Everyone has had a difficult time during the global pandemic. But the closure of schools and daycare centers across the country has created unique challenges for working parents, forcing them to balance full-time jobs with the responsibilities of supervising small children or helping older children with remote learning.
Concerns about retaining valuable employees have sounded the alarm with this news
Lauren Florko, Ph.D., a development consultant based in Vancouver, says that “I think what is at stake is potentially losing a percentage of your workforce—particularly when the burden is hitting parents, who tend to be experienced workers.” “As if that weren’t bad enough, you’ll also lose productivity when you lose employees. As you can see, things are going downhill fast.”
This is an especially difficult time for employees who have children, and companies can help by implementing these policies.
You must be able to adapt
Creating flexible work policies that allow employees to choose when and how they complete assignments is perhaps the most helpful thing that companies can do for working parents.
Depending on the specific requirements of a company, these policies can take various forms. In some companies, employees are expected to be on call for meetings or to connect with supervisors during “core work hours” (say, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) but are allowed to fit in the rest of their work hours when they can. So parents can work around their children’s bedtime and meal times or work from home while they’re still at school.
A “best place to work” and “best CPA firm for women” for many years, BPM, a California-based accounting and consulting firm, went one step further and implemented a completely flexible work schedule. In other words, employees could plan their workweek in any way that worked best for them, even if it meant putting in time late at night or on the weekends.
At BPM, “we knew that things are challenging for our people right now, and we wanted to do what we could to support them,” said Jim Wallace, CPA, CEO of the company. “We started by extending the standard workweek. They can work whenever they want as long as they communicate with their managers and meet their deadlines.”
This level of adaptability is not available to all businesses. A year into the pandemic, many parents are still unable to find a place for their children to go to school because of the lack of formal childcare options.
Dr. Lucie Kocum, a specialist in organisational psychology and industrial psychology, recommends that businesses also give their employees the option of working part-time or in a “job-share” arrangement, where they share a full-time schedule with another person. Such policies can be a lifeline for employees who have children, especially single parents or those who have small children at home, at a time when it can feel impossible to balance work and childcare responsibilities.
It’s not ideal for many working parents who need a full-time income, but it’s better than being forced out of the workforce, she noted. In addition, “it’s a way for companies to retain their best workers.”
Re-examine your company’s policies and benefits.
As a result of the current pandemic, executives should work closely with human resources to review company policies and benefits packages.
Kimberly Acree Adams, Ph.D., an industrial and organisational psychologist and executive coach based in Pennsylvania, believes now is a good time to ensure that everyone has full paid leave, comprehensive health care, and access to mental health support. There will be a need for personal days because people may need to use them for caring for children or a family member who is sick.
When employees are struggling to find childcare options, HR can also help them out. Depending on whether daycare centers are still open, this could mean doing the heavy lifting of finding and vetting potential daycare centers or discussing whether to offer employees child care subsidies or stipends to bring in a babysitter to watch children during important meetings.
When parents need emergency babysitting, BPM has historically provided financial assistance in the form of a $200 credit and payment of the monthly membership fee for the service. This firm reviewed its benefits packages in light of current challenges caused by the pandemic and took steps to make them more robust by changing mental health providers that offered more comprehensive services tailored to current pandemic challenges — including support for issues specific to parents.
Parents at BPM now have access to a Yammer channel dedicated to providing one another with moral support and sharing ideas for raising their families.
In his weekly email and video updates, Wallace makes it clear that leadership is open to suggestions on how to make the lives of his employees a little easier during this difficult time.
In the past, he said, “We tell our workers over and over again that we understand that they are going through a lot.” Many things are beyond our control—we can’t open schools or daycares, though we wish we could—but we can show our support for those who are coping with hardships.
Set clear expectations and come up with bespoke solutions for each situation.
Florko advises companies to adopt a “person-first” approach, where the focus is on how to manage workload rather than micromanaging individuals, in order to ensure that people feel taken care of but that deadlines are still met.
Individual-centered approaches necessitate a lot of communication and coaching, Florko said. As a result, supervisors try to understand their team members’ unique challenges and needs, and then help develop individual solutions that help address those challenges, while still ensuring that the work is completed.”
For example, it may be possible to allow team members who have young children at home to skip non-essential meetings during school hours in order to focus on their jobs at night.
Instill a sense of openness in the workplace
Creating multiple channels of communication that allow employees to provide feedback on what’s working for them and what additional support they may need is critical because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for working parents. According to Kocum, this is especially important for working mothers who may be afraid to bring up their struggles with juggling work and parenting responsibilities for fear of jeopardizing their professional advancement.
Human Resources (HR) should also keep track of new company policies that are designed to help workers (and their families) during COVID-19 by asking employees to fill out more in-depth surveys than just “How satisfied are you with this policy?”
“When conducting surveys, be sure to include questions such as, “How did you like this tool?” Is it doing what I want? Was there anything else that could be done?’ “she remarked. “That way, you can keep your focus on the good things while still acknowledging the bad. It’s about taking a deliberate approach to growth.”
Leaders should also encourage employees to contact HR if they do not feel comfortable talking to their supervisors.
Creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing details about their personal lives and work situations is essential, according to Smith.