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:
- The desire to independently provide for their children and be a positive role model.
- Seeing employment as important to their identity with a desire for autonomy, competence, and relatedness – they want to do something for themselves again.
- Lack of confidence in abilities to enter the workforce (due to the length of time away, not finishing year 12 or outdated skills for their particular domain).
- An absence of qualifications, experience or career counselling to identify what the person is good at – especially in early school leaver parents
- 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).
- Wanting to work but fearing financial disincentives (i.e. will the parent think they are better or worse off financially if working?).
- 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.e1537436210suohr1537436210ehse@1537436210ofni1537436210.
Last night’s Federal Budget had several implications for employment initiatives in Australia.
The success of Transition to Work for young people has justified a lifting of the cap on funding to facilitate a demand-driven model. Further, a real focus on mature age support has come into effect. From a purely economic and biological perspective, Australians are living longer and will want to live productive lives for longer. Work is undoubtedly evidenced to improve mental and physical wellbeing too, so the Department of Health will be an indirect benefactor of people working for longer. There is now an irrefutable “return on investment” from supporting work transitions for citizens in their fifties and sixties.
Esher House’s Assessment of Work Readiness (AWR) prescriptive analytic evidences very different attitudes to employment between different “segments” of jobseekers. Parents, citizens with a disability, mature age, Indigenous and remote Australians and young people all have very different cognitive attitudes, drivers and inhibitors to employment. Knowing someone’s genuine commitment to employment informs very different interventions to best engage and support a jobseeker to progress into sustained employment.
For example, single parents are the most likely segment of Australian jobseeker to be in the “Preparation” stage: they truly want to get back to work, but they feel they’re lacking in confidence and the required skills. Young people are, perhaps debunking some conventional wisdom, the least likely cohort to be in “Precontemplation”: belligerently not wanting to work. Next week’s blog will go into further detail on this.
Mature age jobseekers’ genuine commitment to employment? Well, they’re polarised. More likely than an average jobactive participant to be in the “Action” stage – gung-ho committed to returning to work…but also more likely to be in “Precontemplation”.
Human behaviours and motivators are complex – but they’re possible to unravel and harness to help improve the lives of each citizen. That’s why Esher House greatly welcomes and applauds the Department of Jobs and Small Business’ discrete initiatives, including focusing upon support for mature age Australians: the rollout of the Career Transition Service, the Skills and Training Incentive, Entrepreneur Facilitators and the Job Change programmes.
Have you imagined your best possible self lately? It’s an easy activity you can do now
Picture yourself – at your actual best – thriving one year from now. Researchers call this your best possible self.
You can imagine your best possible self in a general way in the future, or focus on a particular area such as your best possible self in a relationship or in your community or in your career.
Which of your character strengths could help you get there?