Working while parenting has always been a balancing act, but the pandemic has led to any existing structures and routines being abandoned as people adapt to working from home. The majority of businesses have also had to adopt online working where possible, and it is expected that many will continue to use this even after lockdown has finished and normal working environments are able to resume.
However, a recent ONS study found that parents were nearly twice as likely to be furloughed (13.6 per cent) as those without children (7.2 per cent). This is because for many parents, working from home during the pandemic has meant longer working hours and limited access to support structures such as childcare, school, and homeschooling.
It’s only possible for people to do their best work when employees feel included, engaged and supported. The challenge facing companies is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that is going to solve the unique challenges facing caregivers in the workplace. But, there are a few different ways employers can actively support team members, especially working parents, in these times.
Businesses must ensure that family-friendly policies apply to all team members, regardless of their gender or whether or not they are parents. Promoting a culture in which people feel comfortable using policies without fear of discrimination or retaliation is crucial. This includes informing all employees in an inclusive way and ensuring you aren’t creating a separation between parents and non-parents.
For instance, Xero – as part of wider diversity and inclusion work – are committed to supporting parents on their journey, before, during and after parental leave. By giving working parents the time and support they need to care for their children, workplace family-friendly policies – like paid parental leave, partner’s leave, keep in touch days and flex-return – help to reduce the burden on families.
Companies have an opportunity to shift the future of work in a way that will support working caregivers and create a workplace culture that promotes and supports care for everyone. Given the school shutdowns, Google extended its paid family caregiver leave policy by eight weeks, now offering its full-time global employees a total of fourteen weeks paid leave to manage family responsibilities during the public health crisis. The companies that stand out post-Covid will be the ones that paid attention to how the pandemic affected their employees’ needs and working styles, and then adapted accordingly.
Some of the top areas that employers should consider:
Communication and honesty
Encourage management teams to provide employees with a safe and constructive space for open and honest communication will make all the difference. Effective communication also means keeping employees informed of possible changes or demands that may be coming in the future so they can plan ahead and feel more inclusive.
Working parents deserve to feel confident that you support them every stage of their parenting journey. Constructive and timely communication can help to ease uncertainties and help parents better manage their professional and parental responsibilities more effectively.
Empower employees to manage their own time so they have control over when, how, and where they work – not only will this gesture go a long way to strengthen employee commitment, but it will also deepen engagement and increase discretionary effort.
When announcing flexible work schedules, make sure you get management involved. Not only should the messaging come from leadership, but they should also ‘walk the walk’ – show employees it’s okay to step away throughout the day to help set up school Zoom calls or take a call with a teacher.
No two parenting situations are the same – just as it is important to consider people’s workload, it’s also important for leaders to keep a finger on the pulse in regards to what people are dealing with at home. Not everyone will want to openly share, but leaders should make a habit of regularly checking in with their team.
Above all else, employers should listen to the challenges employees face outside of work, because it impacts the work that’s done on the inside. By leading with empathy, employers can make long-lasting changes that helps to build a more inclusive workplace for everyone in the future.