Parents are once again facing the huge challenge of trying to work productively from home, while simultaneously caring for young infants or home-schooling older children. In previous articles, we’ve explained why working from home is not a level playing field for a workforce under pressure, and across the UK today there will be many parents filled with trepidation for what lies ahead.
Here, our Founder and Director of Client Development, Sue Hook, gives her take on what employers can do to relieve a little of the pressure on parents.
First, the legal side…
Parents faced with unforeseen childcare commitments are legally entitled to unpaid Parental Leave of 4 weeks per year, per child. However, the circumstances of Covid could make this provision largely redundant, as parents will be expected to provide childcare for a lot longer and many will be too financially stressed to take unpaid leave.
Working parents can also be furloughed as a result of unexpectedly finding themselves with childcare responsibilities throughout the working week. However, there is no right to be furloughed; it is at the employer’s discretion. If employers have capacity within their team to put employees on full-time or part-time furlough, even for a limited period or intermittently, this may help parents get through the next weeks and months. Ideally, taking advantage of the furlough scheme should be agreed mutually between employer and employee to the benefit of both.
As you can see, employment law hasn’t really caught up with the seismic changes brought about by Covid-19. Good employers need to respond on their own initiative with agility and compassion, taking their duty of care to their staff seriously and finding workable solutions for the benefit of the whole team.
Here are some useful action points:
- Find a way of giving parents a bit of time and space to digest this latest piece of bad news, and to come up with a plan. Last minute upheaval creates huge stress for everyone but particularly parents, whose work-life balance may be on a knife-edge already. If possible, a day of paid leave to discuss strategies, routines and resources would be a good investment in your team in the context of the coming weeks, helping to build resilience and good will.
- Discuss solutions on an individual basis. The circumstances of every family unit are different, and the only way of helping your team through this is to take a person-by-person approach. Task managers with making contact, discussing the specific challenges, and coming up with a bespoke strategy for each team member. Don’t assume you know the solution because frankly you probably don’t! Instead, ask how you can support your employees through this time.
- Acknowledge the difficulties and relieve the pressure. Ask everyone to manage expectations of themselves, their workloads and their colleagues. Agree clear priorities and acknowledge that other tasks further down the list might have to wait. Extend deadlines and set less ambitious targets to keep the wheels keep turning, just at a different rate.
- Show extreme flexibility and understanding. Meetings may be interrupted by toddler tantrums or cancelled at the last minute, emails may land late at night. Try to keep things in context and remember why we’re all doing this, i.e. to protect each other from a deadly virus. Focus on achievements rather than setbacks.
- Keep the lines of communication constantly open about physical and mental health. Almost a year into the pandemic and unsurprisingly insomnia, anxiety, family discord and exhaustion are all increasingly putting a strain on our health. We’ve written at length about how to support good mental health amongst employees – something which should be part of the daily agenda at present.
- Consider creating a forum for the working parents in your team. Somewhere they can share tips and resources and generally prop each other up. Could other team members contribute to the effort? Perhaps reading a story via Zoom, or setting some quiz questions for children. Every distraction helps! However, remember to be sensitive to the non-parents in your team; everyone is fighting their own battles right now. Parents don’t have a monopoly on pandemic pressure!
Whilst we have concentrated here on working parents, employers should also be aware of any of their staff who have caring commitments for elderly or disabled relatives and the impact the COVID regulations will have on providing their future care.
Boosting staff morale for every member of your team will be vital in the weeks and months ahead. Next, read our thoughts on some simple but effective ways of creating a positive work culture, despite the current challenges.