How Parents' Work Affects Children (And What Companies Can Do)
Updated: Oct 28
It is well-known that our work experiences can have profound effects on various aspects of our lives. However, what many employers fail to realize is the impact of parents' work and how it affects the development of children.
A longitudinal study conducted by researchers on low-wage, working-class families sheds light on the significant correlation between parents' work experiences and their children's outcomes. This article explores the study's findings and highlights the importance of creating supportive workplaces that prioritize the well-being of working parents and their children.
The Longitudinal Study
The study followed more than 370 low-wage families over a period of ten years, tracking their experiences from pregnancy through the early years of parenthood. The research team employed a comprehensive approach that combined in-home interviews, parent and teacher reports, and first-hand observations to assess the impact of parents' work lives on their children's development.
Parental Work Experiences and Infant Interactions: Parents who experienced greater autonomy and had supportive supervisors and coworkers exhibited warmer and more engaged interactions with their infants. This positive parenting behavior in the first year of a child's life was found to significantly impact their attachment level, emotional regulation, social skills, and academic achievement.
Long-Term Effects on Children's Development: The study consistently found that children whose parents had more positive work experiences during their first years as parents displayed better reading and math skills, improved social skills, and fewer behavioral problems in the first grade. These results held true for both mothers and fathers, highlighting the significance of any parent's workplace experience on their child's development.
Real-Life Examples: The research team shared anecdotes that exemplified the impact of work experiences on parenting and a child's outcome. For instance, Tyson, a father working for a shipping company with stringent monitoring policies, experienced high-stress levels, leading to exhaustion and limited energy for his infant. In contrast, Sonya, a home health aide with an empowering and respectful supervisor, demonstrated warm and engaged parenting behaviors toward her daughter, Kaya.
Implications for Employers
Corporate Social Responsibility: Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the impact of work on employees' children is as positive as possible. Recognizing the effects of work on families aligns with ethical practices and demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of employees and their children.
Business Benefits: Companies that prioritize the well-being of working parents and their families benefit from increased productivity, reduced sick leave, and a more motivated workforce. When employees face challenges in their personal lives, such as with their partners or children, it can have a detrimental impact on their performance and overall happiness at work.
Creating Supportive Workplaces: Employers can adopt various practices to create supportive work environments for parents:
Flexibility and Accommodation: Offer flexible work arrangements and provide support when employees face family emergencies or unexpected situations.
Recognition and Empowerment: Acknowledge and appreciate employees' unique contributions and provide opportunities for growth and innovation.
Communication and Support: Foster open communication channels, encourage feedback, and provide resources for improving work-life integration.
Managerial Training: Train supervisors to be understanding, empathetic, and supportive, ensuring they are aware of employees' experiences and challenges.
Employers have a profound influence on the well-being and development of children by fostering supportive work environments for their parents. Recognizing the correlation between parents' work experiences and children's outcomes, organizations can prioritize the holistic well-being of their employees and their families. By investing in employees' autonomy, supportive relationships, and effective communication, employers can create workplaces that positively impact not only individual employees but also their children, families, and communities, leading to a healthier and more sustainable future.
Want to create a psychologically safe workplace to retain employees? Start here.
Source: Perry-Jenkins, M. (2023). How a Parent’s Experience at Work Impacts Their Kids. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2023/01/how-a-parents-experience-at-work-impacts-their-kids