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When parenting (teens) and the workplace collide: line manager edition

When parenting (teens) and the workplace collide: line manager edition

We need to talk about when parenting (teens) and the workplace collide. 

A lot of the calls to support parents in the workplace are shrouded in ‘early years’ and ‘returner’ support conversations. Then it kind of drops off a cliff. But here’s the thing – that’s not the reality for parents. 

Hopefully, long after those initial days of nursery bugs and school starts, we find ourselves figuring out how on earth to navigate life with a teenager. And just like those years of being in the trenches with toddlers and primary school-ers, we don’t just leave a part of us at the door (actual or virtual) when we venture into the workplace.

Lots of you already know my associate Shwezin Win because she’s been delivering Strong Returns® workshops on behalf of Power of the Parent® for a couple of years now. For the last 18 years Shwezin has been a parent and step-parent. Alongside that, she’s crafted a career that saw her tackle everything from biases and discrimination to toxic work
environments, with a good dose of self doubt and overwhelm.

Shwezin is also a specialist in supporting teens and their families as they navigate life. Alongside lots of resources you might run into and organisations working directly with teens and parents, we know there’s a role for employers to play too – but we often find it’s a role they don’t know is expected of them.

Shwezin and I have put our heads together to combine a range of expertise and craft some
content when it comes to the realities of navigating the workplace as a parent of teens, with a focus on the role of an employer – in particular some specifics for immediate line managers.

Here, we will cover some practical ideas on support you could be offering to parents with older children and conversation starters that don’t need to feel awkward…

Where do we start?

It’s not unusual to find a parent who is navigating their over mental ill health alongside
struggles their children might be facing with their wellbeing. Throw in juggling work, other
family members and a noisy societal narrative and you’ve got the uncomfortably perfect
backdrop for a mental health crisis. For many teens it may not even get to the stage of a
formal diagnosis and as a parent that can carry a huge weight.

As with lots of things, there’s a scale and sometimes unless someone is at the stage of having some sort of crisis, there’s very little support. But, we’re not here to debate the politics or resources provided (or not) – instead, we want to talk about the impact in the
workplace.

Before we dive into practical ideas, we need to be up front and say not enough formal research has gone into the impacts of parental stress on workplace productivity, but we know anecdotally that the impact is strikingly evident. There is an understanding that mental and emotional stress outside the workplace can impact individual’s concentration, anxiety, self esteem, confidence and behaviour towards colleagues. The ripple effect on your teams, line management and functions across the business can be enormous, as communications and relationships break down, the work environment has the potential to become more challenging.

So what can we do?

Here are some practical start points if this is an area you need to make some progress on…

1. Understanding family set ups

Do you know what stage the children of your team members are at? Whilst nobody owes you their intimate family business, keeping a rough eye on if someone has exams coming up or a teen that’s struggling with something at school, can be really helpful.

2. Encourage story sharing (with boundaries)

Have you got a parent network or employee resource group in your organisation? How could you encourage them to facilitate some story sharing for parents of teens? Or if you haven’t, is there a way you could do it in your team? Lots of parents won’t want to and it’s not always appropriate – so this isn’t about mandating anything, instead the focus is on creating an environment where if somebody wants to share or feels like work is the only place they can turn, that it feels as comfortable as possible to do so.

3. Make temporary working pattern changes available

It’s tempting to run towards really formal policy driven conversations about flexible working. However, not every situation needs it. Imagine you’ve got a parent who is struggling to get their teenager to school, or perhaps exam season is coming up and it means on a really basic level there’s a lot more to-ing and fro-ing and requests for the parent taxi service. Could you sort, within your team, for someone to work a different pattern temporarily? If it eases some mental load it can go a really long way to having a positive impact on someone’s engagement and overall performance.

4. Create an environment where parents can be open about their challenges

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel the need to be able to “do it all” – a dodgy societal narrative can get to us all at some point. The potential outcome?  Mental and emotional strain that isn’t always neatly compartmentalised away from the workplace. We know from clients the idea of their career ambitions ebbing and flowing would feel far more comfortable if they could share the realities they’re faced with. The fear of saying ‘I can’t right now’ equating to being written off all together is very real. 

How can you take a longer term view of talent? And, how can you authentically share that view out loud? Keep the communications open and revisit their career aspirations from time to time, allowing them the space to deal with family challenges, without the long term impact to their reputation.

It’s incredibly important to remember that intersectionality plays a huge role here too. Every parent is going to have a different experience, as is each child. Understanding what might be informing and influencing their day to day will be an essential as well as helping you remove assumptions and stereotypes.

There’s a lot to navigate…

Children between 14-24 are most susceptible to mental health issues, which of course has
the potential to be carried over into adulthood and the workplace. Research by UNICEF has
shown that almost 60% of parents have struggled with their mental health as they try and
support their children through a tough period of their upbringing as they move into adulthood. And let’s remember, behind all of these stats and percentages, you’ll find real
people.

We have seen improvements in the support for new parents, for maternity / adoption/paternity, but parenting doesn’t stop there, it’s just the beginning.

Through our work at Power of the Parent® we’re already seeing positive commercial moves for organisations who support working parents throughout their journey – this kind of stuff will no longer be a ‘nice to do’ but instead a rock solid talent magnet. Who doesn’t want a piece of that?

If you’d like to explore how we can work with both line managers and parents who are
navigating the teen years, but don’t want their career to take a nose dive you can book a call to hear more about the workshops we have available.

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