HR Decisions For Parents Returning To The Workforce

Do not look at the woman in front of you as having been out of the workforce. Instead, see her as formerly employed in one of the hardest occupations possible: parenting. She can handle stress and odd hours, all with very little sleep. She can multitask and think days, weeks and even years in advance. As an HR professional, there are things you can do to help her return to the workplace and capitalize on her unique set of needs.

Understand the Compromise

In a study published in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, researchers found that compromise was a major theme in the decision of a parent to return to work. A parent returning to work has made a decision to balance her life between two huge priorities. Understand that she may be torn between being at home and being at work. She wants to do both, and well, but bilocation is still a fantasy. By keeping the job focus on achievement over time, a smart HR director can ease the pain of returning to work and increase employee retention.

Value the Employee

The same article states that one of the major factors for a parent to return to work is for a sense of value. It is important for any employee to feel valued, but may be more so for the returning parent. Awards, appreciation flowers or a heartfelt thank you note can bring out the best in a parent-turned-employee.

Remember that a mother coming back into the labor force post labor is not some lost soul who needs a place to be. She is an accomplished human being who can bring value to your company.

Go To Bat

Workplace flexibility is central to a parent’s decision and ability to return to the workforce, according to the Journal of Industrial Relations. Unfortunately, studies show there is often a dissonance between the policies of a company and the management’s actual practice. Having a work-at-home policy means nothing if that policy is never approved by management. Economies of time are central for success for both a business and a parent. A business manager needs enough man hours to complete a task but valued parent-workers needs time to pick up children from school and handle kid-related emergencies.

Sometimes it will be the HR director’s job to mediate this balance of time and responsibility. This may require conversations with managers, but it could also mean offering the parent-worker alternative job responsibilities. Researchers are finding that the stresses of being both a parent and a successful employee are opening up people returning to the workforce to the idea of changing career paths. Making this a possibility can be good for all parties involved.


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About the Author:  Ruth Harris has been a HR consultant in the Bay area for ten years. When she’s not at the office, she enjoys spending time with her kids and exploring the city of San Francisco. 

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