Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr are amongst the most photogenic couples to split soon after becoming parents but they certainly aren’t the only ones. The first years of parenthood are notoriously tough on romantic relationships and, without the stamina of Legolas and heart of Will Turner, many have stumbled.
However, the arrival of a first born doesn’t just rock a marriage, it changes everything. In the five years after the birth of a first child, parents who had previously relished work find that, though their job hasn’t changed, it is now much less satisfying.
A successful product launch or system implementation barely registers compared to the wails of a demanding little girl and focusing on anything is tricky when you’re wondering if that cough is a symptom of pneumonia and your son should be in A&E.
Then there’s the sleep. Surgeons make 22pc more errors when they’re tired, reveals Noreena Hertz in her enlightening book, ‘Eyes wide open’. After several nights of less than five uninterrupted hours sleep, our decision-making abilities are the same as if we were drunk. Five hours sleep? As new parents, most of us don’t get enough even to dream about it.
Well-meaning employers respond with practical fixes: generous maternity policy, flexi-working and, in more enlightened companies such as Addison Lee, an office crèche. Only it doesn’t quite cut it. Almost all employed parents say they get stressed trying to balance responsibilities at work with those at home. Most also complain that their employer doesn’t seem to care.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution that doesn’t just help parents but helps parents help themselves. It can increase commitment up to fourfold, build practical skills that make employees more productive and reduce the amount of time workers take off because of child-related issues at home.
For those companies who have a genuine interest in social responsibility, there is no surer way to improve social mobility. Even better, it is extremely popular: 85% of working parents say they want it.
The answer is a workplace parenting programme that teaches how to be a better parent. Research over the last few decades has brought far greater precision to what constitutes good parenting.
We know, for example, that talking or reading directly to children in their early years improves verbal reasoning later. Spending one-to-one time with each child every day is likely both to improve their behaviour in the short term and their chances of forming secure relationships when they’re older.
Describing what a child does (I see you’ve drawn a red square with a yellow circle), or the effort they’ve put in, will help them become more self-sufficient whereas praising them with labels such as ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ is likely to have the opposite effect.
These techniques don’t apply just to children. Better managers, like parents, are consistent, attentive and have clear routines that they expect to be followed. They help people learn without giving them the answer and are empathetic yet firm when things go wrong.
Companies that have had limited success in equipping managers with these habits might find they’re more successful if they appeal to them as parents.
Royal Mail offered a series bite-size workshops on topics like “Guiding Hand: How to Help Someone Who’s Stuck’. These were promoted as a way to support your children with, say, their homework, but the hope was that supervisors would also use them to help new recruits settle in. Six weeks later 75pc of those who took part said they had successfully used the techniques at home and a whopping 86pc at work. The most common response: ‘this was really helpful; I just don’t understand why Royal Mail is paying for it’.
An American insurance firm discovered that 32pc of the variance in how committed an employee is depends on how much they feel that their work life helps enrich their home life. A separate study has confirmed the virtuous circle many of us assumed: when we are successful at home it improves our performance at work and, even more so, vice versa.
Most parents will care more about home than work however charismatic their leader or compelling the company mission. Rather than try to find a way around this, wise employers will embrace it and do their best to help working parents become better parents. A corporate gift that keeps on giving.