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By David Harder on August, 27, 2010

A matter of parenting

Many of you either know someone who is going through this experience or you are in it. There are many striking challenges in the modern workplace for employers as well as workers. We see more and more professionals leaving their jobs because they want to directly engage in the gift of being a parent. What do I know and feel about this personally? I surrendered my own child to adoption in my early twenties and located her two years ago. We have been making up for lost time ever since. Every moment is a gift. I’m blessed with a daughter who harbors no resentment and demonstrates gratitude all of the time. She is my role model.

In the last few years, many parents with hugely successful careers have come to me with a dilemma. Their children are growing up and intimate “under one roof” time with them is running out. In most cases, there isn’t a crisis with their children, the crisis is with the parents themselves. They realize a gift – always there – is being lost to extraordinary work schedules. Today, most employers are not forward thinking enough to create cultures where valued workers can engage in a dialogue about this issue. The American work culture glamorizes martyrs and victims. We often compete in telling stories of how much we’ve sacrificed to the cause. Some of us put on our shields and give our lives on the battlefield. Some of us simply complain too much. The day arrives with that chilly awakening, “My child is leaving for college in two years. Am I willing to sacrifice this experience?” That little remaining time becomes far more precious than the job. It is in that moment when the company’s talent philosophy about employment options determines “what’s next.” In the face of a global talent drought, it is time for all of us to modernize our thinking. The financial powerhouse, Lehman Bros., revamped their recruitment strategy to pursue women who had the resources to quit their jobs and be with their children. Who won? Lehman Bros. These are high potential professionals with strong industry/institutional knowledge and billions of revenue dollars from personal relationships. The company’s forward thinking recruitment strategy of offering part time executive level work and state-of-the-art childcare is creating a winning edge against less thoughtful competitors. Supporting individual needs in the workplace creates better health and greater productivity. From Workforce Magazine, executive Janet Hansen said, “Companies need to figure out how to have their best talent available 24 hours a day without burning them out. There’s nothing macho anymore about having a heart attack on the trading floor.”

Creating a great relationship towards work begins within ourselves. The healthiest executives and parents I know are the ones that draw clear boundaries between work schedules and the pleasure of being a parent. Note that we didn’t say “responsibility.” Life is short. No one knows better than me about lost opportunities. And, employers lose opportunities virtually every day by not thoroughly examining rites of passage and the impact on employment. Settling for family leave laws isn’t really enough. All too often, the unspoken alternative for valuable employees is to just leave. Give them the option of part time employment, telecommuting, job sharing, subcontracting – whatever it takes to retain the treasure of institutional knowledge and real talent. It might be time to establish open dialogues and workplace forums to discuss parenting, the dilemmas of the 24/7 workplace and options. Placing the entire burden on working parents shoulders creates a feeling there are no real options until it is too late for the employer – a resignation letter arrives. 

Sixteen years ago I rather naively told employers that our programs are about identifying and voicing the truth. Later, many of these same individuals told me, “I thought, ‘My God, if we got everyone to tell the truth, they’d leave.'” Here’s the truth: The grass usually isn’t greener across the street. In most cases, it’s the same. Usually the best reason to leave a job is for a better boss. Very often, growing and re-inventing oneself can happen without leaving. Everywhere, people are dealing with the same issues – making a living, dealing with chaos and periodically stopping the frenzy to examine how to be more fulfilled. Those moments of reflection are the times when employers want to be athletic and better than the competition because unlike myself, most of us don’t get a second chance at experiencing parenthood. Many employers don’t get a second chance at keeping a parent. 

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