Hi, my name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengths guy, Doctor of Organisational Psychology and founder and Chair of Strengthscope. I’m really excited to be talking today to someone who is shining a light on a really important topic that doesn’t get the attention it absolutely needs in today’s organisations…how to support parents at work.
Now for those people who aren’t parents listening today (up to this point), please do listen on, because this podcast is for everybody. It’s not intended to be exclusively for parents but if you work alongside parents in your team, if you manage parents or if you’re in a position of influence in your organisation, please do keep listening, because we want this conversation to be as inclusive as possible.
Today we’re going to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of supporting parents in the workplace. The hidden challenges that parents face and how organisations can do better to manage, motivate, retain and return parents well to organisational life. Char’s also going to be describing how she’s integrated being a pro/entrepreneur, being a human as well as being a parent and how that all works for her. As I say, this podcast is for everybody so without any more words of introduction, let’s get to it.
Welcome to the strengths guy podcast Char.
Char, can I start by asking about your career journey so far. How did you get here? From like when you were born till now? As summary or as long form as you like.
I started life out in Nottinghamshire I made my way up north to Leeds for university. looking back now I realise exams and pressured academic life completely knocked me and made me adopt a view of success that is now incongruent with what I actually believe! it forms a lot of my approach to work now to be honest. uni and starting in the world of work brought in new influences (for the better) and I eventually found my rhythm in learning and development. I became a parent in 2014 and again in 2017 – it completely changed my view of the world of work. in 2018 I had the opportunity to set up by myself, and Power of the Parent® was born. It is an incredibly heart led business where I am tenacious in my efforts to change the world of work!
So your website and business are Power of the Parent – tell me about your name and what it is that Power of the Parent does? What’s your mission?
Power of the parent is all about supporting parents in the workplace. This usually involves reconnecting them with what they are energised by their unique set of strengths and helping them remember the value that they had. I work with employers so I will often find myself in a (virtual) room with line managers helping them to support their teams, carrying out one to one coaching relationships, delivering workshops and creating bespoke sessions to help employers who want to attract retain and develop their incredible talent.
Can you give me any examples of work that you’ve done and any success stories or particularly powerful moments?
I won’t lie, I love getting the emails where a parent tells me that they’ve had lightbulb moments after our time together or the line manager who lets me know I’ve shared a fresh perspective to them. The times I’m able to support an individual client alongside meeting the needs of an organisation are a good day at the office. I remember getting an email at the end of last year from a parent who had just attended my strong returns workshop. it started with ‘I didn’t expect to learn anything’ so I was fully braced but what followed was the kind of message that reminds me of my why. she went on to say that she had taken so much from our time together, she felt empowered and full of clarity about her return to work as well as feeling equipped to have some fairly tough conversations (at home and work) because she’d been reminded of what was important to her, what she was great at and that she’s allowed boundaries.
What do organisations need to change in the way that they support parents in the workplace? What are some of the don’t do this’s you’ve experienced or heard about and the impact?
There are a few things I’d say here but I’ll keep it to the point:
- Go outside of HR – this topic is still seen as something for a people team to ‘fix’ but we need to remember this is a whole organisational conversation.
- Go beyond policies – you might have a market-leading one but if you don’t remember you’re working with nuanced humans, it may land terribly.
- Work with line managers – I adore working with parents but it’s painful to see a load of work go into conversations with them but behaviour not change in the people that have some of the biggest impact on their working lives. I’m absolutely not villainizing line managers, I think we ask an awful lot of them at times. I think that’s even more reason though to help managers feel empowered to have great conversations with anybody on their team.
- Don’t see these as transactional conversations – there’s a whole world outside of your organisation that a parent has to contend with. we have the second most expensive childcare system in the world, that has huge repercussions almost I’m not saying you need to solve that as an employer I think you can get creative about what support you can provide.
What, if any, positive changes or examples have you seen in organisations since you’ve been supporting parents at work?
There are a few (and lots that bring me hope!), the headlines being:
- inclusive policies (I realised I’ve just said you need to go beyond policies but bear with me). The road to parenthood is not one dimensional and up until a couple of years ago, talk of adoption policies, fertility policies and shared parental leave was non-existent. We still have a long way to go but progress is progress.
- Going beyond the return to work, there’s a lot of focus on supporting returners (rightly) but it’s so much more than that. Changes and transitions that happen throughout life mean that you need to be constantly adopting a whole person approach with your employees.
What advice do you have for line managers specifically, do you have any particular guidance for them? Things to say, think about, do, not do or say?
- Re-induct your people! Assumptions can be really frustrating. Many of my clients will talk about this experience of being treated like they’ve never been away but at the same time given very little to pick up. Look for the training they’ve not had access to, the role remit they need info on, the new team members they need to meet…it’s a great use of those early days and weeks.
- If it feels like common sense, it probably isn’t common practice. So if you think ‘of course they’ll be able to get back in the building/log back on, etc.’, you need to actually check that. I know it might sound simple but the power of these things happening with ease is huge. Imagine rocking up on day one and not being able to get into a building or log back in when you’re fired up to start work – it sends all sorts of thoughts through your brain. Do they even want me back? Have I been totally forgotten? Easily avoided things that could have a detrimental impact on someone’s engagement.
- Help somebody spot their strengths. It’s a great way to begin to re-build their confidence, engagement and self-trust.
And what about colleagues of parents at work – any advice here on do’s and please don’t dos?
- Remember everybody brings value to the workplace, but how we do that is going to look completely different. We all have a reason to want to go home/log off, it’s just that for some people, that’s another human who we’ve got to look after.
- Language matters – ‘only part-time’, part-ambitious – all things that have been vocalised to parents that can be incredibly damaging.
- Don’t describe time away from the business as a holiday or a ‘day off’!!
And what about for parents facing challenges from their employer, where they’re not getting the support or understanding they need…what can they do, what are the options?
- Where can you seek support? It doesn’t always need to be a line manager or someone immediately involved.
- Look for the role models and allies – some of the best support I’ve had has been from colleagues who aren’t parents.
- Look at what’s going on as if it were happening to a friend – what advice would you give them? What are your needs versus your wants?
- And if all else fails and you’re needing some legal advice, get yourself over to www.pregnantthenscrewed.com for some expert insight on the free legal advice line.
Last question – if you met you today as younger you with the knowledge and experience you have today, apart from realising that Professor Brian Cox is right and that time isn’t linear after all, what advice would you give yourself?
- Define your own version of success kiddo! I spent way too long chasing what other people saw as success and it caused me a lot of heartache, perfectionism I was never going to reach and comparison.
- Have some boundaries – I could write and talk for days about this. But I’ll sum it by saying it’s not all about saying no (although it’s totally fine to do that), they’ll keep you protected and you’ll feel so much better if you invite in some more joy.
Final question I promise – we’ve talked about Power of the Parent the brand, but if people want to get in touch with you or follow you on social media, or contact you personally, or hear from you more, how can they find you?
My website is www.power-of-the-parent.com
Insta is @power.of.the.parent
Some recommended resources:
Shameless plug for my website – I’ve got a heap of free resources for parents on my Parent Support Hub and I haven’t left employers out – there are some downloads for them too.
There are charities who can help with some of the less spoken about sides of supporting parents:
MFF podcast – is a podcast dedicated to talking about modern masculinity, fatherhood and life in general for Dads
Wisdom for working mums podcast and community