CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Giving working parents a hand

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun

In the ongoing effort of working parents to achieve work-life balance, the tide has turned: more and more are becoming less likely to sacrifice their family lives to work, and are seeking out progressive employers that will recognize and support their dual roles.
Partners in Parents at Work: Michael Held, Aimee Israel and Alexis Wise.

Companies that want to attract and retain top talent are recognizing that they'd better shape up, or face losing productivity.

Indeed, a 2001 government report estimated that work-life conflict costs Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion in lost time due to work absences.

Aiming to change all of that is Parents at Work, an innovative new program of workshops and seminars paid for by employers that enables employees with children to get help in the workplace.

"The No. 1 issue for working parents is work-life balance," says Aimee Israel, co-founder and CEO of Parents at Work. "Men and women today are less willing to make the traditional trade-off and are looking for organizations that are more family friendly."

Israel, herself a mother of two, and her two partners have access to more than 50 experts, including life coaches, parenting counsellors, education consultants and health professionals. Presenters go to workplaces during lunch hours and give parents current and practical advice about topics such as family health and nutrition, child safety, discipline techniques, family financial management, and achieving professional and family goals.
Ernst and Young

Companies can sign up for a package of eight to 12 seminars that take place over the course of a year. Israel says the program has struck a chord with forward-thinking organizations, and has attracted interest from government, universities, and companies from the financial, telecom and pharmaceutical sectors.

"The response has been great. Employers recognize that this is a pressing issue," Israel says. "They're also recognizing there's a huge business case for them in terms of enhanced recruiting and retaining of employees and improved productivity. They'll have happier, more productive workers who will be less stressed at home, and coming in in a better frame of mind."

Common pressures

Participants in the seminars also realize they're not alone as they learn about the struggles of other working parents.

"I've worked with so many people who've felt they were the only ones who had to leave a job because they couldn't make it work," Israel says. "If they talked to the person down the hall, they'd have realized they also had a two-year-old and the same pressures."

Sandra Hamilton knows all about the pressures of balancing family and work life. As a full-time tax manager for Ernst & Young and the mother of two young twin boys, Hamilton and her husband, who also works full time, invest a lot of time juggling professional obligations with taking kids to day care, appointments and more.

On Nov. 19, Ernst & Young held a children's health seminar led by Dr. Jeremy Friedman, head of paediatric medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and 65 employees attended, including Hamilton.

"He talked a lot about common illnesses, their symptoms and possible remedies. He covered material that was really relevant to parents," she says. "But more than that, it was nice to hear his perspectives from his roles both as a doctor and as a parent, and about what he would do with his own children."

She adds that the seminar gave her the chance to meet and swap coping stories with other working parents.

"It helps to network with other parents, and to know that a senior partner has the same parenting issues," she says.

Companies and working parents can find out more about Parents At Work at

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