The importance of an open work culture post pandemic
Last week I was talking to Georgina (a colleague) when she came out with a line that I think sums up childcare in the post pandemic world: “I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss my commute”.
For those of us with kids, commuting was the one part of the day that really was our own. As evidenced through the countless media interviews and Zoom calls that saw children playing a central role in the virtual working world, working parents have been forced to flip between work and parent mode without a moment’s notice.
Parenting in a pandemic was far from easy
There’s not any easy way to say it, but it seems that children – for all the joy they bring – do make our working lives more difficult. Even before COVID struck, two-thirds of women returning to work after maternity leave thought they were performing below their potential. While it’s not quite as stark for men, more than a fifth of new fathers experience mental health issues.
Post pandemic, parents’ mental health has taken another knock. 90% of working mothers say that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and nearly half of all parents report that the level of stress in their life has increased since the pandemic.
So what should we do? Well, I’m firmly in the camp that a company’s responsibility extends far beyond paying their employees’ wages. In an ideal world, I believe employers should feel responsible for the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of their employees, and this includes helping them with the stresses and challenges that come from balancing a career with being a parent.
Introducing a solution, Parent Cloud…
The best solution we’ve found, by a mile, is a business called Parent Cloud. And it comes from one of our own – an Octopus alumnus called Karen Taylor.
Karen took advantage of the Octopus Springboard programme about 18 months ago. This programme is designed to encourage Octopus employees to leave their job and set up their own business. They receive funding from Octopus and a safety net in that if they decide in the first six months or so that their new business isn’t going to work then they can return to their old job (they’ll be far more useful to us having tried and failed than never having tried at all).
Karen’s business is transforming businesses by creating a workforce of healthier, happier parents. Employees receive access to specialists in fields such as antenatal/birth/postnatal coaching, breastfeeding, nutrition, infant sleep, therapy sessions and career coaching. As well as in-house workshops on a variety of topics including, mental health, first aid and many other topics to help those approaching periods of extended leave, returning to work and beyond.
Speaking to Karen, it became clear that now more than ever before, companies need to start thinking more holistically about how they look after their employees. Here’s some data that brings to life the scale of the problem companies are dealing with:
- Working parents are likely to make up over 40% of your workforce and are often faced with unique and often totally unpredictable challenges
- Almost 70% of employees would like increased parental support and benefits
- More than 80% of pregnant women begin their maternity leave unhappy and lose confidence in their abilities; over a third feel so isolated when they return to work that they want to hand their notice in
Getting the basics right
While I’d partner with Parent Cloud again in a heartbeat, I appreciate that some other companies will be a bit earlier in their journey than Octopus. So I asked Karen for her advice on what ‘getting the basics right’ meant to her. Here’s her top five pieces of advice:
1.Embrace flexible working for all. Not at the extremes where everyone works remotely (this impacts culture and removes the human connection we all crave) but flexible working definitely has a positive impact on parental mental health and is key to ensuring gender diversity in any business.
2.Create an open culture. Creating an open culture requires senior managers and leaders to be open about their own personal wellbeing challenges. This, in turn, creates a culture where employees are not afraid to talk openly about how they feel.
3. Empower mental health champions. Sponsoring individuals within the business to become qualified mental health first aiders or working with third parties to create in-house mental health support. For so many people, starting the conversation in the first place is 90% of the challenge.
4. Awareness, education & empowerment. Managers and employees without children may understandably be unaware of the challenges faced by working parents. In-house training and knowledge sharing sessions can be a great way to avoid any resentment within teams for those working flexibly.
5. Small things can have a big impact. For example, paid leave for pregnancy loss, free half days to attend sports days or nativity plays and increased flexibility after parental leave can go a long way to making parents feel supported in the workplace.
It’s all about creating an open culture
The one that stood out most for me is ‘creating an open culture’. If we can create a culture where everyone within our business feels comfortable being open and honest about the challenges they face, we can adapt our ways of working to develop a more fulfilled and happier workforce.
With the kids going back to school, and slightly better odds of them not being sent home, I’ll see whether Georgina is still sure she really missed the armpit-in-your-face 7.30am commute on the Central Line.