- As many school districts around the country announce fully virtual or hybrid schedules for the fall semester, working parents continue to struggle with limited access to reliable childcare.
- Employers must double-down on efforts to support and enable this significant portion of the workforce.
- Embracing flexibility, welcoming families into your culture, and championing family-friendly policies can help ease the stress of this difficult time while increasing retention, productivity, and engagement.
As new U.S. COVID-19 cases climb for the fifth straight month, many organizations have successfully navigated the growing pains of transitioning to remote work or implementing safety precautions for essential workers.
Yet one unsolved dilemma continues to weigh heavily on employees and employers alike: a lack of access to reliable childcare.
Back in March, school districts transitioned to remote learning and many daycares shut their doors or significantly downsized class sizes. Working parents (who make up an estimated 41 percent of the workforce between ages 20-54) were suddenly saddled with not one, but three full-time jobs: employee, parent, teacher. This social experiment had a clear conclusion. It didn’t work well.
Parents of school-aged children were relieved to at least take the pressure of virtual schooling off their plates for the summer, though the issue of how to keep children safe and entertained remained. Many parents—myself included—assumed that come August and September, public schools would finally reopen their doors, welcoming throngs of ecstatic students into classrooms stocked with fewer desks and more hand-washing stations.
But as school districts around the country unveil their fall plans while national infection rates skyrocket, many parents are coming to terms with the fact that the schools and childcare in their counties are not offering in-person options for an indeterminate amount of time.
It should come as no surprise that working parents (disproportionately mothers) are struggling to juggle these incongruent responsibilities. As Deb Perelman wrote in a recent widely-shared New York Times article, “The consensus is that everyone agrees this is a catastrophe, but we are too bone-tired to raise our voices above a groan, let alone scream through a megaphone. Every single person confesses burnout, despair, feeling like they are losing their minds, knowing in their guts that this is untenable.”
With no clear solution or guaranteed timeline for the return of safe and reliable childcare, it’s time for employers to double-down on their efforts to support working parents. Here are some resources and policies that can help (and be sure to share these nine strategies to help employees work from home with kids).
Embrace flexibility and co-creating solutions.
While all working parents are technically in this together, individual situations vary drastically. This makes it very difficult to develop one-size-fits-all solutions at a company-wide, or even department-wide or team-wide, level. Fortunately, by maintaining close relationships and explicitly asking individual team members how they’re doing and what kind of support they need to be successful, managers have the opportunity to co-create solutions that work for both their people and the overall team.
Welcome families into your culture and offer resources for them.
We’ve come a long way since the 2017 BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly, who was clearly mortified when his two children made an unexpected cameo. Today, teams and managers are much more understanding of mid-meeting interruptions and the overall virtual meeting environment feels much more relaxed. (If that’s not the case in your organization, that merits evaluation.)
But there are ways to make your corporate culture even more family-friendly during these times. Consider creating a platform for working parents to vent about challenges and share tips and encouragement. Sponsor family-friendly events, such as a virtual costume contest or scavenger hunt or dance off. You’ll likely find that employees are excited to funnel outside passions to help each other cope, such as leading virtual kid-friendly yoga classes or a department-wide story time session.
At Ultimate Software and Kronos, we also implemented private virtual tutoring lessons and created a virtual summer camp, which went live this week. With three different camps targeted at a range of ages from 2-14, the camps include arts and crafts activities, book clubs, outdoor explorations, mystery solving, talent shows, “cabin meetings,” and other child-friendly activities. Children who registered for these camps received “swag bags” over the weekend—like this one from one of our happy campers!
While your organization may not have the resources to provide these kinds of comprehensive offers, anything you can do to welcome children and families into your culture will reap significant rewards. Not only can these initiatives improve productivity by keeping children occupied, they also reassure parents that you understand the enormity of the pressure they’re under and that you fully support them as people, parents, and employees.
Encourage time off.
Studies consistently show that regular breaks and days off increase productivity and improve focus, but many employees aren’t taking PTO because vacation plans are cancelled. Encouraging employees, and working parents in particular, to rest, recharge, and spend dedicated one-on-one time with their children can do a world of wonder for your peoples’ mental health and work/life balance.
Champion family-friendly policies.
Paid family leave policies are critical to the family infrastructure, and this pandemic has highlighted just how important healthcare and related policies are to our employees. Organizations should take this opportunity to evaluate existing maternity and paternity leave programs and consider adding additional policies to ease the stress of working while raising a family.
Of course, there’s also the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which offers fully-paid and partially-paid sick leave specifically for family illness related to COVID (when eligible). Often, simply communicating to workers that paid leave is available in worst-case scenarios goes a long way to help relieve parental anxiety. Many of your employees may not know that this Act even exists.
Looking at the Long-Term Impact
If employers don’t make a concerted effort to support their working parents, they are at significant risk of losing valuable employees and further perpetuating the gender gap. Lacking childcare and support from their organizations, many working parents—overwhelmingly mothers—are feeling forced to temporarily opt out of the workforce to care for their children. (Studies show an uphill battle for mothers looking to return to the workforce, many of whom never regain their previous salaries or titles.)
Again quoting Perelman’s heavy-hitting piece, “Allowing workplaces to reopen while schools, camps and day cares remain closed tells a generation of working parents that it’s fine if they lose their jobs, insurance and livelihoods in the process. It’s outrageous, and I fear if we don’t make the loudest amount of noise possible over this, we will be erased from the economy.”
This is the time to double-down on investing in our people. And right now, working parents need more help than ever.
Have you implemented any policies or offerings that have made a difference for working parents in your organization? We’d love to hear about it below!