Are parents welcome in your workplace? Supporting working parents during lockdown

Supporting working parents during lockdown should be a priority for businesses. Juggling working from home and childcare can be tricky, and HR teams are well placed to provide support.

According to the recent Women in the Workplace study ‘more than one in four women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce’ as a result of the impact of Coronavirus. Increased work and life pressures impacting us all at the moment, are reportedly overwhelmingly experienced by women, black women in particular. In the USA 800,000 of the 1.1 million employment leavers between August and September last year were women. Lack of proper support, lower relative wages when compared to partners coupled with care demands can be truly world-changing.

In the United Kingdom, lockdown recommenced this month throwing parents back into homeschooling whilst holding down full time jobs. With almost half the population in the UK reportedly struggling with their mental health and the increased risk of your diverse workforce leaving, it’s time for employers to be supporting working parents during lockdown.

What are your employees going through?

At the moment of writing this  (8th Jan 2021) these were the rising UK Google searches:

  • ‘furlough childcare’ up 1,150%
  • ‘furlough for childcare’ up 1,100%
  • ‘furlough for working parents’ up 1,100%

Employees consider furlough when they know their employers can’t adapt or aren’t able to answer crucial questions around working and teaching at one time. Employees are taking to Google, not their employers. They want to know how to manage what seems unmanageable, asking search engines questions like: “How can parents work with schools closed?”. Employers need to act now and act radically to answer these questions.

But how? This piece has a few suggestions based on research and experience speaking to some of our clients and partners. But the most important thing, we think, is to talk to your teams. 

Want to find out about your teams caring / homeschooling responsibilities and needs?

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Our top tips for Supporting Working Parents during Lockdown
1. Find out who is impacted

At Gapsquare, we know the value of data and how much it can matter when things suddenly change. If you don’t yet know who is under increased pressure from caring or parental responsibilities – ask.  Here is a free downloadable survey from Gapsquare, to send to line managers or directly to your teams. Ask for them to share this information.

2. The end of presenteeism

This one feels a little obvious at the moment, but being present at work, doesn’t mean you are getting things done. Targets based not on working hours, but on work being done, or that not only consider quantity but quality of work are crucial. There are a range of productivity studies that help companies quantify the value of relationship building and team building. Taking these factors into account can help us remember the value of an employee.

3. Flexible working policies that aren’t tenure dependent

New starters  are at greater risk of leaving if they find roles do not meet their expectations. If your company is proud of its inclusive approach but flexible policies do not apply to new employees or they do not know how to access them at this time, this could have a real negative impact. Making sure that flexible working policies are accessible to all, discussed and taken up by leadership teams is crucial. It’s also important to adapt working hours for the team member, but also to adapt the company structure to flexible working. Have a regular 9am meeting that doesn’t work for some? Shake it up and have meetings at other times. This report can support you in developing flexible working that works for all and help in supporting working parents during lockdown.

4. Furlough should not be your only option

Clearly employees have already thought of this as an option. But we would warn you against furloughing employees just because they are parents. This communicates the message that parenting and working for your company are not compatible. If you are going to furlough workers, think about how you can make sure their careers are not impacted in the long term. Ultimately if you want to keep your company’s hard earned diversity, you’re going to have to preempt the impact of your actions on certain groups.

5. Offer paid leave to allow parents to adjust

Zurich UK has gone above and beyond by offering parents full-paid emergency ‘lockdown leave’ to give them time to prepare for a teaching/working combination. This time could ultimately generate a real ROI when parents arrive back at work in a routine that works, less stressed and clearer about their boundaries. It also communicates the crucial message – we hire people, not machines.

6. Trust

Last but far from least – We often read about companies coming up with new ways of monitoring the productivity of remote employees. What comes up often is the risk this poses to privacy rights, as well as to its negative impact on productivity. The truth is that trust creates productivity. Having faith that parents homeschooling their children are doing their best at work could be create a much more effective or loyal employee.

Building an Inclusive Culture

Practical Examples for Supporting Working Parents during Lockdown
Creating support networks

Pair Carers with non carers

When discussing how his team was coping with the previous lockdown Julian Hemming, Partner at Osborne Clarke noted ‘I speak directly with one team member who has caring responsibilities and gauge if there are places where I can help when their workload and parenting responsibilities increase”. It’s really positive to connect with a colleague who has young children as it gives you perspective and appreciation for the demands placed on them.

Why not try pairing non carers with carers to find ways to discuss workloads. Doing so will build understanding within your team as well as offering practical benefits. Fighting your own corner when you’re homeschooling two children or caring for an elderly relative is the last thing you need. Another member of staff who understands your workload could make all the difference.

Working groups

An alternative to mentor relationships is nominating a carers rep to bring issues faced by parents and carers to line managers etc or creating a discussion / working group that gives these groups a relaxed space to share their struggles.  The feeling that you belong, rather than that you are an outlier can be powerful. Feeling that you are being heard matters.


Team workshops to focus targets and workloads

Often the weight of less important tasks falls to some employees over others (who takes on superfluous admin tasks for example?) or there are tasks that could be easily shared or deprioritised. It’s time to take the weight off. Team sessions to discuss what are ‘extra weight’ tasks and how these can be shared are highly recommended.  Prioritise essential work for employees who may be effectively working two jobs. 

Don’t leave the educational burden to the parents 

Some of the very, very best responses by companies have involved offering classes, reading sessions, creative sessions to children and young people through the company. This is an act that takes companies from employers to family. Take the example of Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff reading stories in his own session for children.

There are more great ways that companies are sharing the load of homeschooling in this article, but ultimately, your teams may be your best resource with this area. Please do share great company examples of support with home schooling with us, they make us rather happy. Tweet us @gapsquare 

Encouraging a healthy approach to mental health 

Find a mental health champion

Have a member of your team ready to advocate for better mental health and share their story, this can be a powerful way to help people open up. This is especially valuable if it comes from a well valued/leadership position.

Encourage team action plans

The CBI recommends team ‘mental health action plans’, agreed on together. Another idea is to hold topic based coffee mornings that encourage discussion of ways of working which have become the ‘norm’ but could sometimes work better.

Ultimately – most of your employees are either parents, would like to be parents one day or are looking at how you support parents now to gauge what kind of employer you are. Although, size dependant, you may or may not be able to implement all of these measures, everything you do to communicate that your culture is one where parents belong will pay dividends in the future.  Employees work for companies, but they stay for a sense of importance and belonging. Supporting working parents during lockdown helps to cultivate this. It’s time for us all to take a good hard look at ourselves and decide, are we going to ignore that a large number of our employees are struggling, or are we going to remind them that they are, in fact, a crucial part of what we are trying to achieve?

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