Working parents building their families by adopting a child face many challenges, including financial (adoptions in the U.S. can cost up to $58,000), logistical (the paperwork can feel endless), and emotional. When employees perceive their organization to be supportive of their family in general, they’re more satisfied with their jobs, more committed to their organizations, and less likely to leave. The authors sought to discover how organizations can support adoptive parents in particular by surveying married couples who had adopted a child in the last few years. They found a variety of types of support, some more costly than others, that adoptive parent employees see as meaningful and present five ways leaders can better support adoptive parents in their organizations.
Approximately 100,000 children are adopted by parents in the United States each year. While there are less-expensive options for adopting a child, namely adoption through foster care, some adoptions can cost up to $58,000. In addition to the financial burden, people opting to build their families through adoption are faced with the unique challenges that come with the adoption process, such as making life-changing decisions, filling out seemingly endless paperwork, going through the home-study process, and enduring the emotional roller coaster of waiting to be matched with their child and finalizing the adoption. And when one or both adoptive parents are working, they’re faced with balancing all of those challenges with the demands of their work.
What we know is that when employees perceive their organization to be supportive of their family in general, they’re more satisfied with their jobs, more committed to their organizations, and less likely to leave — all great things. So, what can organizations do? The answer is simple: Provide meaningful support for adoptive parents. We sought to understand the benefits of this kind of organizational support by surveying married couples who had adopted a child within the last few years.
The Benefits of Providing Adoption Support
The good news for organizations is there is a variety of types of support, some more costly than others, that adoptive parent employees see as meaningful.
Some organizations provide financial reimbursement for adoption-related expenses, paid or unpaid leave, flexible work arrangements, or managerial support for employees during and after the adoption process. These are all forms of organizational support for adoption (OSFA), which is the intentional effort on the part of an organization, through financial, environmental, or procedural means, to support an employee who is in the process of adopting or has recently adopted a child. The 2022 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey found that 28% of organizations offer paid adoption leave.
In our research, we discovered that OSFA has a far-reaching positive impact for both the employees and the organization. Our study showed that more OSFA led to positive outcomes for employees at work (e.g., higher organizational commitment). OSFA also led to more positive outcomes at home (e.g., increased family functioning and decreased relationship tension).
But the positive impact didn’t stop there: Employees’ spouses were also more committed to the organization that provided OSFA, a factor that has been shown to be important to employees’ own commitment to their organization. Finally, and most importantly to the adoption community, OSFA led to increased attachment of the adopted child to both the employee and their spouse, a huge family — as well as societal — benefit.
How to Support Adoptive Parents
Here are five ways leaders can better support adoptive parents in their organization:
Adoptions are expensive. On average, it costs families $35,000 to adopt a baby through a private adoption agency. Employees seeking to build their families through adoption will be faced with agency fees, legal fees, medical expenses, and more. Providing financial reimbursement to aid in these adoption expenses will not only help with the financial burden of adopting, reducing stress for the employees, but it could also motivate more employees to adopt. In a recent study by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 64% of Americans said their employer’s financial support of adoption impacts their decision to adopt.
Offering paid leave is another way to support working adoptive parents. Many adoption-friendly organizations will offer the same leave benefits to adoptive parents as they offer for maternity and/or paternity leave. Similar to financial reimbursement, paid leave plays an important role in whether employees adopt — 68% of Americans claim that access to paid leave impacts their decision.
Flexible work arrangements
Managers can also support adoption by providing flexible work arrangements for adoptive parents. The adoption process can be complex and may require employees to leave work for home studies, court appointments, or even domestic or international travel. Granting employees the flexibility to work outside of normal hours or to work remotely will help them better manage their work and family demands throughout the adoption process. As one survey participant told us: “[The organization’s] flexibility was invaluable. It eased the stress in so many ways. It gave me the freedom to spend lots of time with my family but contribute to my normal work as well. They really helped me balance things.”
Connect employees with adoption networks or support groups
Another way to support adoptive parents is to connect them with local adoption networks or support groups. Not only will the support they receive from there be beneficial, but being the one to connect them shows that you care about their family and support their adoption efforts, which is sure to go far in ensuring employee commitment and loyalty.
The adoption of a child is a monumental event for your employees and should be treated as such. Society is quick to celebrate pregnancies and births, showering the new parent with flowers, cards, parties, and gifts. Yet adoptive parents often get overlooked. Celebrating your employee’s new family communicates to them that you recognize the significance of the event.
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Providing support to adoptive working parents doesn’t have to be complicated or even expensive. Our research suggests that the return on investment is significant, enhancing employees’ and their families’ well-being. Further, providing OSFA is an important step toward legitimizing adoption as a way to build one’s family and an innovative way to benefit society as a whole.