Member Article

Why parents should feel confident about a return to work

It is no secret that parents can experience a steep decline in confidence after having a child. A huge study on nearly 85,000 mothers conducted by the University of Tilburg showed a direct correlation between childbirth and childrearing and levels of self-esteem. For many of these women, their self-esteem levels still had not risen again three years after giving birth, at which point the study ceased.

Mandy Garner, Managing Editor at workingmums.co.uk, says this drop in self-esteem is a problem which can severely impact a parent’s career prospects.

“We know that loss of confidence is a huge issue for parents after extended periods of leave. There is much work to do to improve recognition among employers of the experience - both in work and life terms - that parents bring.”

Some employers, however, do already recognise the skills that parents possess. Gina Hollands is Commercial Director at creative marketing agency, PMW, and handles hiring. “Many of our team members are parents, and the skills they have acquired as a result are fundamental for the workplace. In our view, these skills are both highly sought-after and desirable.”

Here PMW takes a look at the top 10 skills parents have – even if they don’t know they have them!

1. Diplomacy When your child comes home from school upset because another pupil has called them names, your first thoughts as a parent are usually ones of empathy and annoyance on your child’s behalf. It’s natural to think of the other child as the baddie and to want to be disparaging, but that is likely to lead to even worse consequences the next day if your thoughts are repeated in the playground!

Instead, most parents recognise that the best way to deal with such situations is to try to take a diplomatic approach and suggest avoidance or handling techniques rather than tit-for-tat. Of course, depending on the severity of the situation, the right thing to do might be to speak to the school but, again, that is the parent’s judgement call – another skill parents develop in their nurturing role.

Diplomacy in the workplace is a very handy skill to have. Sometimes tempers among colleagues can fray and that’s when a level-headed interloper can be a welcomed influence.

2. Patience Although some parents may feel their children test their patience rather than improve it, once you become a parent, life isn’t quite so simple anymore. Ask any child what they did at school and you may be waiting eons before getting a sensible answer and that’s if you get one at all. Deciphering children’s responses or piecing together bits of information when clear communication is not forthcoming (think: teenagers) is also a new skill parents have to pick up. Code crackers have nothing on parents!

If you work in a team rather than independently, or you’re client-facing, you may find yourself at the mercy of colleagues or customers from whom you’re waiting on information. Their responses may not always be as speedy or thorough as you like, so it’s over to you to prise out the information. Unfortunately, this can be a slow process, in which patience is a virtue. See how, as a parent, this gives you a key advantage!

3. Compassion Compassion, understanding and empathy are at the heart of parenting. Trying to comprehend, consider and act on someone else’s feelings, even when you may not necessarily share them, often plays a part in guardianship. These skills are useful in the workplace too. Ever had a colleague who’s upset about something, whether personal or professional? Rather than shrugging off their feelings as silly or an overreaction, people with compassion and empathy (and that’s obviously not just limited to parents) are often best placed to help resolve the situation and achieve a favourable outcome.

4. Negotiation When you’re a parent it’s no longer just about you and what you want. Now, there’s someone else’s wants and needs to consider. Sometimes, of course, a no-negotiation stance might be the best course of action – just as it can be at times in the workplace – but on other occasions, reaching a mutually agreeable outcome can be the better way forward. Cue the parent: well-versed in the art of compromise and negotiation, the parent is often the master in dealing with difficult discussions.

5. Resilience Ever started on a project but given up before reaching the end because things got tough – too many obstructions and problems along the way? We’re probably all guilty of that at some point, as hurdles have an annoying way of eroding our staying power. But when you have children, there’s no going back or giving up – that’s a lifelong commitment, and one which has more of its fair share of challenges along the way.

Many parents come to realise that resilience, stamina and determination are must-haves when it comes to approaching any challenge, be it child-rearing or a testing work project! Stoicism and developing a rhino hide can also be the side effects of having children, which can be brought into the workplace to great effect!

6. Leadership This is of course not to say that all parents automatically make great leaders in a working environment, but bringing a child into the world and helping them navigate all that is thrown at them can certainly do wonders for improving a person’s leadership qualities, sometimes to the point that they’re able to transfer this into the workplace.

Offering mentorship, acting as coach, inspiring and positively influencing another person’s behaviours are all part of being an effective leader. Parents who are composing their CVs for the first time since having children would do well to remember that becoming a parent isn’t the time in life when working skills go out the window – quite the opposite – it can be the time when these skills are most effectively honed.

7. Creativity Ever had to think of a way to keep a child entertained on a rainy day when there’s not a lot to do and perhaps affordability is an issue? Chances are, a parent has, and possibly to various degrees of success. Trying different tacks with a small person who is not easily satisfied, kept entertained or indeed impressed at your efforts, has a good way of carving out the important skill of creativity in a person. There are endless opportunities for a creative mind in the working world, and not just within a creative industry such as marketing, fashion or the media. All industries and businesses benefit from a spot of creativity and ingenuity, so don’t be afraid to list it as one of your skills when applying for jobs.

8. Time management Any working parent knows how infuriating it can be when a colleague arrives late to work, flustered, claiming they’ve had no time for breakfast and/or no chance to worry about ironing their shirt and/or have forgotten something important as a result of their haste. This is because, as a responsible human being and parent, you have most likely managed to do everything your colleague hasn’t, while getting to work with time to spare. And all that while having to manage a small human being and deposit them promptly to their school or childcare facility.

Time management, while considered the elusive Holy Grail of many an employee, can often be a skill the parent possesses without even realising its value.

This skill is everything in the workplace, especially in a role such as account management or PR. Without it, clients don’t get their projects delivered on time, and the company gets a bad reputation. Never. Never, ever, underestimate the importance of having good time management in your armoury.

9. Communication Failing to communicate to other family members in your household can result in children not being picked up from school/friends’ houses/sporting clubs on time and vital paperwork not being filled in, meaning that much looked-forward-to school outing is missed. And that’s without even thinking about greater problems such as family expectations not being properly communicated and making false promises which are inevitably not met.

Effective communication in the workplace is essential if deadlines are to be realistic, toes are not to be stepped on and understanding of expectations are to be gained.

Some people are naturally more communicative than others, whether they have children or not, but as a parent considering a return to the workplace, it is worth considering whether having a family has improved your communication skill. If it has, mention this as a skill you possess when being interviewed.

10. Reliability For most parents, the prospect of letting down their children is unthinkable. And that is a moral which can extend beyond the household. Personal reliability aside for a moment, parents are often looking for long-term, permanent employment and many prefer to feel settled in a role if they have no intentions of moving locations while their children are in school. Hiring parents can therefore mean longevity and loyalty for employers, who may be keener to invest in individuals who are planning on sticking around for some years to come.

“Parents need to recognise that, far from being less able as a result of parental leave, they have additional skills,” says Mandy Garner. “Parenting is a process of huge change and learning and the ability to adapt to change and to learn are among the most valuable skills in today’s fast-changing workplace.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Sally Burfoot .

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