Give Working Parents What They Really Want: More Time
"Work-life balance" is a lie. The reality for most people is a madcap blend of work and life. And while this does mean that more life happens at work -- where people have been forming ever-stronger relationships -- it also means that it’s hard to distinguish between work and life.
Instead, people are simply working at any and all times of day or night.
What this blending means is that parents are trying to balance errands and to-dos during the day, and taking a little bit (or a lot) of work home in the evenings, to the point where there’s no distinction.
And boy is that draining. A recent open letter from Arianna Huffington to Elon Musk discussed just this: People have limited energy, Huffington pointed out, and with that comes prioritization. The result is that people spread their energy thin every day.
This goes double for working parents, who are also responsible for managing their dependents’ equally full lives. Something has to give, and one of the first things to go is a parent’s mental well-being and emotional health.
The second loss is family well-being. Stress levels skyrocket, anxiety creeps in and life can suddenly seem overwhelming. People lose connection with themselves and one other, and everyone suffers.
Compounding the time scarcity is “hustle culture,” the pressure to maximize individual potential both for adults and their children. The race to Harvard begins on the playground, and children often attend endless activities after school and on weekends.
Parents, too, are aiming high: CNBC has noted that more than half of working Americans have side hustles in addition to their regular jobs. That piles even more weight on the big to-do list, but when these working parents see tasks disappearing, it’s a gift to combat the pressure and discover time they can use to actually treat themselves.
That said, working parents are likelier to stay in a job than their child-free counterparts, and they are often measurably more productive, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. If for no other reason, businesses struggling with high turnover and low engagement should throw their efforts behind making working parents’ lives easier.
The benefit of time
Companies that prioritize family-first benefits that support family responsibilities while emphasizing self-care and healthy living will see greater return on loyalty, morale, productivity and performance from all employees. In a way, the company itself finds more time in the day as well.
Concierge programs are a perk that working parents actually want, because these benefits can genuinely help negotiate the overwhelming blur between office and home. Segways and ping-pong tables may be fun, but as perks, they have little practical use, especially to people who have to figure out who’ll pick up their kids if they have to work late.
On the other hand, having errands run, last-minute babysitters arranged and referrals provided for services parents need is a benefit with far more impact on their well-being than in-office game tables could ever provide. Parents with this benefit can watch their personal task lists shrink and find more time in the day for both life and work.
Setting up a concierge program.
Offering a concierge program as part of a benefits package is not out of reach for even small companies. If it's undertaken strategically, employees just might be relieved of their chronic mental burdens in no time. Here are the steps:
1. Designate a champion.
Every new initiative needs someone to lead the charge. Securing an internal company champion who sees the benefits of a concierge program will accelerate the decision-making process. This person can gather information on corporate concierge and errand-running programs.
The source of information might be an executive in another department or company, or perhaps an HR colleague who's had a similar service at a prior organization.
Part of this champion’s research will be to assess current benefit perks and identify gaps in coverage which a concierge and errand-running service can fill in and integrate.
This person can also get creative about securing a budget for the program, such as by allocating funds from the company’s wellness budget or consolidating and integrating other benefit programs.
2. Ask what people need.
Working parents’ to-do lists are lengthy, but there’s no rule that the parent has to do every single task him- or herself. As long as the ingredients for the kids’ dinner are ready after work, for instance, it doesn’t matter who picked them up.
With a concierge service, working parents can look at their to-do lists and start eliminating by delegating. Conducting an employee survey about what kinds of concierge and errand benefits people actually need will determine what services should be made available.
Harried employees will be more than happy to detail all the mundane, unnecessary hate-to-dos (scheduling doctor appointments, researching family-friendly travel spots and picking up the dry-cleaning, to name a few) they’d like to take off the task list and outsource to someone trustworthy.
Working through these surveys and discussions will also help get a team on board and involved. Employees will see how they could be less distracted and more available, and how they could bring their best selves to the office and their homes.
3. Align with retention and inclusion efforts.
A concierge program can be seamlessly aligned with another company initiative. For example, if the company is working to improve gender equity and inclusion initiatives, a concierge program can help those efforts. How? The burdens of family care and management fall disproportionately on women, women of color in particular. Taking steps to alleviate that load can make the difference between retaining talented employees and losing them to burnout.
With all the talk about how expensive child care is -- and it’s nearly on par with college tuition in some states, according to CNBC -- it’s easy to overlook how much time, energy and money parents spend simply securing care. Then, too, children don’t go to school until age 5, and the proverbial “village” is all but gone: Grandparents and neighbors aren’t able to babysit during the day because they probably have full-time jobs, too.
Concierge services can’t make child care any less expensive, but they can at least streamline the process of finding and securing that care. All the research for babysitters, daycares, tutoring, support groups and other programs is taken care of. With very little effort, parents can have a host of reliable resources in front of them.
Day after day, a working parent’s greatest need is more time. Not just time to check off items on the to-do list, but time to feel present, enjoy life and take care of themselves. However, when every day feels like a marathon of Herculean proportions just to take care of the basics in life, there is certainly no room for self-care and leisure.
Work-life blending is a reality. It’s a paradigm that seems like it would make working parents’ life easier -- but it doesn’t.
That’s why concierge programs can be a life-saver. Leaders should take the time to think of all the challenges working parents face, then imagine how morale and productivity would improve if the workplace helped shrink that to-do list.
Every benefit should be a tool for life empowerment, and the latest concierge and errand-running benefits help give parents that sense of freedom to focus at work and feel more accomplished in the day.