The end of summer and the advent of a new school year are hectic for working parents at the best of times. But during the global pandemic, parental stress levels have skyrocketed. A recent survey from Care.com found that 84% of parents are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school — and 74% say they aren’t satisfied with or don’t know their local government’s back-to-school plans.
COVID-19 has severely complicated the lives of working parents. Even where schools are reopening, working parents want to protect their children and may opt to keep them home. And in many areas, schools are offering virtual-only options for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t just a problem for the parents — it’s going to create a significant drag on organizational productivity and staffing, too. “As a whole, businesses will be better off supporting working parents now,” says Debi Yadegari, founder and CEO of Villyge, a company that offers developmental programs and other support options for working parents. “Employees will want to give where they feel appreciated.”
Here are a few ideas that progressive employers are considering in this difficult time.
Customize Solutions for Individual Employees
Before you settle on solutions, it’s critical that you communicate with your workforce to identify possible options. Work through direct managers to find out what each person on their team needs. “When it comes to working parents, each family situation is going to be different,” says Lisa Durante, founder and consultant at LDI Consulting. “Really try to figure out what each individual needs and customize solutions.”
Some solutions may be simpler than you think. Just modifying individual schedules can go a long way towards supporting employees with children. Flexibility for in- and out-times and team meetings can help parents maintain their children’s routines. But you won’t know unless you ask. “Organizations have to set a tone of understanding and acceptance,” Yadegari says. And don’t just talk about it, she says: Put individual plans in writing. Lay out that person’s specific needs and steps you’re taking to meet them.
Establish firm, objective metrics for performance. Employees with children often underutilize accommodations due to fear that it could be held against them in future performance management conversations. But if employees hit their goals, then it doesn’t matter that they took time off during the day to spend with their children. “It’s so important to document and share expectations,” Yadegari says. Check-in frequently to ensure that these solutions are working, keep an open line of communication and maintain transparency in conversations.
Find Creative Ways to Support Childcare and Education
Childcare decisions for the upcoming year are especially complicated for school-age children. Many schools are offering virtual-only instruction for the foreseeable future, which means parents must take on the added responsibility of overseeing their child’s education while also working. Yadegari suggests working within your community to provide resources for opening up local “pods”: smaller, safer learning hubs. Try partnering with other local businesses, or if you have space, host one at your location. This doesn’t have to be every day: Even just two or three days a week can help employees be more productive knowing that their children are safe and learning.
Modify Workloads and Processes
Changes in work processes can also support working parents. Parents who need to stay home with children and can’t come to work in a facility could be redeployed to do other work. A shift lead, or example, could help assemble weekly shift schedules. “There’s an opportunity to discover what other talents people have and how you can use them right now,” Durante says.
Shared workloads are another option. This is a great time for senior-level employees with children to train younger employees and share their job responsibilities with them. For example, an employee who normally handles client calls can train a newer employee to lead them. If the senior employee needs to drop out to take care of children, someone will still be on the line.
Re-evaluating your processes can produce benefits that aren’t limited to just parents. Have transparent conversations with your whole team. Emphasize community and the benefits for everyone when there’s a better balance between work and life, Durante suggests. There are benefits for mental health for everyone in having these conversations, not just for parents.