HR Management & Compliance

How Managers Can Support Working Parents

Working parents have their hands full like never before.


Parents of kids in K–12 schools or even college may need to overhaul their household in response to learning-method shifts that can happen at the drop of a hat. Those with younger children must secure child care in an environment where many daycare centers are closed, and extended family members may or may not be able to pitch in. 

Businesses have had to adjust on the fly to new market realities, new processes and communication methods, and new demands on often rapidly evolving organizational charts. And that’s on top of managing the regular slate of deadlines and quotas. 

So how can managers support working parents? Here are some ways to lead, encourage, and support employees to deliver their work in ways that work for them.

Understand Specific Challenges Faced by Each Parent 

Managers who don’t have kids but manage working parents might need to do a little more work to truly understand parental challenges, manage their team’s workflows, and empower team members with kids to get work done. 

But even for managers with kids of their own, assuming you understand each team member’s specific situation based on your own experience is a mistake.

You can’t classify parents into one group. Just as every kid is different, the challenges faced by their parents depend on a variety of factors; ages, abilities, schools, districts, and risk factors all add up to a unique situation.

Managers across every industry have been familiar with the maxim “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” since it first appeared in Stephen Covey’s landmark 1989 book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the current environment, this rule has taken on renewed significance.

Encourage Honest Communication 

Effective communication is a two-way street. Just as managers need to understand challenges, they also need to encourage honest feedback about pain points and struggles.

Employers and employees both need to be upfront about what is needed from each to meet business deadlines. To get to the point of establishing the necessary transparency on both sides of the relationship, managers should consider every contact point in terms of creating connection and building confidence.

To encourage honest feedback from employees, managers should be prepared to respond by instituting flexible methods, collaborative experimentation, and continual process adjustments. When there’s dialogue, you learn more. You may even find a new way of doing things that works better for everybody. 

That’s only achievable in a trusting environment where everybody is honest and open.

Set Detailed Performance Expectations

It may seem counterintuitive, but setting clear expectations for performance, production, and delivery actually reduces the stress felt by employees, especially overburdened parents.

You can be as kind and understanding as possible, but if you’re not clear on what needs to happen, that just adds another layer of stress.

As much as it’s appreciated, empathetic leadership isn’t an end in itself. The desired result is greater team cohesion and productivity. Empathy doesn’t mean having to solve problems for other people. A manager’s goal is to empower employees to figure out how to get things done.

Managers also need to set expectations for themselves and engage proactively in conversations about expectations for the organization as a whole.

Consolidate and Highlight Resources 

Successful managers understand that advocacy on behalf of their employees is a key aspect of their role. This is especially important now as organizations evolve to more effectively support the needs of modern working parents.

Managers can also support their working parent colleagues by consolidating and highlighting existing resources. There may be aspects of your current organizational partnerships and services that can help parents specifically. 

This could be anything from an online curriculum through a learning and development portal to options through employee assistance programs or employee resource groups.

Encourage and Empower Positivity 

The challenges faced by working parents are very real and often extremely difficult. Managers shouldn’t discount the utility of a good old-fashioned pep talk. Employees may be in a fragile state, and it’s not just about being empathetic and listening; it’s also about boosting confidence and promoting a growth mind-set.

There are many different ways to do that, and they can vary in effectiveness from employee to employee. Try some experimentation. Maybe you increase the number of scheduled one-on-ones with your employees and one of those becomes a simple coffee check-in. Even if the talk isn’t strictly work-related, taking 20 minutes to talk to another adult can be just what a parent needs.

Find ways to add energy; boost confidence; get people excited about what they do; and make everybody feel connected, human, and part of the team. 

Working as a parent is tough. But working for a manager who leads with understanding, transparency, clarity, support, and positivity can make the “work” side of the work/life equation feel much easier.

Jodi Nuttall, Director of Recruiting Operations in the greater Chicago area for Aerotek’s industrial division, leads the recruiting teams. She started with Aerotek over 23 years ago as the first woman hired in the company’s Oakbrook office and has held various titles including recruiter, account manager, director, and more. Nuttall has spent the last 2 decades developing dozens of future leaders and is also a member of Aerotek’s Senior Leadership Team, I&D Council, and Executive Advisory Board.

Mary Ann Jolliffe is the Director of Employee Experience and Professional Development at Aerotek. She started with Aerotek over 24 years ago and has worked to build Aerotek’s Professional Development programs. She currently leads Aerotek’s Leadership, Talent Management, and Inclusion and Diversity teams to help the company’s people reach their full potential personally and professionally. Her teams are responsible for the oversight of learning and professional development of all positions within the organization. Jolliffe is also a member of Aerotek’s Executive Diversity Board.