How HR can help single parents

Employers should consider the needs of employees who might need additional support, such as single parents, argues HR expert Kate Palmer.

Image of a baby's hand holding an adult hand


Earlier this month, a report published by Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parent families, revealed that UK businesses are missing out on valuable workplace skills due to workplace barriers which limit opportunities for single parents to progress in their jobs.

The majority of single parents in the UK are in work (70 per cent), but they are more likely to be low paid and less likely to progress out of low pay, compared with other groups, including parents in couples. So how can HR and employers support single parent workers?

Many single parents find it increasingly challenging to balance their parenting and work commitments and therefore would benefit hugely from further support from their employer. Although some employers may initially be resistant to introducing new measures that could help parents in this position, the long-term benefits may help convince them otherwise. By managing this situation carefully, businesses can help working parents stay in their role for longer and assist companies in retaining valued staff.

Don’t judge

The first thing a company should ensure is that all managers and team leaders are fully trained in responding to situations where members of staff may need further support due to outside commitments, such as being a single parent. Those in a position of authority should always respond in a non-judgemental manner and be prepared to work with the employee to find solutions that benefit both them and the company. If any employee feels their manager has mistreated them, their complaint should be investigated.

Allowing a single parent to change their hours through a flexible working arrangement can be a highly efficient way of supporting working parents. While employers can refuse these requests providing they have a valid business reason, facilitating flexible working wherever possible can be vital to helping single parents to balance work and childcare commitments more effectively.


Single parents may also struggle to facilitate childcare at certain times of the year, such as the school summer holidays, and are more likely to request periods of annual leave in this time.  This may cause issues for smaller employers if many staff require the same dates off work. While employers are free to reject leave requests which they feel are unworkable, they should encourage all of their staff to provide as much notice as possible when making requests. This way, working parents can aim to avoid missing out.

Employers may also want to consider offering additional assistance to help employees in child caring commitments, such as subsidised nursery places or on-site crèches. However, this may not be an option for all businesses. Alternatively, offering enhanced rates of maternity and paternity leave and pay can be especially effective in supporting single parents at work. While there is no legal requirement to provide over the statutory minimum, allowing staff to take extended periods of leave or offering higher rates of pay should reduce the need for them to rush back to work, while also reassuring them the company is aware of their situation and is willing to support them.


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