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How can workplaces better support working parents?

Recent studies have shown that poor mental health costs Australia $180 billion a year, and for parents who are juggling their careers with familial duties, their mental health can be significantly affected.

In conversation with Wellness Daily, AccessEAP clinical services director Marcela Slepica said that in order to support those parents and contribute to better mental health, businesses must take the time to help and assist their employees and offer flexibility whenever they can.

If businesses do not embrace and offer flexible working arrangements, she warned, they run the risk of their staff “becoming disillusioned with the business, resulting in higher absenteeism and staff retention”.

“This can financially cost the business in recruitment and training costs. Employees who are respected and trusted to deliver their responsibilities are likely to be more engaged and usually put in more effort,” she explained.

That said, there are many ways that workplaces can better improve organisational outcomes if they support working parents who might be struggling to balance work and home life, Ms Slepica said.

She offered numerous tips, including: “Practically re-evaluate job descriptions to provide role clarity and consider job sharing or part-time options if possible; look into introducing working-from-home arrangements, and give staff a sense of control over their work and work environment, which mitigates work/life pressures.”

In addition, she advised: “Flexible hours to accommodate child care arrangements. It is generally known that employees who have flexible working hours are more productive as they can work around their personal needs and will often work more than their hours, discuss with employees what will be most supportive e.g. schedule meetings earlier in the day rather than at the end of the day when parents need to pick up children, support strategies that encourage staff to look after themselves such as mindfulness, exercise, time out and other wellbeing initiatives, and foster a workplace culture of civility and respect, it may be that some options are available to all staff and not just working parents.”

Agile workplaces are the future, Ms Slepica surmised, and employers need to look at how they can work with employees and meet the needs of the business as well as the employees.

When it comes to successfully encouraging workers to take up the myriad options that can and should be available to them, she said that many workers will imitate their leaders, and thus it is important for managers to lead by example wherever possible.

“Provide support to encourage leaders to focus on mentally healthy workplaces. Leaders should examine workplace HR policies to see how organisations can assist parents and carers,” Ms Slepica suggested.

“Managers should also be open and approachable, normalise and talk about wellbeing and the pressures of different and competing demands. Managers can educate themselves about the warning signs to look out and to offer assistance and support.”

“Employees who worry about losing their jobs or experience a ‘blame’ culture are not engaged employees and may impact on others or choose to leave the organisations. It is important for leaders to look at friendly family practices as well as flexible working options and to ‘walk the talk’,” she concluded.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain