This tweet says it all:
Right now is quite possibly the most difficult phase of the pandemic for working parents. If you’re “lucky”, your school has a hybrid system of some days in school, and some days with remote learning. If you’re unlucky, your children are remote-learning full-time, and with COVID cases surging again in Illinois, we all may find ourselves in the unlucky camp sooner than later.
The strain of doing your job well while monitoring your children can’t be overstated. As employers, you have a golden opportunity to provide more flexibility to working parents, and we recommend the following:
1. Allow Parents to Work from Home
If your employees can work from home, let them. Not only is it safer, but data shows that people working remotely since the pandemic hit have been more productive, largely because of having more work/life balance. This is especially important for working parents with younger children. A survey by Catalyst shows that most parents report their children’s schools are 100% remote and that these parents worry this could negatively impact their careers. If parents are expected to be in the office, they have to pay for childcare, which is not only costly, but puts their families at risk of exposure.
2. Offer Flexible Hours
The same survey concludes, “The disruption of work-life balance has left many parents feeling guilty, whether when working (54%) because they’re not attending to caregiving, or when caregiving (43%) because they’re not attending to their work. They are caught in a no-win situation.”
Even if parents can work from home, 9 to 5 isn’t what it once was. With remote learning comes many technical issues like Zoom links not working or unstable internet connections, not to mention checking in with your kids to make sure they’re logged into the proper class period. There are also more frequent communications between teachers and parents, such as emails, that parents have to manage.
The point is that these distractions disrupt standard work hours, and employers should work with staff on a flexible schedule that focuses on results and not time.
3. Check in With Your Employees
Fears of being penalized over childcare responsibilities and terminated for taking advantage of workplace benefits are leaving many parents worried about their futures with their companies. This is where you can make a difference by proactively reaching out and simply asking how your employees are feeling.
Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, said the following in an interview with The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):
“The simple act of the manager asking about how the employees’ children are doing in the transition back to school can mean a lot,” Galinsky said. “It can mean that the wall between work and family is more porous than is traditional. It can mean that the manager cares about me and my family. It can mean that I don’t have to sacrifice my kids for work. Small things like this—or even workshops to talk about this transition—can make a big difference.”
4. Provide and Communicate Available Benefits
In July, CNBC reported that only 32% of companies returning to work had plans for employees’ child-care needs entering the new school year. For those companies that do, many parents aren’t aware of the existing benefits and resources. SHRM suggests that employers offer year-round benefits, such as employer-provided backup child care for emergency situations. To eliminate guesswork, it’s critical to be transparent about these benefits so that your employees feel comfortable seeking help.
It’s important to distinguish between lowering and modifying expectations. Flexibility doesn’t mean doing less; rather, it allows employees to optimize their time against the constraints of the pandemic. When employees feel cared for, they are more engaged, and that’s good for them and for business.