You don’t need us to tell you that we’re no longer in Kansas. In the midst of the global coronavirus crisis, with the health of the nation at threat, employers and the Government have had to make big decisions, quickly, in order to keep the economy going.
These decisions have hit working parents particularly hard and will almost certainly have affected your organisation. Parents make up a huge percentage of the workforce, with 75.1% of mothers with dependent children working, and 92.6% of fathers (as of June 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics).
Impact of lockdown on working parents
Overnight on March 23, 2020, working parents found themselves metaphorically naked, as lockdown was announced.
All previous childcare support, whether that was grandparents, childminders, nurseries or schools, was immediately withdrawn, leaving the majority of the adult population simultaneously wondering how on earth teachers do it and how on earth they are going to meet their work targets.
In that first week of working from home, we saw a supercharge of energy and effort as organisations set up offices at home in record time in an attempt to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.
However, for those with the extra challenge of caring, be that parents or carers, business as usual is still a long way off. As lockdown continues, energy levels are starting to dip and people are struggling.
We’re working from home, but under extraordinary circumstances
Over the past three weeks, parents and carers have experienced a range of emotions, including overwhelm, anxiety, fear and exhaustion. And is it any surprise?
The entire workforce has had to come to terms with remote working, which brings about challenges in the form of lack of social connection, feeling out of the loop and pressure to be productive (as presenteeism has always been a way that productivity is measured).
For working parents, however, there is the additional pressure to act as replacement teachers.
Anyone who has ever experienced ongoing change or uncertainty will be acutely aware that overwhelm, anxiety, fear and exhaustion is only the start of the emotional rollercoaster ahead of us if this new normal is here to stay.
It’s very likely that we will see these emotions exacerbated over the coming weeks, and move more towards feelings of withdrawal, disheartenment and anger as lockdown continues.
What can business leaders do to help their working parents?
This, in turn, poses an enormous challenge for leaders and managers. How can we increase our empathy and allow for more flexibility within our organisations to help our working parents and carers continue to contribute professionally?
12 ways to support working parents and carers
The working parents and carers within your business will be in need of additional support and care if they are going to come through these incredibly challenging times.
It’s essential that organisations offer this support if they want to retain these talented people who are so vital to business.
To help these colleagues there is a need to…
- Assure them that it’s absolutely ok not to be ok; it’s alright to struggle and they won’t be penalised for it. Remember, this is not working from home, this is survival.
- Let them know they are not alone – we are all in this together. Everyone within your organisation will be experiencing their own unique difficulties.
- Acknowledge the enormity of the task they are being asked to undertake and the intense pressure that they are under both at home and work.
- Review key deliverables and ask what are the essential business priorities that must be completed over the next few weeks, and what can be pushed back.
- Realise that now is not the time to make staff develop new skills, take on that stretch project or indulge in any pre-planned learning and development events. Now is the time for them to invest in their family.
- Remember that the role of the parent is to keep a healthy, calm and safe environment for all.
- Encourage those without caring responsibilities to improve their flexibility behaviours to help parents continue to be part of the business conversation – think about the best time for meetings (6am or lunchtime naps); extend deadlines; limit the length of meetings; allow children to be seen on conference calls (with the use of mute, of course!).
- Ensure proper, caring contact is made and that your colleagues remain connected: a sincere check-in to ensure everything is ok or a virtual team coffee break, for example. Remote working has a huge impact on social connection, which is worsened for parents of young families. Key to this is the skill of building trust and psychological safety.
- Help parents cut themselves some slack and accept that they are not academic teachers (a profession that takes many years to master). Instead, parents are custodians of learning, their role is to keep children enthused to learn, and remember there’s a lot to be learned outside of the national curriculum. As leaders, allow your working parents time to fulfil this new teaching role.
- Not measure success through presenteeism, but by productivity and output instead.
- Acknowledge that it may take longer to get responses from someone who cannot be checking their emails all day, but might check-in in the evening instead, or early morning. Adjust your expectations and set realistic deadlines accordingly.
- Communicate often and at optimum times – parents are under constant distraction.
These are not normal times. We are in the middle of a crisis, the likes the world has not seen for almost 100 years. Remember, it is a crisis; it will end.
Working from home on steroids
What we are currently experiencing is not working from home; do not confuse it as such. It’s working from home on steroids.
Working from home requires careful planning and trust building and takes time, care and commitment to make it work. The way we are now working was dumped on us in less than a week, and with no consideration for how it will work.
As such, organisations and their leaders need to keep the safety, security and wellbeing of their staff at the forefront. The enormity of the change should not be misunderstood and adjustments need to be made; this is not business as usual.
Leaders and managers must raise their own awareness, empathy, flexibility and adaptability to lead their working parents and carers through these incredibly challenging times with enormous levels of care.
With the right support, working parents, and the workforce generally, will get through this challenge. Employees will long remember the care and flexibility that was afforded them during this difficult period, and businesses will emerge stronger.
With years of experience helping organisations to develop healthier, happier and higher performing workplaces, we are experts in creating inclusive workplaces that put their people at the centre of business.
If you would like our help in supporting your people during this difficult time, we are currently running online coaching workshops specifically aimed at working parents and carers. Please do get in touch to find out how these can help your people and business.