Woman working on laptop with son by George Rudy / Shutterstock
You might’ve attended a baby shower in the break room, or maybe you caught a glimpse of a framed baby picture on your colleague’s desk. Either way, you know that some of your coworkers have kids — what you don’t realize is how their new home lives might affect them in the workplace.
A 2011 survey of women in the workplace revealed that nearly half of moms felt as though their colleagues without children would never understand the amount of stress they endure — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that there’s a lot to know about being a working parent, and learning what it’s like might make you a better boss and colleague. Here are a few of the things they’d most like you to know.
1. A Rescheduled Event Could Turn Their Calendars Upside-Down
As much as we’d like our schedules set in stone, the unexpected is bound to happen. In those cases, everyone has to adapt. But regularly changing times and locations for meetings can cause lots of stress for parents. An early-morning meeting might mean they have to find someone to drop the kids off at school, while an after-hours session would require the nanny to stick around longer — if she can.
The best way to be considerate of your coworkers is to give as much of a heads up as possible when you need to switch the agreed upon schedule. The more time parents have to reconfigure their timetable, the better.
2. Parental Leave Isn’t a Walk in the Park
As of 2016, 40 percent of families counted the mom as their main or sole breadwinner, while fathers began to take on more parental responsibilities than in days past. Still, the United States workforce faced a staggering, daunting statistic: In a study of 41 nations, it was the only one that didn’t require parental leave. Some companies might provide it anyway, but it’s typically a short period that’s either unpaid or funded at a fraction of the person’s regular paycheck.
Regardless, coming back from this leave of absence is extremely hard for new parents. Not only did they just work round-the-clock to adjust to life with a newborn, but they also had to learn to leave their baby behind to go to the office — that’s tough. Fathers might not even take advantage of this time because they feel as though it makes them appear uncommitted to their jobs.
To be a good coworker, encourage your expectant employees to take time off, and go easy on them when they come back. There will be plenty of time for them to ease back into their role.
3. Pumping Isn’t a Break
You might slip out of the office for a coffee while your coworkers-slash-mothers take breaks for an entirely different reason. They have to pump, and they need to find somewhere they can do so comfortably.
Don’t make the mistake of taking a pump break as an actual break, even if the woman in question has found ways to make pumping at work less stressful. She likely can’t eat or relax while performing her routine pump. So, give female employees all the time they need to pump throughout the day so that they feel comfortable and have plenty of nutrition to provide their babies.
4. They Might Band With Other Parents
You might notice cliques forming in the office, but not necessarily the wrong kind: Once coworkers become parents, they have an in-office ally who can understand their stressors, mishaps and triumphs. Even though you’re a good colleague, you might not be the right person to open up to if you can’t relate to their most important responsibility.
If you’re one of the people in charge, you might see new moms and dads turning to managers who have kids because they, too, can understand the hiccups that come with parenting. Taking a day off to care for a sick child or arriving late thanks to a slow-moving carpool lane will be heard and understood by someone with kids. If a colleague doesn’t confide in you or come to you in times of need, these issues could be why.
5. They’re Probably Working Harder Than You
This isn’t to say that parents are the only ones working their tails off at the office, but you’ll probably realize that they’re more efficient than those without kids at home. The reason is very similar to why a canceled or rescheduled meeting is such a big deal to moms and dads: They have someone depending on them to be home and present at a specified time.
Now, you might start to notice that parents keep their heads down, work through lunch and leave as soon as their eight hours are up. They’re not being rude or over-eager, they just want to have everything done and be home in time for dinner, baths and bedtime with their kids. Sometimes, all they get is a little more than an hour for all of that.
With these five tidbits in mind, you hopefully have a better understanding of your colleagues with kids. This insight will make you a better, more understanding coworker and friend — there’s no better reputation to have as a leader.
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