Parenthood #CIPDBigConvo

This post is by Gary Cookson, blogger and conference speaker on all things HR. You can find him on Twitter as @Gary_Cookson. This is what he has to say…..


The CIPD’s Manchester Branch are running a campaign about families, parents and the workplace with the aim of influencing public policy on the subject. This is being coordinated by Rachel Burnham and I was pleased when she asked me to help by writing a blog giving my thoughts to help get things started.

For more information about the wider campaign you can follow CIPD Manchester on Twitter. The Working Families website is a great source of advice, guidance and toolkits to help organisations become more family friendly. This article, albeit from 2014, highlights some things organisations can do in terms of their reward package to help parents – things like providing childcare vouchers, voluntary employee benefit / discount schemes and extended healthcare provision. I agree with all of these and have heavily used these as a working parent myself and would encourage all organisations to make sure they are in place.

And I’ve been a working parent for the majority of my career. It is something I’m immensely proud of but comes with its fair share of restrictions and frustrations.

Prior to my first child being born in 2001 I was a peripatetic trainer, and could move around the country delivering training at any of five or six locations for the organisation I worked for. I enjoyed it but realised just before he was born that if I carried on in that role I wouldn’t see him grow up as much as I wanted to. So I moved to a job closer to home.

And that’s one big lesson for any working parent. Being a working parent is much MUCH easier when you work close to home, and have a short commute. And it’s also easier when your job is in one location for the majority of the time.

But most of my jobs since then have been, on average, 45-50 minutes commute away from home and I’m currently doing the longest commute I’ve ever done at 70-75 minutes so these things do impact your ability to be an effective parent.

I have children at three different ages – currently 15, 12 and 2. Until the last 12 months these children were in 3 different educational/childcare establishments and that made doing the school run a process that took 35 minutes from start to finish. And don’t even get me started on these places having different starting and finishing times. Now the kids are in just 2 places and that’s easier, but only slightly.

I do like to do the school run, but I find the traditional school day a real limitation. The traditional working day is, more or less, 9-5. The traditional school day is, more or less, 8.45-3.15. The two things are incompatible most of the time. Nowadays there are breakfast and after school clubs that can extend the school day a bit but its still not enough.

So one of two things needs to happen: either the school day gets longer, or the working day gets more flexible. Or, perhaps, both.

Childcare can be expensive too. In the pre-school years and particularly for under 3s, childcare is very expensive unless you are lucky enough to have local and accessible and willing grandparents to help out. Childcare vouchers are a must but only help a bit as there’s a cap on them. My youngest child goes to nursery 3 days a week and we pay almost £600 a month for that. It’s a lot in a year and eats up a lot of your salaries. After our mortgage, its our biggest expenditure and if it rises any higher it’ll be costing more than our mortgage.

The government wants people to work and is providing more funding for 3 year old spaces in nurseries. But what about the 1 and 2 year olds? Must parents wait 3 years before they can both work?

And there come lots of times when parental responsibilities clash with work. Its not just school runs. Its sports days (and rescheduled sports days when #1 is rained off last minute and you’ve booked the day off but now can’t make #2 and feel bad). Its nativity plays. End of year productions. Parents “evenings” that run from 3.30pm to 5.30pm. Special assemblies that are mid morning. First days in a new school. School buses not turning up. Schools being closed for industrial action or bad weather even though your workplace is open. Kids becoming ill just before school or, worse, halfway through the day and you have to “come and get them right now” even though you’re over an hour away. Teachers ringing you “at the end of the day” eg 3.30pm to tell you a problem about your child, whilst you’re in your annual appraisal.

And then there are the invites you get to after work drinks, sometimes with little notice but sometimes with lots of notice, and you know you can’t make either because you’ll miss bedtime. Overnight stays for conferences or working away become very big things to negotiate – how will you get the school run covered? How will you keep in touch?

And schools, bless them, close for 13 weeks or so every year. 13 weeks. That’s 65 days or so that your kids aren’t in school but you need to make sure they’re cared for – and if we take the average annual leave entitlement as about 33 days (including bank holidays) you’re left with a deficit somehow that a single parent can’t manage and only two parents can. I remember my own parents having to take separate holidays, particularly in the summer, in order to look after myself and my younger brother. I suspect my wife and I are approaching that stage when our youngest child goes to full time school.

Why can’t schools have longer terms? Or why can’t organisations offer more annual leave? Or, perhaps, both.

I’d love to be a full time parent. I love my kids. I also love the work I do and like working full time. There’s part of me that thinks I can’t have my cake and eat it.

That’s not right, surely.

Surely we can do something, us HR types, to help?

I worked at an organisation early in my career that had something akin to a support group – called the Working Parents Group. It brought working parents together once a month at lunchtimes to listen to guest speakers, discuss issues they had in the workplace, and generally get to know and support each other in a different environment. It worked really well.

But I’ve only seen that at one place, although I know all organisations would benefit from such a thing.

There are lots of parents in the workplace. Possibly the majority of our staff are parents or have some type of caring responsibility (we shouldn’t ignore eldercare issues either, a growing issue).

But how often do we talk about these problems and issues with our staff and ask how we can help?

How often do we ignore the elephant in the room and try to manage our staff as if work is the most important thing in everyone’s lives and families don’t exist?

How often do we say on our websites that we are a family friendly employer but then put rules and procedures in place that go against this?

Being a working parent is tough. I can’t be the only one who struggles with balancing everything?

I wouldn’t change it for the world though. My kids are everything.

And as a parent, an employee and an HR professional, I think we could and should do more to help each other balance work and life, to make sure we can satisfy all the stakeholders in our lives.

So, how do we do that exactly…?

Man and Child Walking Near Bushes during Daytime



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