The new study finds, despite the growing availability of paid leave to employees, working parents report a significant disconnect between what a company says it offers and what they actually experience. Men, in particular, describe greater levels of disconnect, discontent, and guilt than their female counterparts. The report— Expecting More Than a Baby: Closing the Employee Experience Gap for Working Parents in the US — was commissioned by Talking Talent, the parent company of Life Meets Work, an award-winning global coaching consultancy with 13 years of experience leading the gender diversity agenda in the working parent space.
The report, which surveyed 1,036 working parents in the United States, found that two-thirds of working parents (66 percent)—feel they are somehow failing to be the parent they want to be due to work pressures.
Talking Talent teaches employers to address the gap in expectation versus reality by incorporating the following strategies:
- Prioritizing paid family leave
- Addressing paternal inclusion
- Aligning managerial and leadership parental support with company culture
- Capitalizing on parents as proven performers
Prioritizing Paid Family Leave
Prioritizing paid family leave—and normalizing its use—alleviates the burden many new parents face: the guilt of being at work and the guilt of being at home. Women in the study reported taking only 52 percent of available leave, while men reported taking even less, at 32 percent.
“Sixty-four percent of working parents say they would have been more likely to take a longer parental leave if coworkers had,” Teresa Hopke, CEO of Talking Talent, Inc., U.S. said. “Since we know that sharing responsibilities is key to shaping a better future for all working parents—as well as being the key to retaining and progressing more women—organizations need to encourage both men and women to view parental leave in a more positive light.”
The results suggest that, with today’s access to benefits, paid leave isn’t just a recruitment tool, it’s a significant contributor to employee engagement and retention, and a critical tool to effectively close the pay gap.
The Fatherhood Penalty
The report identifies the discrepancy between the paternal leave offered and the stigma attached to taking said leave. Fathers, in particular, believe they’re penalized for taking leave and believe their careers have slowed down compared to their colleagues without children.
“We can no longer focus our efforts on just supporting women who want to ‘have it all.’ All parents want to have it all.” Hopke said. “Organizations who fail to address this perceived fatherhood penalty may experience new retention and engagement hurdles as men look for workplaces where all working parents are supported. What’s more, organizations will continue to struggle with a lack of female leadership in the C-suite if workplace norms around parental leave continue to reinforce the message that women are the primary caretakers and men should place work over their parental responsibilities.”
Extending paternity leave to fathers—and encouraging its use—will boost morale while supporting workplace equality.
Practice What You Preach
A culture of inclusion surrounding parental leave—and additional coaching and support—can help address the policy-practice gap. The report found that younger employees, specifically millennials, were more likely to say they “strongly agreed” their manager was effective in helping them transition in and out of leave (35 percent versus nine percent of workers age 45 to 54), but millennials were also more likely to say they would have valued outside coaching in this area (65 percent versus 35 percent of workers age 45 to 54).
For parental leave policies to become truly effective, they must be visibly embraced. It means employers ensuring the employee experience matches employee expectation by giving managers and leadership on-demand coaching and targeted training to support employees.
“As employees see their employers delivering what was promised, they will have more reason to feel confident and valued in their workplace, and with that comes the benefit of a fully engaged workforce,” Hopke said.
Parents as Proven Performers
The survey finds that, on the whole, people feel more capable and skilled as a result of having kids, with men reporting an increased sense of confidence by 58 percent and women by almost 50 percent. Other skill-set improvements people reported include time management, influence, delegation, and managing change. According to the report, the transferable skills gained from parenthood are an invaluable and underutilized resource.
“Employers who ignore this are wasting firepower. With proactive management, this positive shift in self-perception will have a significant impact on the individuals involved and collectively enhance business performance,” Hopke said.
The majority of working parents in the U.S. are unhappy. The disconnect between expectations and reality create an imbalance of work and family life—and leaves two-thirds of parents feeling like they’re failing at being the parents they want to be. Working parents are expecting more than a baby, they’re expecting paid family bonding time and cultural support to actually use the time allotted to them. They are expecting to be involved mothers and fathers and engaged professionals with interesting, challenging work.
Employers have the opportunity to close the gap in expectations and reality by applying the following strategies: prioritizing paid family leave, integrating paternal inclusion into workplace culture, providing managers and leaders with training and coaching to address expectations of working parents, and capitalizing on working parents as proven performers with transferable skill sets. And employers who do incorporate these strategies will become leaders in the working parent space—and will both secure and retain the country’s top talent by transforming a feeling of failing at parenthood into one of success—in the workplace and at home.
Talking Talent is a niche, award-winning global coaching consultancy leading the gender diversity agenda, and working with clients to unlock the potential within their business and make company-wide behavior shifts that accelerate business performance. For more than a decade, Talking Talent has worked with organizations on tailored coaching programs that help them to retain talented individuals, increase their effectiveness and ensure that the benefit ripples throughout its business. Talking Talent has coached in the region of 19,000 women, working parents and line managers, and on average save over $130m a year across our clients in retention alone. Talking Talent’s best practice solution includes a fully blended digital coaching offer that is available globally, 24/7. Talking Talent Online extends the reach and duration of typical coaching programs, offering more complete individual and organizational support through parental transitions.
CEO, Talking Talent Inc., US
As the CEO of Talking Talent Inc., US, Teresa leads the North American business and steers the company’s strategic direction. Her team specializes in developing custom solutions that drive gender diversity and help employees thrive sustainably in both the workplace and their personal lives.
Prior to joining the organization in 2011, Teresa led retention and engagement strategies at RSM in her role as Senior Director of National Talent Management. Her innovative coaching and culture programs led the company to prestigious recognition and awards.
Teresa received the AWLP Work-Life Rising Star award for her innovative work in the field and was recognized by Minnesota Business Magazine as a member of the 2018 (Real) Power 50. She is a nationally-recognized speaker who has been featured in many books and media outlets such as CNBC, the CBS Morning Show, NBC Nightly News, NPR, Wall Street Journal, and HR Magazine.
She is a working mother of four with an arsenal of real-world experiences (and stories) that influence the work she does with her clients.