How can we support single parents at work?

Single parenthood affects one in four families in France. It mainly affects women, and, in addition to the day-to-day challenges, creates major financial and/or housing difficulties.

As a manager, you may have to deal with this type of situation within your teams, impacting on day-to-day work. And it's not always easy to understand them, and therefore to deal with them properly.

Adrien Fender, senior manager at Stimulus, takes a look at the impact of single parenthood and shares some good managerial practices to consider when dealing with this type of situation.

Single parenthood and its impact on personal and professional life

  • Personal constraints become more rigid

The person loses room for flexibility when it comes to working hours. He or she can quickly find himself or herself on his or her own, having to manage school or nursery outings, extra-curricular outings and so on.

This "insurmountable" time constraint makes it more difficult to "finish" a project before leaving, even if it's only a matter of a few minutes. The project has to be picked up again the next day, and sometimes even in the evening, with repercussions on fatigue, performance as perceived by the team, etc.

Living on a single salary can also mean having to adjust one's personal life and forego services. This can create additional worries that will have an impact on your employee's concentration and performance.

  • Increased personal contingencies, more difficult to absorb

Employees may find themselves having to deal with sick children on their own, and therefore having to leave the office quickly in the event of an emergency.

The employee's mental workload also increases, as "non-work" subjects are brought into the workplace. He finds it hard to get his mind off all those administrative obligations he hasn't yet taken care of.

He'll also find it hard to attend the last-minute emergency meeting, or to complete the project that's taking longer than expected, or for which a problem has been identified at the last minute.

Finally, single parenthood, especially when it is a new and sudden situation, can have an impact on the team's perception of the affected employee's productivity and performance, as well as on his or her ability to take part in social events, and so on.

As a manager, how can you support single-parenthood at work, while preserving fairness within your team?

Two fundamental principles must guide all managerial decisions:

  • Any adjustment or relaxation of working hours, teleworking conditions or activity content must be validated by HR, to protect everyone from a legal point of view.
  • Any changes of any kind must avoid creating a feeling of dependence on management and the company. This can have a major impact on relationships and the psychological health of team members.

A few best practices can also be implemented:

1. Break the glass ceiling by not holding any meetings that finish after 5pm (or even 4pm). For those who wish to work beyond 5pm, no problem, but people must not find themselves trapped by meetings, in case of difficulty.

2. If accommodation has to be found, it should ideally be temporary, the time it takes for the employee to find his or her own organizational solutions. And in the event of changes affecting the organization of work for the rest of the team, you need to agree with your employee on what it will be possible to tell the rest of the team about his or her situation.

3. Telecommuting can be a solution... sometimes risky.

In fact, telecommuting is a flexible way of coping with personal contingencies, while keeping the employee in work. However, in certain situations (e.g., telecommuting to care for a sick child), you can't expect the same productivity or performance as usual, as you'll be working in downgraded mode.
The flexibility of telecommuting must therefore be combined with vigilance, and sometimes a temporary adjustment in expectations.

4. It may sometimes be necessary to collectively question certain operating norms and routines (the 8am Monday morning meeting, etc.) to adapt them to the new context. In this case, it's important to discuss them collectively within the team.

Over time, your single-parent situation will perhaps build up a network of solidarity thanks to the people around him/her, he/she will find organizational solutions "outside of work" to manage his/her contingencies, and mental load will perhaps drop a little. But this takes time, and if the collective can help with this transition, it will be beneficial for everyone.

The precautions and adjustments shared here can also be useful in many other personal situations that require adjustment in the professional sphere. Don't hesitate to draw inspiration from them and share them with others.

Adrien Fender,
Senior Manager,
Stimulus France