Here’s How Applied Behavioural Science Helps Parents Return to Work

Becoming a parent can be one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs of all. It’s literally life-changing and full of ups and downs. Just thinking about transitioning back into the workforce once children begin school can feel incredibly daunting. Sometimes, just surviving the day can feel like an achievement in itself and getting just 5 minutes to yourself to drink a cup of coffee can feel like a big win!

What we do know is that getting back into work, although challenging, is incredibly valuable to our mental health.  Social psychologist Marie Jahoda identified five attributes that are vital to feelings of wellbeing, which can all be provided by employment: time structure, social contact, collective purpose, social identity and regular activity.

We often take these benefits of work for granted, but how do we get inside the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of a parent who may or may not be willing to navigate the world of work? Here at Esher House, we have uncovered some answers…

What parents are really thinking in terms of their work readiness

Behavioural insights have helped us better unpack a parent’s perception of work, including the unique challenges faced on their journey to becoming work ready. Our literature review found that these main themes contributed to a parent’s work readiness:

  1. The desire to independently provide for their children and be a positive role model.
  2. Seeing employment as important to their identity with a desire for autonomy, competence, and relatedness – they want to do something for themselves again.
  3. Lack of confidence in abilities to enter the workforce (due to the length of time away, not finishing year 12 or outdated skills for their particular domain).
  4. An absence of qualifications, experience or career counselling to identify what the person is good at – especially in early school leaver parents
  5. Intergenerational reliance on welfare (if their parents were on long-term parent support welfare, they were more likely to think it’s acceptable and follow suit).
  6. Wanting to work but fearing financial disincentives (i.e. will the parent think they are better or worse off financially if working?).
  7. Worry and stress of feeling overwhelmed when balancing work readiness activities with family/parent responsibilities. These competing priorities are particularly acute for lone parents or if the partner parent works away

Interventions that build on one’s self-efficacy can help parents achieve their work/study goals

One of the overarching themes occurring in the literature was that parents experienced a lack of confidence in their own abilities, particularly those out of the workforce for a longer period of time. This confidence is referred to in the behavioural science world as self-efficacy.

Studies show that self-efficacy is the key trait to build in a person who is out of work. Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” When getting work ready or even just trying to gain the motivation to do something positive about your current situation, holding this belief in your ability to succeed is vitally important.

Studies have revealed that work readiness interventions that included improving a person’s self-efficacy were 3.25 times more effective than those that did not.

One of the most successful self-efficacy building exercises involves teaching the particpant to turn negative self-statements into positive ones. For example, from “I’m not really good at anything” to “I can identify my strengths, and this can provide some direction for me to progress towards my work goal”. Social cognitive theory posits that this type of self-persuasion training is “very effective, largely because it comes from someone that most people believe to be credible and trustworthy – themselves”. The simple exercise, through repeated affirmations, changes self-defeating self-talk into self-enabling self-talk – which is much more functional.

Parents can also benefit greatly from other behavioural science interventions that build self-efficacy and, ergo, a positive attitude, motivation, and a willingness to work. Techniques include being solutions-focused instead of problem-/barriers-focused, strengths identification and development, building resilience, enhancing a growth mindset and effective communication skills techniques. Esher House has demonstrated with thousands of jobseekers that these all build work readiness and successful outcomes.

How these insights can be used to increase employment outcomes for parents

With the right tools and resources, this evidence-based knowledge can help to inform the quick assessment of parents’ work readiness and helps service providers understand what the parent is really thinking. This swiftly enables a provider to use a one-to-one coaching tool that elicits research-based ‘change talk’ and specifically targets interventions to the parent’s stage of genuine work readiness, leaving the rest of their time to focus on; building confidence and resilience skills (for managing work preparation and parenting responsibilities), identifying strengths and developing action plans to meet their goals.

Investing in targeted, timely support to help parents of young children become work ready makes good social and economic sense. To learn more about developing this capability in your organisation, feel free to contact the Esher House team for a chat at gro.e1558417519suohr1558417519ehse@1558417519ofni1558417519.