The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly thrown us curveballs. Parents had to quickly adjust to working from home while balancing remote learning for their children — not to mention attempting to be productive with the entire family in the house for weeks on end.
Being a working parent has always been precarious, regardless of the circumstances. But with the pandemic, whatever little structure that existed before has pretty much dissipated. By July 2020, 13% of working parents had to exit the workforce or reduce their hours to care for their kids due to pandemic-related challenges. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reports that 1 in 5 working parents don’t know whether they’ll be able to return to their jobs entirely.
The data also tells us that the childcare crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 is negatively impacting women more than men. McKinsey estimates millions of women are debating leaving the workforce, often due to childcare burdens, with women’s jobs at an estimated 1.8 times more at risk because of the pandemic than men’s jobs.
Now, organizations are trying to figure out how to best support their working parents who can return to the office. Although it’s a difficult time, employers have a unique opportunity to show their commitment to working parents to support and retain them. Here are five ways organizations can foster an encouraging and positive environment for working parents.
1. Review changing job needs and demands
Aligning our needs and job requirements is essential for our job satisfaction, productivity, and wellbeing. However, both needs and job requirements can change over time, so it’s important to evaluate them regularly, especially in the context of the pandemic. Working parents, and mothers in particular, faced record levels of burnout due to the impacts COVID-19 has had on their work-life balance.
Mothers are 28% more likely to face burnout than fathers due to caregiving needs, and 33% of Black mothers are experiencing burnout, compared to 25% of white mothers. The consequences of burnout are real, and one of the best ways to get around it is to review how much work we’re putting on the plates of working parents. Returning to the office, when child care options will ideally be available again soon, provides an excellent opportunity to review, refine, and refresh roles and responsibilities with burnout in mind.
2. Offer relevant benefits and flexibility
Working parents need financial support and flexibility. Support can come in the form of time off, childcare benefits, or even a monthly work-from-home stipend.
This pandemic is hard on everyone. As you consider the challenges working parents face, think about implementing benefits that would serve all employees. More companies are offering unlimited PTO, mental health benefits, emergency sick leave, and more. These benefits can help employees dealing with major life changes, struggling with mental health issues, facing financial challenges, or taking care of family members.
Introducing flexibility in the workplace is another excellent strategy for supporting workers. Managers can implement new policies such as allowing for flexible hours, reduced schedules, no-meeting days, or even part-time roles and/or job-sharing situations.
3. Audit internal communications
Working remotely certainly opened up our eyes to how we communicate at work and how we can communicate better (we’ve all had Zoom fatigue, right?)
Working parents don’t have any time to waste between raising kids and keeping up with household duties. Now is the time to audit all meetings happening across the company. Standing meetings without a clear agenda or crucial purpose need to go. Also, analyze the lengths of meetings — we’ve all suffered through hour-long calls that could have been 20 minutes (or even an email). Try recording meetings or designating a note-taker so employees can review the information later without having to worry about logging on.
In video calls, don’t pressure people to be on-camera. Some working parents may be multitasking during the call, like providing homework help or changing a diaper. Or maybe they were too busy to put on real clothes or fix their hair this morning. Or perhaps they’re just tired of being on camera, just like the rest of us.
4. Promote a supportive community
Building a community where employees can chat, share advice and resources, and encourage each other through difficult times is invaluable. There are plenty of free, easy ways to create supportive spaces for parents in your workplace, no matter the size of your company.
You can start by creating an Employee Resource Group for parents to gather feedback and host discussions. Consider inviting speakers to talk about parenting while working. Or, set up a chat group for the parent community, such as a “#parents-at-company” Slack channel to share advice, questions, and plenty of adorable family photos.
Executives and leaders who have kids should consider being open about parenthood to connect with employees and make them feel supported. For example, let your team know when you’re taking time off to spend with your family, or even talk about the challenges you’re dealing with as you maintain your childrens’ schedules on top of your own. You can also sponsor the Employee Resource Group for parents or mentor someone who balances growing their career with parenting during a pandemic.
5. Trust your working parents
Parents don’t need anyone to lower their expectations when it comes to the workplace. After all, they’re used to doing a million things at once while still being productive where it counts. However, they do need to shift to a more manageable, asynchronous way of collaboration. And they’re also going to require compassionate and thoughtful leadership.
A survey found that fathers are three times more likely than mothers to receive a promotion while working remotely during the pandemic. Are you making sure to check your assumptions and biases every day? For example, when you know a mother has toddlers at home, do you hesitate to assign her more responsibility? Would you have the same feelings regarding a dad in the same situation? Diversity and inclusion are hot topics in the tech industry, but these conversations are only impactful when put into practice.
If you genuinely want to support working parents, offer long-term solutions that will improve their lives after the nightmare of COVID-19 is over, starting with paid parental leave. Until employees have access to paid time off to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs, companies need to fill in the gaps.
Keep exploring ways to support parents at your workplace
The COVID-19 pandemic and the culminating childcare crisis have caused a devastating setback for working parents, especially women. Companies have a responsibility to seek to counter the effects — not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also an opportunity to develop a more inclusive workplace for the future. Parents make your organization stronger — you don’t want to lose them.
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