With much of the UK back in lockdown, possibly until March, the challenges of coronavirus continue. But there is light ahead.
This time, we have a vaccine. This time, we’re equipped with everything we learnt the first time around. And that means we know the importance of listening to people’s needs.
School closures across the UK
With the year starting with uncertainty about the state of school closures - making it hard for parents, carers, and teachers to plan ahead - things are now grimly clear. Online learning is now the only option for most school-aged children, at least until February.
The silver lining? This time around, this closure is almost certain to last at least to the end of the month - and likely covering February too. And having that knowledge is key (unlike Lockdown 1, where no-one expected how long the restrictions would last). But it still means you need to act now to support the carers and parents in your organisation.
The challenges of parenting and working full-time
Have you had to teach fractions to a 10 year old, wrangle a toddler, clean up after them both, and chair a 20-person call to explain how you’re going to meet financial targets - all at the same time? For remote working parents, that scene may look familiar.
Working from home while you’re kids not in school is a struggle. That’s obvious - and can be shown by the number of parents who’ve reached out for help. A work-life balance charity saw the amount of people getting in touch with their Legal Advice Services quadruple thanks to the pandemic, with 1 out of 7 having to change their work situation to accommodate childcare.
Offering flexibility is key, but considering the additional complexities some groups of working parents may face is also important.
Undoing years of progress for working women
As many, including us, have already spoken about, the pandemic has had a concerning impact on the working lives of women globally. Many see it as a backwards slide in gender equality - with one study finding 1 in 4 of women in corporate America were thinking of leaving their career or downgrading their role. But why is that?
In the first lockdown, figures showed women took on more childcare responsibilities than men - two thirds more, in fact. They were also much more likely to be concerned about being viewed negatively due to childcare. This is especially true for women in senior roles - as they’re more likely to have children, more likely to have partners that also work full-time, and more likely to be the only or one of few women at that level, the pressure is more than most.
If women are pushed out of the workforce, that’s a problem for your organisation. Reduced burnout, increased job satisfaction, and higher levels of dedication have been linked to higher numbers of women in an organisation - not to mention higher profits, sales, and revenue.
Women aren’t the only parents affected. Single parents, people from ethnic minority, and other carers have all faced their individual challenges - which makes it each organisation’s responsibility to listen, and respond to them all.
3 ways leaders, managers, and HR can help working parents
1. Better communication of policies, perks, and performance goals
That charities have seen a surge in advice-seeking shows a need for clarity. Parents and carers in your organisation need to be absolutely clear on what your policies are around paid leave and flexible working for parents, and whether you can offer advice or support for childcare.
But more than that, you have to communicate your expectations around their working practices and performance. Do you expect them to be on call, can they have cameras off if kids are darting in and out of the room, are you being lenient about their targets and goals due to the situation? Whatever the answers are, tell them.
2. Lead by example by being flexible, and open about challenges
Whether you’ve founded the organisation, are in the senior team, work in HR, or line manage a handful of people, you’re in a position of influence. If you’re balancing care and work, be open about how difficult it is. Where talking about your children might have felt unprofessional in the past, there’s no place for that in the modern workplace.
Commiserate and laugh about the struggles, be visible about taking time out when you need to - whether it’s logging off for an hour, or a few days of annual leave - and make it clear that it’s ok.
3. Listen more closely to the challenges different groups face
Each carer or parent in your organisation will have their own challenges - and no-one expects you to anticipate them all. What is important, though, is listening. Give them a safe space to explain where they need help or understanding, whether it’s in a 121 or using an anonymous survey, and provide support based on their answers.
Listening and really hearing can be hard, especially when you have a large workforce. And that’s where our survey solution comes in - employee surveys with some open-text questions, and a powerful analysis tool can identify specific problems in specific groups. That way, you know where to focus. And at a time like this, that’s crucial.