Don’t go to the office, work from home, go to the office, now work from home, keep children at home, send children back to school.
We have seen significant shifts in advice and guidance over the past few months, with no experience of having been through something like this before, I’m sure many people feel anxious.
For working parents and those with caring responsibilities, decisions on how to behave have had to take into account the effects they will have on those they are responsible for. As we see cases rising and more measures being put in place to try and reduce the spread of Covid-19 (and as a working parent myself!), I thought it would be worth exploring how we can better support employees with caring responsibilities on an ongoing basis.
Many working parents have seen themselves back where they were at the height of the original lockdown, and it is important for businesses to recognise that these are ongoing issues.
Creating a working parents policy
In the midst of lockdown, I produced a working parents policy at M&C Saatchi which addressed two very broad categories: children with a significant need for care such as younger children, and those children who are a little older who still need supervision. I didn’t feel I could put ages on these groups as every family situation is different.
The main purpose of the policy was to acknowledge these extra pressures on parents during such a stressful time and allow parents to support whatever needs their children may have. We acknowledged that there may be times that children require the emotional support of their parents and that parents should be able to shut their laptops and simply be with their children.
We also advised meetings to be no longer than 45 minutes to allow time to check in with children and that manager support was crucial in understanding how employees might manage their workload and parenting at the same time.
Speaking from experience…
I had my own experience to draw on in developing a working parents policy as I have one child of my own and three step children – all of school age. Home schooling had its ups and downs, but we found a rhythm and routine which we all found comfortable.
I, like many I’m sure, was apprehensive but also relieved when the children went back to school. The first school drop off felt similar to before lockdown, apart from a one-way system and an initial slight feeling of caution in the air. The children enjoyed seeing their friends again and this new normal felt ok.
However we are now facing more restrictions. A lot of schools have had suspected and confirmed cases, meaning children have had to isolate at home. Many working parents have seen themselves back where they were at the height of the original lockdown, and it is important for businesses to recognise that these are ongoing issues that can strike at any time.
Children in our working lives – it’s not over yet!
Children being present during some of the working day may continue to be the norm, and so employees would benefit from guidance on how to deal with these situations. You may have seen the footage of news reporters being interrupted by children joining an interview on live TV, but how are these scenarios being managed in other workplaces?
I have been interrupted by my daughter declaring there is a spider in the living room, prompting me to add a line in our working parents guidance on acknowledging children should they spontaneously join your zoom meeting!
Employee-led networks can be a great way of discussing common issues through the lens of a working parent.
Working parents will have future demands
We also need to understand that having spent so much time with children, parents may wish to continue some aspects of their routine. For example, having dinner as a family is now something many parents do not wish to have to give up again.
Although we are currently being urged to work from home, once offices are encouraging people back in again, many employees will expect there to be flexibility for them to manage their home and work life. Many will now also have the confidence to demand it and if their current employer doesn’t give it to them, there will no doubt be many companies that will.
Working parents and carers will be looking for support from their employers during these difficult times. I therefore urge all HR teams to think about the requirements of this group of people, carry out listening exercises, raise awareness of the issues and provide support for managers.
Employee-led networks can be a great way of discussing common issues through the lens of a working parent. At M&C Saatchi we have a family network who I work with on initiatives to keep the conversation moving – and practical solutions are more likely to come to fruition as there is a group of people driving them.
Beyond working parents….
Alongside the issues faced by working parents and carers, it is important to recognise that there are many other reasons why employees need support during this time. Those who live alone, in house shares or with their parents have other pressures that need to be recognised.
As our home lives and work lives have become so interlinked, the businesses that recognise this and actively support employees with both will no doubt be the ones to come through the pandemic with a happy and engaged workforce.