For all of the new parents at work out there, I see you.
Becoming a parent changes you in ways beyond description. I could not possibly have understood how it felt to be a parent, or in particular a working parent, until I had lived it. It creates a whole new level of responsibility, love, and meaning in your life. For those of you who have children, you know there are not words in the English language that sufficiently describe the experience.
Many moms and dads return to work after baby is born. Once you are at work, dropping your child off in the care of someone else, and realizing that you only get to see your tiny human for maaaaaybe two hours after work, the value you place on time shifts. Suddenly, you consider all of the things that add up in your day for one or two hours. The value of one or two hours shoots up, and you become less willing to give up time for things that don’t add value, even if it is “just” an hour.
I have a theory that this valuation of time is one reason why talented employees and leaders, particularly women, leave the workforce. It perhaps isn’t that they are “opting out” because of the demands of their corporate work. It is because the work no longer provides the meaning that they are in search of. In many cases our work ends up feeling busy but not fulfilling. And frankly, as you become clearer on what is important to you as a parent, your tolerance for bullshit in the workplace gets severely diminished.
I personally had a difficult time physically while on maternity leave with a baby that spit up half of what he ate. Then I returned to work after a 12-week leave. Following my return, there were countless occasions when I wasted an hour or two of my life in a poorly-run meeting or a useless conference call only to think, “I just lost an hour of my life doing this? I would rather be at home getting puked on.” By no means am I meant to be a stay-at-home parent, but in order of preference, assuming a regular flow of time wasting and energy sucking, I would rank my preferences as (1) Work in an amazing role, (2) get puked on by a baby at home, and then, in a distant third, (3) sit on meaningless conference calls while my soul slowly withers.
Implications for Our Companies
This may have big consequences to the talent of our workforce, particularly as we seek to improve diversity in top leadership positions. We have a responsibility to create meaningful work for everyone, at every level, in our organizations if we want them to stay. But for new parents, there is a newly added complexity to the equation that spreads their energy over priorities other than just work. This is not to the detriment of the organization, in fact, I became more efficient after returning from maternity leave because I had more to fit into less time.
As Millennials continue to move into leadership roles, have kids, buy homes, and rack up all of the other adulting badges, the generation that has firmly planted their feet into the idea of finding meaningful work is going to be frustrated with workplaces that are not making their time worthwhile. This means leaving the company, leaving the workforce, or (shriek!) staying at your company disengaged.
Where Do We Start?
First, understand what the experiences are for young parents in your workplace. What works for them? What creates struggle and angst? As with everyone, having an open and communicative culture will help you understand how people are truly feeling when you ask them.
Second, focus on what having meaningful and rewarding work means to your team. Build this into the projects, and the longer-term career planning. (And share the plans – if you make career plans and don’t share them with the participant, then, do they exist?)
Finally, leaders can build in consistent touchpoints with their direct reports, such as a weekly one-on-one meeting. The key is not canceling them. If you protect that time, both you and your team members can anticipate that time and use it as a continuation of the same relationship and conversation. You can use that time to deliver feedback, ask more personal questions about what is or is not working for them in the workplace, or any other topic that is best served with a side of undivided attention rather than a drive-by at their cubicle.
For all of the newer parents out there… you’ve got this.
About the author:
Katie Rasoul is the Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. Find out more by visiting www.teamawesomecoaching.com or sign up for our mailing list for awesomeness coming straight to your inbox. Follow Team Awesome on Facebook and Twitter.