According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a fifth (20 per cent) of working parents with school-aged children said their work had been directly affected by the pandemic with their children off school and homeschool responsibilities. With many organisations now considering a more permanent remote working policy as the pandemic continues, and school summer holidays upon us, there could be concerns about how these struggles could impact their work over the longer term too.
Over the last few months, many of us have witnessed unexpected little guests on Zoom calls, late night messages from employees catching up on emails, and last-minute changes to meeting plans. The shift to working from home has been a huge change for many employees, but for those with carer responsibilities this challenge is more so. The strain of these demands is huge, and it could negatively affect individuals if not handled in the right way. So, to keep them safe, sane and engaged there are three things to consider:
Communication is always key – teams, managers and leaders need to talk frequently about workloads. For working parents, this means being honest and open about what works best for them, and might include agreeing on a core set of tasks that must be done that week.
These conversations should take place regularly and employers need to be adaptable in their guidance and support as new challenges crop up. With regular conversation, ways of working can be adjusted, and the right support can be given.
The ONS research found that many parents were fitting their work around their childcare obligations – no surprise there. But what was interesting was how many organisations aren’t willing to be more flexible for working parents.
Flexible working during this time comes in a range of formats. It could mean allowing employees to work core hours. Offering a greater level of autonomy and trust means working parents can fit their work around childcare needs.
Flexibility can also help working parents be more productive. In recent research from the University of Birmingham, 52 per cent of working parents said they wanted to work more flexibly in the future after experiencing the benefits of it over the course of the pandemic.
However, some parents might be more hesitant in taking advantage of this offer, worried about pressure to perform or how they’re perceived among their colleagues. Employers can help reassure staff on these fears and actively encourage them to use flexible working to their advantage.
Working from home doesn’t mean an employee is immune to burnout. Remote working often blurs the line between work and personal lives and can increase the risk of burnout or presenteeism. Add the fact we’re all trying to work during a global pandemic, and that many employees are also dealing with additional strains, and you may have a recipe for disaster.
It’s crucial that all leaders encourage their people to take breaks and make time for self-care. In a study from Southern Cross University, 98 per cent of respondents said Covid-19 had impacted on their mental health, with 41 per cent saying the pandemic pushed them into seeking therapy. During this time employers must consider all the ways they can support their staff. Benefits like an employee assistance programme can make a real difference for employees, giving them the support they need when they need it most.
Working during a pandemic is hard enough, without adding childcare to the mix, and many employees could struggle. As working from home looks set to continue for longer than originally thought, employees need to know their employer is there to support them and that they can work together to keep productive and, most importantly, happy.
Emma Yearwood is director of HR at Sodexo Engage