Diana Tickell: Line manager training is key to supporting working parents

Diana Tickell

A survey by the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS), published in April 2016, revealed that the vast majority of respondents, both parents and non-parents, believe that working mums and dads provide a positive contribution to the advertising industry. Despite this, we also found that many working parents are still experiencing significant pressures, such as managing workloads, fatigue and guilt, which lead to many leaving the industry and contributing to a cost of churn of £184m a year.

One surprising fact was that only 6% of those surveyed has received any type of training focused on how to support expectant and working parents. This is a huge error because an employee’s relationship with his or her direct manager is acknowledged as the most important factor in employee engagement and would help address the pressures described above.

Having good policies in place is important, but without adequate training we run the risk of not translating these policies into active practices that result in a supportive workplace culture. Some managers are not confident in spotting the signs of when people are struggling and are therefore ill-equipped to help, meaning poor practice remains unresolved.

Our survey taught us that we must ensure there is specific training on top of existing management or diversity training that focuses on expectant and working parents. Many of the organisations we spoke to that have created really supportive working cultures for working parents and are retaining their talent, train managers in appropriate maternity and paternity conversations.

They provide robust frameworks to advise line managers when managing working parents, encourage and offer coaching for pregnant workers before they go on maternity leave and have robust keep-in-touch and returner programmes. Importantly, they recognise the changing roles of parents and are holding workshops for new and expectant dads too.

Policies are really important in improving practices, but it’s behavioural change, which emanates from the very top, embedded throughout with training and accountability, that will ultimately change culture, and that’s the key to real, long-term change that benefits everyone; parents and their colleagues alike.

Diana Tickell is chief executive officer at the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS)