Prague-based family advisor helps employees navigate "digital parenting"

Family advisor Martina Slabá tells us how companies can best help employees manage work-life balance amidst the Covid pandemic.

Chloe’ Skye

Written by Chloe’ Skye
Published on 20.05.2021 11:52 (updated on 21.05.2021)

Pandemic or no, we bet a lot of new and veteran parents would love a dedicated Family Advisor on their team, someone to help them navigate parental leave, the many ups and downs of parenthood, and, during the pandemic, the balance between homeschooling and home office. 

Besides being the first company in the Czech Republic to have a corporate kindergarten accredited by the Ministry of Education, ExxonMobil provides a robust profile of family advising services for all stages of parenthood.

In the era of “digital parenting,” this role is more important than ever. That’s why ExxonMobil Family Advisor Martina Slabá has come to show parents they are not alone, plus to share her #1 tip for improving family quality time.

Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.
Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.

What does a Family Advisor do outside of a worldwide pandemic?

In a nutshell, a Family Advisor’s role is to support ExxonMobil employees and their family members, with a particular focus on parents. We currently have 700 parents under our wing, including 170 currently on parental leave.

As Family Advisor, I consult and provide help in areas such as parental leave, back-to-work necessities, available childcare services, taxes, social/health insurance, and allowances. I also help internationals understand the Czech social, health and education system as well as other local specifics. 

An important part of my work lies in helping our employees during the various life situations that come with parenthood. I organize workshops on sensitive topics like being a part of the sandwich generation (raising young children while caring for elderly and/or ill parents), handling divorce, dealing with online threats to children, domestic violence, caring for the sick, and that’s just on an average day! I also connect our employees with experts in non-profit organizations who can better help them solve the problems they face.

Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.
Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.

What are some of the unique issues your employees (and employees everywhere, to be sure) are facing now?

After surveying our employees, we found they are most afraid of online teaching. There are many challenges, like how to organize time with your own work, cooking and spending time outside, how to keep children focused and motivated, and how to step in for your child’s teachers at home. Naturally, international parents often struggle with the curriculum in Czech.

Regarding the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on families, our parents mention the pitfalls of social and cultural isolation. It’s more difficult for them because they are cut off from their extended families for a long time without the opportunity to enlist grandparents in childcare, for example.  

On the other hand, some mentioned the positives of the current situation: more time with their family and, due to parents’ lack of time during the day, older siblings becoming more independent and taking care of the younger ones. One colleague described how her 4-year-old daughter now prepares food and drinks and changes her newborn sister’s diapers!

Aside from adorable kid stories, what is the best part of your job? 

I love helping others. I know personally how it feels to be on parental leave and the hardships of adjusting back to work life, but it’s also really rewarding to act as a mediator not only for mums, but also for any colleague who is unsure about the best way to handle difficult family issues.

Now that many of us work from home with our kids, why is a Family Advisor critical to employee success?

Right out the gate, we know that there are simple everyday pressures involved with maintaining a home office, so we make ergonomic technical equipment and advice available and compensate employees for the costs of home office with a utility allowance. 

Beyond that, home office has put stress on families and brought about a new variety of family conflicts. In addition to providing free legal and psychological assistance for employees and their families when needed, we continuously organize parent-to-parent sessions where colleagues share both their best practices and challenges. It really helps when you realize others are also facing the same obstacles as you are!

Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.
Martina Slabá, Family Advisor ExxonMobil.

Of course, my job entails keeping parents on leave in the loop, too. We used to meet four times a year at a meeting we call “Parents Reconnected” to make sure these employees didn’t lose contact with the company or each other. For the time being, these get-togethers take place via Zoom. 

We also heard you’ve done a series of workshops on “digital parenting.” How does this help support employees at home?

Another major challenge of the pandemic for parents is how children are responding. There is a danger of them slipping into PC addiction and/or becoming demotivated and frustrated, and missing their friends. Overall, parents find it difficult to persuade them to engage in non-virtual leisure activities. 

This prompted the Family Advisors to organize a series of workshops for parents and their children. These “digital parenting” workshops had three subthemes: 

“How to benefit from homeschooling,” which helps parents understand the digital world of their kids, “Online security,” which helps parents work with their children to understand the importance of privacy and implement protections, and “Child psychology in the digital jungle,” which is designed to help parents plan for the future success of their children in the labor market.

Exxon Mobil offices in Prague
ExxonMobil offices in Prague.

We believe that employer support is the basis for a healthy work environment, and that is especially true now. That is all employees have flexible working hours based on family needs, including for parents to help children with distance learning. 

Do you feel the idea of work-life balance, essential to your role, has been compromised during Covid?

It’s true that it is very hard to keep work and life separate these days. Some employees say it’s difficult to force themselves and their kids to stay offline once the work and school time is over. Many of them, however, including myself, set a regular daily regime to try for balance.

Outside of the pandemic, do you think Czech culture respects work-life balance?

Yes, I think the Czechs are hard-working but dynamic people who love life. As much as they want to be successful and appreciated, they also want to spend quality time with their family, travel or just do some gardening at their cottage, go fishing or mushroom picking in their free time.

What’s your #1 tip for how our readers can improve family quality time during COVID?

"Enjoy the little, everyday joys!”  It’s important to find offline time for your family even after the workday. You might try, for example, board games with your kids, a tapas evening with your partner, or go for a walk in nature. 

In general, it’s helpful for children to follow a daily routine, video chat with friends after school, and spend time outside. As for the parents, many of our employees say that turning off the TV news and having a good discussion over a glass of red wine helps them keep their minds clear!

This article was written in cooperation with ExxonMobil. Read more about our sponsored content policy here.

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