Keep Me In, Coach

Kate Huvane Gamble, Managing Editor, hsCIO.com

Kate Huvane Gamble, Managing Editor, hsCIO.com

A few years ago, a friend of mine walked into her company’s HR department and asked a simple question.

“Can I use my sick days to take my son to the pediatrician?”

She should’ve received a simple answer to this seemingly innocuous (and very important) question, but that wasn’t the case.

Instead, my friend (who we’ll call Sarah) noticed that before addressing her question, the HR rep took out a file and made a note in her file.

“What are you writing?” Sarah asked, understandably curious.

“We’re supposed to keep track of any questions about things like PTO. You know, company policy,” the rep answered.

Fearing she was being profiled, Sarah stopped asking questions, and started to look for another job. Not only did she take issue with the company’s “policy” (which, indeed, denied parents the right to use sick days for sick children), but she had come to believe that asking too many HR questions could be held against her. And so she left when she was offered a job with a company that offered flexible hours — taking her excellent track record and sales skills with her.

If you think this seems far-fetched, think again.

It’s become the rule, and not the exception, for new parents to feel like we need to lay low at work and not make waves. We do things like sneak out of the office if we have to leave at 5 p.m., or hide in our cars to pump breastmilk. We shy away from asking for a raise or promotion, even when we’ve put in the time and effort. We hesitate to request flexible hours, for fear of losing assignments or being mommy-tracked.

All of this leads to frustration, placing even more stress on new moms (who, let’s face it, don’t need any more of it). According to Pew Internet Research, 58 percent of Millennial working mothers say that being a parent makes it harder for them to advance in their careers, and 42 percent report having to reduce hours to care for a child or other family member. The upshot of this? Women are three times more likely than men to quit their jobs for family reasons, figuring that the grind just isn’t worth it.

To me, that’s unacceptable.

The good news is that this issue is finally starting to generate some real discussion. But talking, as we all know, isn’t going to cut it. If we want to see real change, we — as a society and an industry — are going to have to do more to help new parents. We need to offer a third option (the first being quit your job, and the second being stay in the game, but realize you’ll probably take a hit for a few years).

Enter an innovative solution: the parent coach.

According to the NY Times, a number of forward-thinking companies have started assigning coaches to help moms (and dads) prepare for parental leave and ease the transition when they return. Through phone calls, group sessions, and webinars, these coaches work with parents to create more workable schedules, prioritize career goals, explain benefits, and provide much-needed support.

The goal of this program? To “retain more women by helping them through a stressful time,” writes author Tara Siegel Bernard, pointing out that the primary users of this service are “organizations that often demand long hours from employees or are competing for talent.”

Ring any bells?

And here’s the best part — concepts like this aren’t limited to large organizations with deep pockets. If you can’t foot the bill for this type of service, think smaller by starting a program that assigns a mentor to each new parent. I know that for me (and for many of my friends), having someone I could turn to with questions and concerns would have been invaluable.

The alternative is to lose good people, which healthcare organizations can’t afford to do. And so I urge you to consider the idea of a coaching or mentoring program — not just to save money, but to help create a healthier, more sustainable working environment for parents.

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