How to support new parents in the workplace

Employment & Skills | How To

Managers have a responsibility to look after the well-being on their staff, even if they are struggling due to external factors outside of the workplace. A change in circumstances can massively impact an employee’s performance and job satisfaction, especially when it comes to life changing events such as having children.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 76% of parents, both mums and dads, have frequent sleep problems and a further study of over 4,600 parents found that sleep satisfaction and duration steeply decline when parenthood starts. The effects of sleep deprivation extend to more than just tiredness, it can affect new parents both physically and emotionally too, especially when combined with balancing work and home life.

The impact of sleep deprivation on staff

Sleep deprivation can cause many changes in an individual at work and will likely affect an individual’s performance. Whether this is increasing the chances of making mistakes or not working to their usual level. This can reflect badly on the member of staff but also on the company should clients or customers pick up on this. Concentration levels are a key factor in this, affecting an employee’s productivity and attention to detail. Managers should encourage staff to take regular breaks, review workloads and working hours to ensure they are working efficiently.

Poor sleep quality also affects mood, so you may see a change in an employee’s behaviour and attitude towards work and colleagues. This can cause workplace tensions can escalate more quickly, meaning managers need to be aware of the extra stresses on a staff member who has recently returned to work. These changes in mood can be minor or they may be a more serious mental health issue and it’s important to be conscious of this also. Mind charity has useful training and education materials online which give guidance on how to support staff struggling with their mental health.

New parents and their sleep patterns

A parental sleep study by Spa Seekers found that new parents are missing out when it comes to getting a good night’s rest, with working parents waking on average 26 time per night. The study also found that the average amount of deep sleep experienced overnight was 1 hour and 22 minutes.

Deep sleep has several benefits for  health, including restoring energy, keeping the immune system strong and helping to repair muscle tissues and bones. Plus, it helps with both short-term and long-term memory, so missing out on deep sleep can have a huge impact on employees across all areas of work.

As part of National Bed month, Lisa Artis, sleep adviser at the Sleep Council said: “We need a good quality night’s sleep to function at our best and most of us need a good seven to eight hours of solid sleep a night. New parents who are waking frequently are in danger of becoming too tired to be truly effective at work. Chronic sleep debt can have a seriously damaging effect on our mental and physical health and research shows that lack of sleep erodes concentration and problem-solving ability. Each hour of sleep lost per night is associated with a temporary loss of one IQ point.”

“As well as supporting new parents when they come back to work there are some other coping strategies too such as taking a walk at lunchtime to feel more alert, splashing your face or running your wrists under cold water and keeping hydrated which stops you feeling sleepy and dizzy.”

Five ways to support new parents

Flexible working

Offering flexible hours will allow parents to adapt their work life to their new sleep patterns. Starting an hour later or figuring out a schedule that allows the employee to split time with their partner can make a huge difference.

Remote working

Being able to work from home can also be beneficial. Less time spent commuting can mean more time sleeping. It also means they can do jobs around the house on their lunch break, fitting more into their day, again leaving more time to catch up on sleep before or after work.

Open communication

Having regular catch ups with new parents about workload can make them feel more supported and open up opportunities for them to discuss what could help. Use these catch-ups as an opportunity to find out what exactly they need support with and what types of help, such as flexible working, would be the most beneficial for them personally.

Extended parental leave

All children are different and so making sure parents are aware of your company’s parental leave policy, whether paid or unpaid should be something to consider. This is additional to maternity or paternity leave and further information on the topic can be found on Gov.uk.

The working environment

Does your workplace have quiet rooms? Space where new parents can go and work, away from the chatter of the main office could be a much-needed escape. Some offices even have sleep pods, so that staff can re-energise on their breaks – there are also nap pods for hire around some cities.

Becoming a parent whether for the first time or not is a massive step in a person’s life, however, managers and colleagues can really help make the transition easier. Whether that’s flexible working or managing workloads, the most important thing is to recognise the change and offer support where you can.

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