With the news that one in four adults are now vaccinated in the US, the once faraway dream of returning to the office is fast approaching. As HR leaders prepare their teams for the impending return, many are focused on the unique opportunity presented by a year or more at home. Namely, the chance to do better by working parents and their families.

Working from home highlighted several opportunities to improve how we support families in the workplace, whether they’re raising infants, toddlers, or teens, progressing through the maternity journey or making plans for starting a family. Despite the unique difficulties they faced during lockdown, the prospect of returning looming on the horizon poses new challenges — and requires new solutions.

The opportunity to do more for parents and families

When the working world scrambled to adjust to lockdowns, many innovative new practices were put into place to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape, like flexible work arrangements, virtual camps and other events, and even support for helping parents talk with their children about sensitive issues like racism and the pandemic. Working from home has had some benefits for parents: employees have been able to save time commuting, make more time for family, and save money on meals, clothes, and travel expenses. A Harvard study found that over 81% of employees “either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule from now on.”

However, beneath these headlines is a palpable sense of anxiety about what the brave new post-COVID world will look like, especially for families. The world might be returning to some semblance of normalcy, but it has indelibly changed. For families, that means finding ways to manage childcare while schools slowly adopt hybrid-learning models. For new mothers, that means managing feeding schedules, separation anxiety, and more. Returning to the office means readjusting to a world where services still might not be available amid the omnipresent risk of another wave of infections.

Working mothers suffered immensely throughout lockdowns. The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a report that overwhelmingly concluded that caregiving responsibilities are impacting working parents’ ability to stay productive and return to the office. More than 45% of working parents say their employer doesn’t understand the strain they’re under from COVID-19, and only 32% of organizations planning to return to work have outlined child-care plans. Employers agree. Less than 40% of organizations believe their existing programs do enough to support working parents.

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As HR teams plan for employees to return to the workplace, there's huge opportunity to reevaluate how they support parents and families. Providing child care benefits like flexible work hours, subsidized babysitting, or affordable on-site daycare centers are some common examples. Although these benefits are yet to reach widespread adoption — there is a growing demand for employers to develop more comprehensive plans. 

The responsibility to do more for employees

The events of 2020 introduced a variety of important topics into the national discourse, and likewise into the workplace. Mental health, especially as it related to burnout and anxiety, dominated conversations among HR professionals throughout the year. These conversations went beyond combatting ‘Zoom Fatigue’: the risk for depression among employees aged 20-39 rose over 102% due to the pandemic. And families, struggling to maintain a decent work-life balance while caring for their children stuck at home, faced burnout like never before. HR teams had to find fast solutions to provide for their employees who faced mental health issues.

Likewise, conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion were brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as protests about police brutality and the death of George Floyd. HR teams have had to reckon with inequality of access and opportunity within their organizations, from access to healthcare for Black women and women of color, to gender-based salary discrimination. Family planning benefits and maternity leave became a focal point for these concerns, as BIPOC women and families historically have less access to adequate healthcare benefits overall, particularly when it comes to women’s health.

Considering one in four employers are seeing talent leave their organizations due to increased caregiving responsibilities, supporting mothers and families, especially from a diversity perspective, is now a chief concern for people leaders in a post-pandemic world.

Recruiting and retaining talent at an inflection point

Caring for families as we return to work isn’t just about doing the right thing: it’s about recruiting and retaining talent as well. Now that COVID has broken down many of the barriers to remote and flexible work, employees will likely have more access than ever before to organizations that can provide best-in-class benefits. 

Around the world, leading companies are building diverse workplaces that offer comprehensive family, maternity, and childcare benefits, as well as health and wellness benefits, to retain their talent long term. To stay competitive, many companies are following suit, exploring new ways to implement some of the better lessons learned from lockdown. More than 85% of HR Leaders cite retention as a top priority — and the expectations for a happy, healthy workplace are changing throughout almost every industry.

Standing at this precipice, after a traumatic year stuck at home with our families, it’s more important than ever for employers to offer comprehensive family and childcare benefits to support the long term happiness of their employees. 

To learn more about the strategies your organization can employ to support women and families, and reduce burnout and retain talent, join WorldatWork’s webinar on April 21st at 2pm ET, featuring Maven’s VP of People, Karsten Vagner; Alex Moore, Benefits Leader at LendingTree, and Elle Hopkins, Senior Director, Total Rewards, at Medallia.

Register for the Webinar Today

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