With all the disruption caused by COVID-19, we wanted to address the situation for one group that has been hit particularly hard by this: working parents. Working from home, particularly if you haven’t done it before, presents a unique set of challenges, and these are amplified for your team members who need to work remotely with children in their homes. We have had many organizations turning to us at ConsciousWorks for help with how to manage this new environment, wondering how they can best support their teams, and especially their team members with children at home, so we wanted to provide some tips, tricks and resources to help.
It is important to remember that NO ONE asked for this. No one told people when they were considering having children: “you could be quarantined with them for months and expected to be productive”. NO ONE. We already see a significant pay gap for mothers, and the burnout and stress statistics for working parents are catastrophic, it is important that we do not let COVID-19 amplify this.It may seem frustrating and counterintuitive when your goal is to get the best from your employees. We want you to know that supporting them is much more cost effective than losing them to stress or burnout and having to replace them.
There are different strategies to approach this problem:
1. Shift priorities and deadlines.
It is not possible to parent, homeschool and get the same amount of work done as before. Step one is setting out clear expectations on what needs to be done and when. Then, as their leader, have a conversation on how these targets can be met and come up with creative solutions. Shift non-urgent deadlines as much as possible to allow some breathing space.
2. Acknowledge that it is not fair.
Working parents are not on the same footing as their child-free colleagues, and they are being asked to do the impossible to tackle parenting, homeschooling, and work, yet, they are given no more hours during the day. This is not fair. It is also not possible without some shifting of priorities and expectations for us mere mortals.
An acknowledgement can go a long way. To add some flair to this acknowledgement, you can add a colouring page of your company logo (easily attainable by services at Fiv err) and/or create a colouring contest. Provide resources to parents on how to cope during this time.
3. ASK THEM what they need.
This seems simple enough, but it is incredible how many companies are either 1) ignoring that this is happening, or 2) trying to put in blanket policies. Every situation is different depending on the employee’s role, their spouse’s involvement (if they have a spouse, partner or co-parent), their access to help, the age of the children etc. Encourage each leader to have a private conversation on what is helpful for each employee and their family. Explain how this period of time will not impact their consideration for promotion or other performance metrics (only if it is true of course). You want and need your employees to be honest. They will not be honest with you if they are afraid for their job or their career trajectory.
4. Encourage and normalize all parents stepping up.
Most of the time, it’s women who are taking the brunt of this additional workload. This is not acceptable. Open up the conversation with parents of all genders on your team on how to best support them in parenting, and supporting their partner if they have one. If you are an equal opportunity employer/leader, this is your chance to prove it.
5. Performance reviews cannot be the same.
This goes for all performance metrics this year. We cannot use the same measuring stick as we did in previous years and we cannot compare parents to non-parents.
Again, every situation is different but here are some examples on how to best support parents. I encourage you to get creative.
- Flexible hours – the more flexible, the better.
- Encourage employees to be open about their realistic abilities at this time. Instead of saying ‘how are you doing’ ask, ‘what is one thing you could use support on?’. For high performers, especially women, you will see the ‘I can do it all’ attitude and a reluctance to ask for help. You may even see them offering to help others, when they already feel that they are not performing at their best, because they want to be seen as a team player.
- Where possible, pair up parent and non-parent employees for important external calls or meetings, so that the parent can be on mute unless asked a question or responding to a point.
- (Note: It’s important to not simply exclude parents, as it can lead to more work for them to get caught up, or push them out from feeling useful on a project)
- Ask your non-parent employees if they would be willing to help with some tasks on a temporary basis. This is a team sport.
- Allow employees to have their kids around on video calls – just mute and/or block their camera unless they are speaking.
- Suggest driving meetings where they can put their kids in the backseat of the car (particularly useful for young kids and babies).
- Managers (or HR) should check in regularly on both work and mental wellbeing.
- Encourage taking breaks and time off. It is also important that your leaders are modelling this behaviour for their teams. Effective recovery time from work and stress is more important now than ever. Even when you have just 5 minutes you can maximize the recovery by taking a break.
- Take a moment to praise them. They are currently super human.
- Reframe this challenging time for the parents on your team, for leaders and for the company.
At ConsciousWorks we specialize in science-backed, impact-driven programs to create strong, agile minds: for performance and proactive mental health. Want to know how to be proactive with employee mental health through the pandemic – we can help.
In order to support businesses during COVID-19, we are offering a free 20-minute consultation for any business that calls us until the end of June, on how to best support your employees who are parents. Contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time.
For downloadable PDFs that you can share around the office, get them on our page of resources to help parents while working from home.