In the past year, leading companies like Facebook, Deloitte, Netflix, and EY have entered into something of a work-life cold war, with bigger and better benefits for working parents as the weapon of choice. The prize: Millennial employees.
Many of these companies are gambling that providing more leave is an essential step in retaining Millennial talent, especially as they prepare for Boomer retirements and Millennials’ transition to parenting. But to retain talent today, employers are going to have to do more than just offer more parental leave.
Managed well -- and applied to the right work, social, and family contexts -- parental leave, flexibility, and other work-life benefits can greatly improve work and life. But managed poorly or incorrectly, these same programs can damage reputations and career prospects. This risk is especially high for early adopters of new benefits and workforce programs.
That’s a lot to lay at the feet of already overwhelmed working parents.
Having to manage increasingly complex webs of work-life options can be as overwhelming and anxiety provoking as trying to understand your Facebook privacy settings. This constant stream of information can cause decision paralysis for some. Unable to choose the right supports to suit their needs, these employees miss out completely on benefits that could truly help them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a sense of obligation can set in for some. These employees feel compelled to make use of every benefit available, whether or not each is actually helpful.
Even when making choices deliberately, overwhelmed employees sometimes miscalculate what options would work best for their unique visions of personal and professional success. Or they may not know how to ask for the supports that fit their goals.
For overwhelmed working parents, benefits must come with guidance and support.
Our study, New Parents in Corporate America: Coaching for Success, found that working parents are weighed down by myriad concerns. And these concerns can’t be solved through corporate programs alone. Chief among these are:
- how supervisors and coworkers will view them if they break from traditional, work-first expectations;
- how to manage their reputations, time, and emotions; and
- how to navigate workplace, familial, and cultural expectations
Ultimately, the working parents on your workforce -- and, really, all employees -- need more than just new programs. They need help figuring out their work-life goals. And they need help using their employer's resources and programs to pursue those goals effectively. This is especially true for those in forward-thinking organizations who offer an array of ever-evolving supports.
The traditional approach: Role models & mentors
Traditionally, organizations have turned to role models and mentors to provide the clarity their employees need as they navigate parenthood and their careers.
While these options have their merits, they also have flaws. For example, traditional role models show what’s been successful in the past. However, senior role models likely built their careers under very different circumstances than the junior employees looking up to them. Their experiences, while valuable, simply don’t resonate with younger generations faced with many more choices and tradeoffs.
On the other hand, mentors directly engage with their mentees to help them find their own way to success. Yet, as coworkers, mentors may be reluctant to share their trials and mistakes lest they somehow damage their own reputations as successful leaders. Presented with a sanitized vision of working parenthood, mentees may end up frustrated as they question why they struggle to find answers that seemingly came so easily to their mentor.
To truly help today’s work parents craft new approaches to work-life success, we need new methods that are dynamic and engaging, and that honestly reflect the issues people face in work and life today.
Learning circles: Peer-to-peer partnerships
In learning circles (virtual and in person), people share knowledge and reflect on problems and possible solutions together. Many learning circles are comprised of peer networks. By teaming participants up with people like themselves, learning circles allow people to engage with their challenges head-on together. There’s no outside “expert” who’s been there before, likely in a different time or place. This makes learning circles a great option for helping working parents navigate challenges at each stage of their experience, whereas more senior employee experiences simply don’t illuminate much about the challenges faced by modern parents now.
Yet, internal learning circles may still struggle with fears of too much disclosure if employees need to share exclusively with people in their own company. Also, without any expert facilitators, the circles are limited by the breadth of knowledge contained in the network—which will shift over time as members come and go, taking their insights and experiences with them.
Coaching: An action-oriented partnership
Coaching (one-on-one and group) is an action-oriented partnership between coach and employee. And it's often an employer's best change at long-term success. Leading employers like Deloitte, KPMG,Proskauer, and many others already utilize coaching programs as a tool to retain working parents and ease work-life stress.
Coaches help their clients develop customized strategies to achieve their unique personal and professional goals. Like role models and mentors, coaches provide insight culled from experience. But, as professionals trained in guiding clients, these insights are explicitly shaped by the employee’s context -- not the coach’s.
As external agents, one-on-one coaches can provide a safe place to share and get feedback on potentially embarrassing information. In group settings, coaches can constructively guide conversations and foster connections between employees who can learn from one another.
The main drawback to coaching is the cost of providing a coach to each employee; however under the right circumstances, the ROI could be significant
An employer’s best chance for long-term success
No program, advice or support is perfect, and employees may benefit from a variety of resources throughout their careers. Employers who want to support employees’ work-life journeys must not only provide a wealth of options but must also support their efforts to weave those options into a long-term strategy for success.