Guilt. Stress. Overwhelm. Failure. More guilt.
Working parents worldwide often experience these emotions every day. They might feel guilty about prioritising work over family when they’re on a big deadline, or maybe they feel guilty about work when they have to stay home with a sick kid. Or maybe they just feel like they can’t be a good parent and a good worker at all.
For all our modern progress, we still aren’t setting up parents to flourish at work. A parent returning to work is often expected to continue in their old role without any acknowledgement of how their roles and responsibilities have dramatically changed. Many parents who opt to go back part-time often find themselves working the same role, with the same demands, but in fewer days. And many drop out at the 12-month mark, finding it all too difficult to balance work with caring for an infant.
But wouldn’t it be great to set up working parents for success rather than failure?
Enter role design.
Organisations today are responsible for addressing and mitigating workplace psychosocial hazards—including role design.
Psychosocial hazards refer to work aspects that can harm employees’ psychological health and wellbeing. These hazards include workplace stress, bullying, harassment, excessive workload, and inadequate support systems.
Role design is the secret sauce to keeping your working parents engaged and happy. Ok, onsite childcare, autonomy and flexibility go a long way too.
Role or job design refers to the duties and tasks required to perform a role and how those tasks and duties are structured and scheduled.
Role design helps to determine what tasks are done, how the tasks are done, how many tasks are done and in what order the tasks are done.
Principles of good role design:
Approaches to role design include:
Job Enlargement: Job enlargement changes the jobs to include more and/or different tasks. Job enlargement should add interest to the work but may or may not give employees more responsibility.
Job Rotation: Job rotation moves employees from one task to another. It distributes the group tasks among a number of employees.
Job Enrichment: Job enrichment allows employees to assume more responsibility, accountability, and independence when learning new tasks or to allow for greater participation and new opportunities.
Work Design (Job Engineering): Work design allows employees to see how the work methods, layout and handling procedures link together as well as the interaction between people and equipment/technology.
Using the SMART framework in designing effective work involves setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals, ensuring clarity, accountability, and a structured approach that enhances productivity and success in the workplace.
Increase job resources:
Ensure tolerable demands:
Returning to work after parental leave can be a daunting prospect, as parents often face the dual challenge of readjusting to professional responsibilities while ensuring the wellbeing of their growing families.
“Supporting parents with their return to work is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” says our co-founder, Justine Alter.
“Put simply, if you don’t support parents, you will lose them,” she says. “The pandemic, for all its downsides, was a bit of reset for working people. It made us examine our working lives, and many people aren’t prepared to put up with a bad manager or inflexible working hours anymore. They’ll resign and work for an organisation that does offer that.”
“Employees want to know that there’s a culture of support for them. That could mean flexibility, it could mean clear pathways to promotion, or it could be something else entirely. It’s going to be different for everyone. What remains the same is that need for a culture of support. And organisations that don’t offer that, that don’t support parents, won’t attract or retain the best talent.”
When autonomy is incorporated into role design, people are empowered to make decisions, set goals, and determine how they accomplish their work.
Autonomy at work offers several benefits:
There is a caveat to this — the level of autonomy should be balanced, as excessive autonomy without appropriate guidance or support may lead to feelings of isolation or uncertainty. Striking the right balance in role design, where employees have a reasonable level of autonomy coupled with clear expectations and support systems, contributes to a more effective and satisfying work environment.
Flexible Work Arrangements
One of the key aspects of crafting role design for returning parents is flexible work arrangements. This may include options such as remote work, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks. Such flexibility supports work-life integration and empowers parents to manage their responsibilities at home while meeting their professional commitments.
Some helpful tips:
The Parent Well provides practical guidance on how to have conversations about flexibility, take a look at more resources here.
To leverage their strengths and capabilities
Effective role design considers the skills and expertise of returning parents, aligning their responsibilities with their capabilities and career goals. Organisations can facilitate a more positive transition by ensuring that returning parents are placed in roles that leverage their strengths, which may have changed considerably, allowing them to contribute meaningfully to the workforce.
New parents bring a range of new strengths and capabilities such as;
Well-structured onboarding or re-boarding programs are vital for parents re-entering the workforce. Think about incorporating training that covers updates on organisational changes, technological advancements, and industry trends. This ensures that returning parents feel confident and equipped to navigate their roles successfully.
Mentorship and support networks
Creating mentorship programs and support networks specifically tailored for returning parents is crucial. These initiatives provide a platform for parents to share experiences, seek guidance, and foster a sense of belonging within the workplace. Consider encouraging collaboration and mentorship for new parents with colleagues who have been there to ease the transition back into the workforce.
WorkSafe VIC Work Well Toolkit:
Managing Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace Webinar
SafeWork Australia Good Work Design Handbook
Thrive at Work SMART resources