Many parents jumping ship despite strides in workplace flexibility

Ring Central Blog


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Dec 13, 2021

Workplace flexibility has always mattered to parents, but few fully realized their vision of it until the pandemic. After early work disruptions, with the entire family adjusting to homeschooling and remote work, many parents have settled into a comfortable routine that they don’t want to see reversed. 

That’s evident in survey results indicating a substantially higher likelihood of parental job dissatisfaction if employers dissolve the current remote work model, according to RingCentral’s new Return to Work Study of 9,000 global workers. A whopping 46% of parents claim they’ll leave their job if their employer requires in-person work, compared to just 27% of adults without children.

Employers have long understood that parents require flexibility due to last-minute time pressures. Parents may need a couple of hours once in a while for a doctor’s appointment for their child or for a semester-end meeting with a teacher. For most companies though, that was not an inconvenience as parents tended to be stable employees. During the pandemic, however, many women dropped out of the workforce because of a lack of available support infrastructure with schools and daycare shutting down.

The old thinking was that those happy parents — especially working moms (discussed here in a conversation I had last spring with RingCentral employees)— will stay with their employer. Yet today, even when they can work from anywhere, nearly one in four parents (24%) plan to leave their job within six months, compared to just 14% of nonparents. And the gap grows even more when you consider parents who plan to leave their jobs in the next six months (adults with children 21% vs. adults without children 15%). 

The pandemic has reshaped employment plans for many parents. While one-in-three Americans are planning to leave their job, nearly half of full-time working parents are looking for their next career move. Half of working parents are more likely to consider an employer with a remote working model.


Rethinking happiness and loyalty  

With so many firms willing to provide workplace flexibility, why are so many parents planning to leave? Surprisingly, it’s not because they’re discontent with work — it’s quite the opposite. Parents are nearly twice as likely as adults without children to say they’re happier now than they were before the pandemic. Working from home, which offers unparalleled time-shifting flexibility, suits them. 

But looking at the survey results, it turns out that parents and nonparents connect with their employers and co-workers in contrasting ways:

  • By a 37% to 17% margin, parents are more likely than adults without children to say their relationship is better with colleagues. And parents, by a 39% to 33% margin, are also more likely than adults without children to say they’re motivated by their colleagues.
  • Parents are more likely to be concerned about their manager or company leadership than their peers without children. Fortunately for employers, parents are twice as likely as nonparents to say their relationship is better with their supervisor due to the pandemic. 
  • Plus, parents are also more than twice as likely as nonparents to believe their manager has become more effective since the start of the pandemic.
  • Asked to name the most important reasons to remain in their job, 22% of adults without children cited career opportunities, while 30% of parents said the same. This gap — the largest one tilting toward parents rather than adults without children — suggests that parents feel a comparably higher sense of urgency about their employment.


On a Different Journey

If you could point to a single date when the career paths of parents and nonparents diverged, it might have been in March 2020 — when many employers sent everyone home to work. That was the date when parents became happier with work yet also more unsure about whether to stay with their employers. 

Yet, why do adults without children see things so much differently than parents do? After all, adults without children enjoy flexible schedules and less commuting too. My take is that adults without children have faced their own challenges — and a loss of freedom. Their outside interests–including travel, leisure activities, and hobbies–were mostly shut down. And for many, working remotely feels like a barrier to happiness.

Amid prolonged isolation, a sense of stagnation has developed. More than seven in 10 workers without children believe their relationships are unchanged with colleagues or managers. Parents are more than twice as likely to believe these relationships have improved. 

Nearly one in three full-time workers without children (32%) say what they value now is a sense of purpose at work — more so than parents do (26%).  

Even though schools have reopened and child care support is returning, working parents still feel as if they have more to lose than their counterparts without children. Will employers take these parental concerns to heart when formulating return-to-office, or hybrid work policies in 2022? With skill shortages running high across America, and many workers (especially mothers) dropping out of the workforce, working parents may have more leverage than ever before. 

The RingCentral Return to Work Study indicates that parents feel considerable career apprehension, not all of which can be explained by remote/hybrid work preferences. Where employers once counted on the loyalty of parents — perhaps taking them for granted — neither concern seems likely to persist. Parents need greater flexibility than ever before, and employers need the best employees possible like never before. Hybrid/remote work, coupled with greater employer flexibility, points the way to an even more amicable, and mutually beneficial, working parent and employer relationship. 

Note: This is the second of three planned posts discussing the findings of RingCentral’s Return to Work Study, fielded by Ipsos. Click here to read the first post, highlighting widespread resistance to in-office work. Click here to read the third post, highlighting what happens when employers fail to hear young workers pandemic concerns. 


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