Covid-19 has been hard on all of us. But especially on parents who have struggled to juggle work with looking after their children in lockdown. Working mothers in particular have suffered over the last year, with nine out of ten saying their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic¹.
However, the struggles that have blighted so many working parents throughout lockdown are actually not new to many, they have simply made them worse. For so long, mothers and fathers have been asking for support that helps them to achieve their potential at work, alongside their family life.
The positive news is that big organisations are recognising this need more than ever, investing in support for the roughly 40% of their workforce that are parents with dependents. In fact, we’ve recently started working with huge companies like BBC Studios, Ofcom and Deloitte Ireland, among others, who wanted to add additional layers of support for employees that are parents and now adjusting to changes that the pandemic has imposed. It’s clear that these changes are not simply a case of getting back to normal, but adapting to the shifts in normal working culture that have been influenced by the pandemic and remote working.
So what can organisations do to better support their workforce of parents, as we attempt a smooth transition back into the office and out of lockdown?
1. Promote existing support
Most organisations, big and small, have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Yet utilisation rates average at around just 5% among UK employees². Most people aren’t actually aware of what is on offer as part of their benefits package. Companies that have more comprehensive support for their employees – on top of traditional EAPs – are often seen to do a better job in promoting these to their employees, but inevitably more can always be done. Returning to the office will be challenging for many working parents over the coming months, where employee support services could be essential to making it work. Promoting benefits offerings can be challenging; no-one wants to be bombarded with emails. But there are ways to raise awareness. Groups and forums, specifically parents groups in this instance, can be helpful in reaching the right people in the organisation. Encouraging managers and senior leaders to write blogs about their experience accessing support can also help to foster a culture of openness. It is important to reiterate the message that all engagement – specifically around mental health – is confidential, as this is often a barrier. You could also look at running manager sessions to make sure all senior staff are aware of corporate policies and the support available to encourage usage within their teams.
2. Identify who needs more help
Certain people within organisations will need more support than others in returning to an office environment. We are generally more aware of making adjustments to assist employees with more obvious needs, such as those with physical disabilities or serious health issues. But the needs of those with very real but unseen challenges can go unnoticed. For instance, returning to work after both a pandemic and long-term absence, or perhaps having a new baby during lockdown, which could be incredibly difficult for someone without tailored support. Managers are often the key here, so it can be useful to encourage them to check in with their team members to identify their needs and offer the right support and adjustments. This can be a positive way to support employees with their transition back to the office and explore ways to make their working lives easier.
3. Communicate directly with parents
When it comes to transitioning out of lockdown, there might not be a universal policy that suits everyone, so communication is key. Many working parents simply want to be able to adjust their working hours to suit their childcare. Or perhaps work from home more regularly to fit their personal schedule. Three-quarters of working parents would like to continue working remotely in some capacity after lockdown, so, where possible, businesses will benefit from incorporating more flexibility moving forwards³. Small changes can make a huge difference to working parents’ job satisfaction, wellbeing, which will in turn improve retention and productivity.
4. Reassure those that have concerns
Coming back to work after being told to stay at home for a year can be very anxiety provoking and we can’t underestimate the impact the pandemic has had on people. Anxiety levels could be especially high for those that have been deemed high risk to Covid-19 or live with someone that has been shielding. Bringing employees back slowly can help them to readjust, but some might need more reassurance. Informing employees about any changes to their workspace or office precautions could help in addressing their concerns. Demonstrating a safe working environment for those coming back to the office is key to keeping employees happy and engaged.