Working parents are under an enormous amount of pressure. Currently, Statista reports that a full 38 percent of employees have been asked to work from home. Theoretically, the request is a best-case scenario; with remote working capabilities, businesses can keep achieving, and employees can keep earning without fear of job loss. But a lot of people have kids — and during the coronavirus crisis, the vast majority of working parents are forced to juggle their professional to-do lists with their parenting responsibilities.
Working from home isn’t so easy when you’re also tasked with being the sole caretaker for your children all day. The risk of contagion prevents working parents from enlisting their usual sources of help during the workday; grandparents, babysitters, friends, and neighbors are all out of reach. This lack of support makes it exponentially more difficult for employees to execute their usual workload. As journalist Corinne Purtill puts the matter in an article for the New York Times, “the only thing more distracting than working at home with kids is having an actual elephant in your living room.”
But for some, the distraction isn’t only having the kids at home — it’s needing to educate them, too. Nationwide, the vast majority of schools have shut down for at least the next few weeks. Nine states have shuttered academic institutions until the end of May; eight have closed for the remainder of the academic year. Many parents, including those in my home state of New York, have been suddenly tasked with supporting their kids through untested remote learning programs.
“It’s stressful because I am receiving six to seven emails from my daughter’s school each day,” working parent Stephanie Caudle told the New York Post of her experience. “I often stress if I’m doing it right and if my child is going to fall behind because I am currently juggling so much.”
Businesses need to be conscious of the multiple responsibilities that working parents hold during the average workday. Now more than ever, company leaders must be thoughtful, empathetic, and responsive to the needs of those they rely on to drive their business forward.
Here are a few steps that you can take.
Be Exhaustive When Rethinking Your Expectations
You may think that you know what to expect from your remote workers — but do you? Sit down with your HR representative to figure out how task allocation and hourly expectations might change for working parents during the pandemic. How much work can parents realistically complete during a workday at home? What support might they need to complete their assigned to-do lists? Establishing a fair baseline for working expectations will save everyone involved from unnecessary stress and overwork down the road.
That said, don’t limit your thinking to a baseline. Be exhaustive in your thinking; brainstorm through various COVID-19 scenarios. What, for instance, would you do if an employee is caring for a sick relative and can only put in so many hours? What will you need to do if you need to furlough teams? Be specific in your thinking — the last thing you want is to inadvertently put stress on your business or employees because you failed to plan for adverse outcomes.
Proactively Provide Employees with Information About Leave Policies
We live in uncertain times. Employees need to know what their options are if they do get sick or need to care for an ill family member. Company leaders should proactively provide information both on their own leave policies and the aid provided by recent legislation.
In recent weeks, the federal government passed an aid package that includes funding to support sick workers and those who need to care for children who are at home due to coronavirus closures. The legislation provides workers at companies of under 500 employees ten days of immediately-available paid sick leave during the pandemic. It also establishes a new federal paid leave program for working caretakers. Eligible workers can receive benefits for a month, receiving two-thirds of their average monthly earnings up to a cap of $4,000.
Work with your human resources department to explain available supportive measures to working parents and assist individual workers with their paperwork if need be. Don’t only think of your full-time employees, either — also provide information to any temporary or part-time workers that aid in your operations.
Learn How to Be Flexible
What allowances can you make for your employee base? Can you give them more sick time outside of federal benefits? Is there a way to provide some working parents the opportunity to go part-time or have flexible working hours?
Some companies have already taken such measures. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, Google has given employees who are caring for children or family members two additional weeks of leave in the event of any school or care facility closure. If they use that two-week allotment, affected staffers still have the option to use their usual four weeks of paid leave.
Obviously, those privileges are considerable — and not feasible for many smaller companies. However, there are smaller measures that company leaders can take. Work with your team to institute flexible working arrangements and provide support to those who can no longer handle their full workload. Above all else, treat your employees as people first; recognize that they have worries and need empathetic support now more than ever before.
“We are going to have to be patient and understanding of ourselves, our kids and each other,” one New York Times journalist wrote of the remote-working paradigm shift. “The challenge economically will be whether employers are able to do that too.”
I believe that we can, if only we try hard enough.