For many parents, the new lockdown rules have meant a return to the work + homeschool routines of last year: waking up early, trying to get everything ready between online classes, running late to meetings because you were printing your kids’ worksheets (we’ve all been there).
However, this way of working is simply not effective. The wellbeing and productivity of working parents suffer when they don’t have adequate headspace, and that in turn impacts the companies they work for.
Here are some of the key ways in which HR teams, managers and companies as a whole can support their working parents effectively during this lockdown.
1. Listen to your parent employees’ concerns and adjust expectations
Parents are doing their best to manage homeschooling alongside remote working, but things won’t always go to plan. They may feel unable to focus in the way they normally would, and feeling worried about how their productivity/output will be viewed by others can add to their anxiety.
It’s important to acknowledge the struggles that parent employees are facing right now, and communicate with them that you’re there to support them. You may need to manage expectations as well; parents may sometimes need to pop in and out of meetings or pause their presentations for a minute if their children come in during the middle of them.
If parents feel embarrassed or apologetic for the interruption, it’s important to reassure them that it is totally fine. Knowing that they will not be penalised for juggling work with homeschooling is crucial in making them feel like this whole set-up is a bit more manageable.
2. Offer practical benefits that will support your team
Emotional support is a great starting point, but in most cases this needs to be coupled with practical support in order to have the greatest impact. The UK government has explicitly stated that in-home childcare is allowed during lockdown, and with school closures many parents may need to book a nanny or sitter to get some support while they work from home.
Offering to contribute to your employees’ childcare costs is one of the best ways in which you can support your workforce to maintain productivity during this tricky time. Having another pair of hands to help out with the kids’ homeschooling enables parents to focus on their work when they need to, and to switch off properly when they’re finished with work.
Bubble for Business provides employer-supported childcare benefits for working parents. During this time, companies can enrol in our programme with zero setup or admin costs – meaning that all your spend will go to your employees. For more information, click here.
Other forms of practical support include other employee wellness benefits and providing technology (i.e. laptops, screens & printers) for parent employees to homeschool and work from home effectively.
3. Allow parents to work more flexibly
Rather than asking parents to continue working 9-5 every weekday, speak to them about how they would best like to structure their hours so that they can be more productive and feel happier about their output.
This may mean compressed hours, i.e. working fewer days but longer hours per day, so that they can have an extra day per week where they don’t need to focus on work. Alternatively, it might mean shifting a workday to the weekend, as some parents might have more childcare support during that time.
Another option is aligning workloads with people’s work routines so that they can share responsibilities more effectively. For example, some parents may find ‘deep work’ more difficult at this time, as it requires long periods of concentration which might not be possible at the moment.
In those cases, shifting team responsibilities so that parents can work on several smaller tasks rather than bigger projects might help them work in intervals between their parenting duties.
4. Consider furlough as an option
The government’s furlough scheme is available to working parents who need it to manage their childcare responsibilities. This option is often talked about as the only way of supporting parent employees at this time, and while it is a good option for some, it also has huge drawbacks.
Not only does it affect women disproportionately and increase workers’ risk of redundancy, but a recent survey has also shown that 71% of working mothers have had their furlough requests denied after the recent school closures, and 78% of working parents have not been offered furlough by their employers at all.*
This means that many women are having to switch entirely from full-time to part-time work, or use their annual leave to manage their homeschooling duties. This is obviously not a sustainable solution for many women, which is why we would recommend employer’s to provide financial support for childcare (either through expenses or an employee benefit) so that their female employees are not disadvantaged during lockdown.
5. Be a trailblazer
The current situation is not great for anyone – parents, companies and almost everyone else are being negatively affected. However, this is also an opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves by showing their employees (and the wider community) that they care.
Not only does employer support for working parents provide that all-important ROI, it can also establish your company’s reputation for a great working culture. Zurich, an insurance company, recently made waves when it quickly responded to the lockdown by telling its 4,500 UK employees that they could take two additional weeks of paid ‘lockdown leave’ if they needed it because of the new restrictions.
This move was applauded by many and was a clear sign of how much Zurich care for their parent employees’ wellbeing. In the new world of remote working where creating a great company culture is harder than ever, offering bold and innovative solutions to help your parent employees is a great way of showing your employees that you understand and care about them – and this, in turn, creates a more content and productive workforce.
*Data taken from the recent ‘Working Mums’ report by the TUC.