Maternity or parental leaves represent the longest planned absence of an employee from the workplace. In Slovenia, they are relatively long, lasting for 12 months or more, and parents can divide the leave between themselves.
When it comes to an individual who holds a key position within a company, especially in the case of smaller companies experiencing rapid growth, it can result in a slowdown in growth and development. Exactly this situation in one of the American companies led to a new mother offering to return to her job prematurely, but only if she could bring her child to work. The company agreed, as this meant minimal changes to the organization and financial position. This sparked a wave, as other parents also wanted to take care of their children while working. This spontaneous movement led to the inception of a workplace parenting program. Media coverage of this later attracted experts and researchers, who conducted a study there. They found that employees were very satisfied with the program and the option, and at the same time, it had a negligible negative impact on the work environment and employees (if it even existed)1.
Due to the changing dynamics of lifestyle and a greater division of roles between men and women concerning financial support for the family and household chores, it is expected that parenthood in the workplace will be the next necessary step in modern society2.
Childcare, a parental perspective
When the time comes for a woman, and increasingly for men as well, to return to work after parental leave, two challenging tasks await. The first is finding suitable childcare for their child, and the second is getting back into the groove of the ever-evolving work process3. In Slovenia, at least the first concern is addressed by kindergartens and other educational institutions. However, parents often face a shortage of available spots and consequently long waiting lists. For instance, in Ljubljana, there are currently 416 children on the waiting list for kindergarten. Childcare is also associated with costs4. In a survey conducted in 2014, 86 percent of parents were enthusiastic about the possibility of choosing a company-established kindergarten for their children. In Slovenia, three companies tried this approach in practice, but now only two remain. One is part of the public kindergarten network, while the other is associated with the company Gen-I. Generally, parenthood in the workplace in Slovenia is more prevalent in the forms of open-door days, holiday gifts for children, and flexible schedules5.
Childcare, an organizational aspect
Employers must replace the missing worker through internal rotation, burden other employees with additional tasks, or hire a new employee who needs to be introduced to the work process. Upon their return to the workplace, employers are faced with more frequent absences, including tardiness, related to childcare. This also leads to a decrease in employee productivity, as their thoughts are often with the child6.
In the study by Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlarch7, 60 percent of parents reported at least one day of absenteeism, of which 42 percent were absent for two days, 13 percent of parents were absent for three or four days within a two-month period (Figure 1). Additionally, in 41 percent of cases, parents reported a decrease in productivity due to concerns for the well-being of a family member. The increase in workplace absenteeism and presenteeism, of course, represents a direct loss for the company2.
In Slovenia, companies have been competing for "Family-Friendly Company" certificates since 2007. By obtaining these certificates, companies commit to following recommendations that enable easier balance between family and professional life. This is aimed at more effectively addressing the consequences of declining work enthusiasm, absences, and lateness, while also enhancing their reputation in the public eye.
Figure 1. Workplace absenteeism within a two-month period
What programs do we know and what do researches reveal?
There are various types of workplace parenting based on duration and frequency. They can occur once or multiple times a week, every day with full-time hours, or with reduced hours. All forms represent cost-effective ways that alleviate concerns about the price, quality, and accessibility of childcare, thereby enabling better focus on work. As a result, parents experience an increased sense of company loyalty, leading to higher motivation and a striving to retain their positions.
Employees in the workplace can attend to their child's needs, communicate with them, and simultaneously carry out work tasks. Younger children, for instance, can sleep and remain calm if their needs are met. Older children can engage in activities like playing and drawing, among others. In fact, the situation can resemble what we're accustomed to at home when parents have tasks to complete. Children do not constantly require attention. Doubts about the quality of childcare in the workplace can't arise, as it's being conducted by the parents themselves6.
Mary Secret6, a researcher of workplace parenting programs, compared organizations that implemented them (55) with those that didn't (67). She found that employers had reservations at the beginning of implementation, but as it became routine, their opinions changed due to the trouble-free nature of the programs. Employees also rated their companies as family-friendly.
In our country, even though they aren't related to similar workplace parenting programs and practices, over 240 companies and organizations employing more than 80,000 people have received this title. Among the measures they implement (a total of 76) for successful work-family balance are, among others: time bonuses, the option of remote work, gifts for newborns, scholarships, flexible schedules, etc8.
In another study, researcher Mary Secret2 found that administrative-type jobs were most suitable for program implementation. Similarly, safe job positions without dangerous machinery, equipment, or toxic substances were also ideal. In larger companies, the program was used as an alternative or essential service, while in smaller companies, it was implemented in its full form regularly, even legally regulated. Regardless of the implementation frequency (occasional or regular), employees expressed satisfaction. Companies reported increased productivity and employee commitment as well.
In the USA, the Parenting in the Workplace Institute advocates for a structured approach to implementing parenting programs. They reference over 200 companies that have successfully integrated these programs into their operations. While most of these companies are in the USA, the program is also being implemented in Milan9, which is the closest to Slovenia. The range of companies adopting these programs varies from 3 to 3000 employees. Among them are consulting firms, banks, credit organizations, design companies, IT firms, law offices, retail stores, factories, non-governmental organizations, public institutions, publishing houses, schools, and so on10.
In Table 1, there is a list of numerous benefits for both companies and parents. The greatest benefit for companies is the reduction of costs related to employee turnover and the retention of emloyees in the workplace. Parents are more productive in the long run and, due to various workplace benefits, they are more engaged (Table 1).
BENEFITS FOR COMPANIES
- Allowing new parents to return to work earlier if they choose
- Reduced costs of rehiring, primarily for women
- Boosting morale among all employees
- Enhancing long-term productivity
- Strengthening teamwork and collaboration
- Lowering health insurance costs
- Attracting new customers
- Affects customer loyalty
- Retaining key employees
FOR PARENTS AND FAMILY
- Promoting parent-child attachment
- Reduced sense of isolation and conflict for mothers with existing roles (career, household chores)
- Fewer obstacles for women's advancement Increased father involvement in childcare
- Enhanced financial stability
- Lower costs of daycare or other paid childcare options
- Better socialization of infants
- Reduces parental stress
- Responsive care leads to happier infants and parents
- Reduces parental stress
- Responsive care leads to happier infants and parents
When can parenting in the workplace come to life?
For workplace parenting to be successful, it's important that:
- there are clear formal guidelines for employee parents and their colleagues;
- the program is limited to non-mobile infants;
- the program is limited to children who are content in the work environment;
- the program is limited to parents who can complete tasks while simultaneously taking care of their children.
Due to the nature of their work, not all companies have the opportunity to implement comprehensive workplace parenting programs like the most advanced foreign companies, which allocate significant financial resources and create new job positions for the work-family balance segment. In the rapidly changing pace of business life, which demands constant adaptations, those who do not wish to lose a significant competitive advantage are doing their best to follow suit with workplace parenting programs. This is not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of those who contribute to their success stories – the employees.
References and sources:
- Secret, M., Sprang, G. & Bradford, J. (1998). Parenting in the workplace: Examining a unique infant care option. Journal of Family Issues, 19 (6), 795 - 815.
- Secret, M. (2006). Integrating paid work and family work: A qualitative study of parenting in the workplace child care experiences. Community, Work & Family, 9 (4), 407 - 427.
- Carnoy, M. (2000). Sustaining the new economy:Work, family, and community in the information age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Vrtci v Ljubljani (2019). Mestna občina Ljubljana. Available at: https://www.ljubljana.si/sl/moja-ljubljana/otroci-v-ljubljani/vrtci-v-ljubljani-2/
- Klemenšek Rakun T. (2014). Dejavniki, ki vplivajo na ustanavljanje in uspešnost vrtcev v podjetju. Available at: http://pefprints.pef.uni-lj.si/2543/1/klemensek_rakun_magisterij-lektorirano-s.pdf
Magistrsko delo. Fakulteta za družbene vede. Ljubljana.
- Secret, M. (2005). Parenting in the workplace: Child care options for consideration. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 41 (3), 326 - 347.
- Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., & Scharlach, A. (2001). Families and work: New directions in the twenty-first century. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Certifikat Družini prijazno podjetje. Available at: http://www.certifikatdpp.si
- Moquin, C. (2008). Babies At Work – Bringing New Life to the Workplace. Parenting in the Workplace Institute.
- Babies at Work Fact Sheet (b.d.). Parenting in the workplace institure. Available at: http://www.babiesatwork.org/resources