical,” says Jolliffe. “You can be as kind and understanding as possible, but if you’re not clear on what needs to happen, that just adds another layer of stress for people.”

As much as it’s appreciated, empathetic leadership isn’t an end in itself. The desired result is greater team cohesion and productivity. “Empathy doesn’t mean having to solve problems for other people,” says Nutall. “The goal of a manager is to empower employees to figure out how to get things done.” 

Managers also need to set expectations for themselves and engage proactively in conversations about expectations for the organization as a whole.

Consolidate and highlight resources

Successful managers understand that advocacy on behalf of their employees is a key aspect of their role. This is especially important now, as organizations evolve to more effectively support the needs of modern working parents.

Managers can also support their working parent colleagues by consolidating and highlighting existing resources. There may be aspects of your current organizational partnerships and services that can help parents specifically. 

“This could be anything from an online curriculum through a learning and development portal to options through employee assistance programs or employee resource groups,” says Jolliffe.

Encourage and empower positivity

The challenges faced by working parents are very real and often extremely difficult. Managers shouldn’t discount the utility of a good, old-fashioned pep talk.

“People may be in a fragile state,” says Jolliffe. “You want to listen and understand and be empathetic, but you also want to boost confidence and promote a growth mindset.”

There are many different ways to do that, and they can vary in effectiveness from employee to employee. Nutall recommends experimentation. “Maybe you increase the number of scheduled one-on-ones with your employees. Maybe one of those becomes a simple coffee check-in,” she says. “Even if the talk isn’t strictly work-related, taking 20 minutes to talk to another adult can be just what a parent needs.”

Find ways to add energy, boost confidence, get people excited about what they do, and make everybody feel connected, human and part of the team. 

Working as a parent is tough. But working for a manager who leads with understanding, transparency, clarity, support, and positivity can make the “work” side of the work/life equation feel much easier.

“Because our leadership keeps us motivated, I’m able to work harder myself as a working parent,” says Nuttall. “As a manager it’s my responsibility to extend the same support and resources to my employees.”

To start a conversation about how to support your employees and contractors, reach out to a partner you can trust. Contact Aerotek today.