Juggling professional and family life is the age-old problem for parents all over the world. Being expected to work as if you have no children, and to raise children as if you do not work, leads to many mums and dads feeling torn in two. Eventually, one side of the equation has to suffer. And all too often, it’s the kids who lose out.
“Abu Dhabi children spend an average of 60%-70% of their week with their nannies and only 30%-40% with their parents, which we know is linked to pressures at work” says Laila Al Hassan, Acting Chief Culture Officer at Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA), in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
“Think about that for a minute. This means that parents are missing out on crucial time when they could be playing an active role during their children’s early development. This period is considered to be the most influential in life, with the brain’s internal structure reaching 90% of its development by the age of five.”
With this in mind, Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority launched the innovative ‘Parent-Friendly Label’ (PFL) for companies on 30 May 2021, an initiative that aims to promote a parent-friendly workplace culture in Abu Dhabi.
“The end goal is cultivating a culture that is compassionate towards working parents of young children” adds Al Hassan. “That could result in more quality time spent with their children but it can also mean improved wellbeing for the parent.”
Could your UAE employer be about to become more flexible?
The ECA’s Parent-Friendly Label is a voluntary initiative, open to semi-government and private sector companies, which provides a set of criteria that employers can adopt in order to be recognized and awarded for their parent-friendly policies, practices and culture.
Although the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority was established a few months before COVID-19 hit, the blurring of personal and professional boundaries that came from lockdown and working from home helped to highlight the benefits of some of the Authority’s desired policies, says the ECA’s Acting Chief Culture Officer, Laila Al Hassan. “We now know our colleague’s children’s names (even their pet’s names!), and the workplaces who used to have trust issues – to put it bluntly – with offering the flexibility of working remotely to their employees, have now realized how supporting employees to juggle life and work impacts the business positively and doesn’t affect productivity as they thought it would.”
The workplaces who used to have trust issues with offering flexible working have realized how it can impact the business positively
There will always be old habits ingrained that need to be challenged and tackled, says Al Hassan. “The Parent-friendly Label does just that. By openly setting criteria for companies to meet, so that parents feel supported enough to juggle family requirements and work obligations, this means both semi-government and private companies are not losing out on the experienced talent out there, simply because they have chosen to start a family of their own.”
What makes a company Parent-Friendly?
Organizations can apply to one of the label’s two levels, the Parent-Friendly (the first level) and Parent-Friendly Plus (the advanced level). Organizations eligible to apply for the PFL must be either from the private sector, semi-government sector or third sector, must have a valid trade license issued in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi or issued by a free zone in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and demonstrate a commitment to parent-friendliness.
The categories that companies need to demonstrate a commitment in are:
- parental leave
- flexible work
- family care
- family wellbeing
- and culture
To maintain the credibility and integrity of the PFL, all applicants are assessed against 19 criteria spanning five categories, by an independent third party as well as an independent judging panel, made up of senior members from leading public institutions, says Al Hussan.
“Eight of these criteria are mandatory and 11 are optional. Organizations are also invited to share the creative and non-traditional approaches they have applied to better support parents through innovative workplace policies and practices. Examples of criteria including offering sufficient maternity and paternity leave that is more in line with global standards, flexibility in how and when this maternity leave is taken and the option for transitional working arrangements upon the employee’s return to work."
Examples of criteria including offering sufficient maternity and paternity leave that is more in line with global standards, flexibility in how and when this maternity leave is taken and the option for transitional working arrangements upon the employee’s return to work.
Al Hassan uses the example of new fathers to illustrate how companies can tackle problems facing parents: “Let’s take fathers for instance. We’ve all been there. The child is born, and the father is forced to use up his annual leave days to run around town finishing the paperwork because he isn’t granted enough paternity leave. This is the case especially with expatriate families who may not have the benefit of family support here. The Parent-friendly Label wants to change that.
“We want to see more companies demonstrating compassion towards parents of younger children. Research suggests that the more we enable new fathers to support both the new mother and the new-born, the better results we’ll expect in terms of developmental outcomes, potentially leading to less behavioral problems and improved mental health.”
How being more parent-friendly benefits companies
It’s not only families who benefit from flexible, parent-friendly policies, says Al Hussan. “From a business angle, when employees feel supported by their employers to juggle their work and family commitments they can better deal with stress and have improved wellbeing. It’s a well-known fact that your employees’ wellbeing is a key factor in determining an organization's long-term success and efficacy and is linked to productivity. Being parent-friendly means you can have a positive impact on recruitment, retention, loyalty, and morale.”
The ECA’s PFL initiative is a win-win for everyone. Parents benefit in terms of increased flexibility and wellbeing. Companies benefit in terms of employee loyalty and morale. And, most important of all, children will benefit from spending more time with their less-stressed parents during a formative time in their development, which means it will have positive implications for the rest of their lives. What’s not to love?