Finding Work-Life Harmony: How Working Parents Are Supported and Valued

Sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories

A working parent at Sandia.

Photo courtesy of Sandia.

Sandia National Laboratories
Sandia National Laboratories
May 25, 2024 at 2:18PM UTC

Work-life balance for a working parent can be challenging. It can be difficult for companies to embrace a culture that allows for a career where parents can fluidly integrate their work and home life. At Sandia Labs, the Sandia Parents Group (SPG) aims to engage and retain working parents and caregivers by offering resources and a community to support work-life balance. 

In 2015, the Sandia Parents Group started as a small networking group and quickly grew its membership and programming. The SPG was formally recognized by Sandia’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equal Employment Opportunity & Affirmative Action (IDEA) office as an Employee Resource Group (ERG) in 2020. Currently, SPG has 600+ members across Sandia’s sites in New Mexico and California, as well as the virtual workforce. 

We got a chance to sit down with the co-chairs of the Sandia Parents Group  – Lisa Kittinger and Carnie Abajian. Here’s what they had to say about how the group provides support to Sandia working parents in their journey to develop work-life harmony.

What is the mission and vision of the Sandia Parents Group (SPG)?

The focus of the Sandia Parents Group is to support parents, of all types, in the workplace. Our mission is to create a community of Sandia employees who can be successful, productive, and healthy within their workplace while managing caregiving responsibilities. Our vision is to engage and retain Sandia’s workforce by fostering a culture of connectedness and work-life balance so working parents can thrive in their careers. We value parental flexibility and options, strengthening Sandia’s community, diversity of membership, and treating ourselves and others with compassion, empathy, and respect.

What is your role in the Sandia Parents Group?

We are the co-chairs of the SPG and help the board fulfill their roles, propose new ideas to grow and mature the group, and lead the group to fulfill its mission of supporting working parents at Sandia National Laboratories. 

Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources, and tools do you or other parents at Sandia rely on to get it all done?

With the support and commitment of a board of volunteers, our executive champion, and support from the IDEA office, the Sandia Parents Group offers a variety of programming including: monthly presentations, guest speakers, events, resources, mentorship, a website, a Microsoft Teams channel, and various engagements with leadership and our communities. Our board consists of 13 members that bring their time and talents to serve the parent community at Sandia. SPG is successful because everyone who serves has a passion around making the workplace better for parents. 

Lisa, what’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today? What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like parents can achieve it at Sandia?

One misconception is that there’s an equal balance between the two. 

For me, I’ve learned the hard way to let go of work-life “balance” and instead embrace work-life “harmony.” Work-life balance felt like a standard that I was rarely meeting. Work-life “harmony” says both worlds are intertwined and interdependent. As a full-time employee, mother to three kids, wife, friend, student, volunteer, and the other roles I fulfill, it’s more about flexibility than balance. I make conscious choices about what to prioritize and the rationale for doing so given the circumstances at the time. 

During the hardest months of the pandemic the concept of “balance” was impossible for most parents. We had to weave in the various elements of our personal and work lives to sustain our homes and careers. We brought kids to virtual meetings or worked odd hours so we could care for our children when they were awake. Now, we are all re-entering a new understanding of what “balance” looks like for ourselves and our families, and I assume it will be different than before. We have been fortunate to have jobs during the pandemic at an employer that did everything possible to provide flexibility into our work lives. Managers and executive leadership were supportive and accommodating. 

Carnie, let’s talk about your company’s culture. What’s the best aspect of it, and how does your employer aid employees in achieving that balance?

I started at Sandia during the pandemic and immediately experienced how supportive Sandia is when it comes to accommodating the needs of working parents. I had three preschool/elementary kids conducting virtual schooling from home. My manager made sure that my start date and project worked for my family situation. I observed that other working moms were able to switch to full-time telecommuting with flexible working hours. I was able to focus on my new job with the understanding that Sandia would work with me if my family situation changed.

Why do you think your company is a particularly great place to be a working parent? (Parental leave, flexibility, remote work options, healthcare/childcare, employee resource groups, etc.) 

As an organization, Sandia has great benefits and perks that support parents — an expectant parent program, family care resources, flexible work schedules, and paid family leave are just to name a few. 

Following the birth of a child, mothers are provided 6 weeks of paid leave, plus an additional 6 weeks that are 70% paid (but we can use our accrued vacation time to cover the 30% gap). This allows for baby bonding time and recovery. For spouses, the paid family leave benefit will pay for 70% of their time off. Additionally, Sandia has beautiful nursing rooms around campus, a medical facility where we can get lab work completed, and we can request temporary handicap parking spots during pregnancy, if needed. Sandia also has nutritionists and fitness classes too. 

One thing we appreciate is that executive leadership takes time to listen to the needs and concerns of the parent population. Most managers are supportive and willing to accommodate schedule changes (e.g., moving to a part-time schedule; switching up hours, etc.).

Lastly, what’s your best advice for new parents who are navigating the delicate balance of working and parenting?

The best advice we have for new parents is:

  1. Find a community or mentors to help you and support you in your parenting journey. Get plugged in with others (at work, place of worship, in the neighborhood, etc.) that will listen, encourage, and inspire you. 

  2. Ask for help! Don’t think you need to be able to do it all yourself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many people will rally around you and your family. Be specific in your requests, whether it is for help grocery shopping, soliciting good daycare suggestions, or approaching a work-schedule change.

The Sandia Parents Group (SPG) is a great resource for those navigating the world of work and parenting at Sandia. If you’re interested in learning more about the SPG, check out this video

For the third consecutive year, Sandia National Laboratories has earned top-level recognition from Family Friendly New Mexico for our paid leave options, health services, flexible work schedules, economic support, pay equity, diversity and inclusion, and community involvement. Read more about the recognition.

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