How companies can accommodate working parents during the pandemic
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Our current pandemic has caused shifts in many industries. One of the most prevalent is the necessity to move to remote operations — around 66% of workers are currently functioning in this way. It’s worth acknowledging that working from home can be the ideal scenario for many employees. It allows them to operate in the space they’re most comfortable, cut out their commuting time, and achieve a better work-life balance.
However, it has not been entirely positive for all employees. Parents who work from home have been faced with additional challenges. The closure of schools has meant they have to care for their children during their work hours, with few alternative childcare facilities available. They also have to juggle homeschooling activities with their career responsibilities. This additional pressure, alongside the stress of the pandemic, can be a recipe for burnout.
Let’s take a look at a few of the key areas where human resources (HR) professionals can best assist parents in this situation and influence the positive direction of remote operations.
One of the most important ways in which your company can accommodate working parents is to allow flexible practices. The effect this can have on efficiency and productivity, as well as the impact on the rest of a team, will naturally inform your decision-making here.
However, you must explore where your company can adjust procedures in order to give at least a little space to maneuver. Showing a willingness to adapt while getting other employees on board can be key to demonstrating the respect and camaraderie that can improve happiness among the workforce.
Working hours are the most obvious area for consideration here. This could be applied in a few different forms. Putting in place protocols that allow parents to adjust the days they work, or even their start and finishing times each day can help them to more effectively arrange co-parenting with a spouse or partner that is also working from home. It could also take the form of providing options where you shift the structure of the day, in order to allow parents to take longer, more regular breaks from their work.
It’s helpful to understand, too, that the nature of childcare during this pandemic is very different from normal circumstances. While there are some group facilities open, many parents are having to rely on at-home strategies while they’re working. This includes keeping their children occupied with independent play and educational activities, having family members over to help watch the children, and more. However, these are generally most effective in short periods.
Therefore, it’s important to offer flexible options around working practices that can keep parents from being able to provide direct supervision of their kids longer than an hour or so. Minimize the number of meetings to attend, record those that parents aren’t required to attend real-time so they can watch later, and consider strategies for keeping required meetings brief and infrequent.
Adjustments to working hours and practices are a good start, but your business should also consider what resources it can offer working parents at this time. These may include:
One of the defining characteristics of this pandemic is the detrimental effect it is having on people’s mental health.Companies should be looking into how they can best serve employees and their families on this basis. For example, free or subsidized counseling can be a vital lifeline for workers who are parents, especially at a time when they can feel particularly isolated and under stress.
Information can also be useful. Give them a list of contacts for local mental health services and charities. Don’t forget that these workers may also be trying to help their children who may be struggling at this time, too.
Ensure you provide resources that help them to recognize the signs of mental illness in children, and how this can differ from adults — difficulty concentrating on schoolwork, fear, and withdrawal are among the tell-tale symptoms. Always couple this with advice on where to obtain help, to prevent them from feeling too overwhelmed.
Businesses should also help boost employees’ morale and wellbeing. It can be too easy at the best of times for parents to ignore their own self-care in favor of the needs of their children or their employers, so make efforts to show that you are considerate of their needs and you care about them by occasionally sending them care packages.
These don’t need to be expensive or complex. Every so often, provide healthy treats that they can snack on during the day, perhaps a complimentary lunch delivery once a week. Don’t forget to include the kids in this — mail out activities that the family can engage in together and accommodate them with time to enjoy this together. These are just small efforts, but they can make an impact.
It’s important to remember that people are not just workers, they are human beings. As such, you should be implementing methods of ongoing emotional and operational support that may seem intangible but can help working parents to feel less lost at sea.
Most importantly, HR personnel and management should be building a culture of empathy. At a time when there is a great deal of uncertainty in business, it can be easy to just consider how parents’ needs are inconvenient or contrary to what the company has to achieve. However, meeting those needs allows workers to be more productive and prevents costly turnover.
Whenever requests for flexibility are made, or targets aren’t immediately hit, consider how the situation is affecting the employee involved. Come from a perspective of how you can best help them, rather than apply additional pressure.
This leads us to one of the most vital elements of support in this climate: good communication protocols. When working away from the physical office, workers can feel disconnected from the business, projects, and colleagues.
Ensure that there are tools in place that allow for video meetings, audio calls, and text chat options. Encourage staff to use these regularly in their work, to provide mutual support for one another, and just to casually chat and maintain their social bonds. Management should also be regularly checking in with staff to ensure their needs are met and any issues can be addressed.
With many staff members moving to remote operations in the pandemic, this can present problems for parents who will also be juggling additional childcare responsibilities. Companies should be making efforts to understand where the challenges lie and seek to allow flexibility when needed. Alongside providing resources and support, your company has the ability to both help working parents and ensure positive outcomes for the business.
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