The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of our homes into offices and classrooms, giving families with young children no choice but to adapt to this new normal as quickly as possible. As the new school year begins, working parents must juggle virtual or hybrid learning schedules – or manage the stress of sending their children back to school for in-person learning – along with their day-to-day work responsibilities.
Managing childcare, at-home learning and a full workload is no easy task, which is leading many working parents to rethink their career choices – at least temporarily. According to a recent survey from WorldatWork, 21% of employers said they have lost employees due to their children’s education needs or lack of childcare. The same survey found that 23% of employers said it is not a priority to support employees with children returning to school.
Empathizing with and supporting your employees with children during these difficult times can help set up your organization for long-term success. Not only can it help you retain top employees, but it can also help these employees be more productive and can improve your employer brand and broader brand perception. Here are a few specific examples of ways employers are supporting working parents at this time, along with best practices your organization can consider. Not every organization will have the financial resources to offer a full range of support, but some of the practices outlined here can be implemented regardless of company size and resources.
top employers offer working parents added support
Some technology companies and other larger organizations have recognized that overseeing virtual learning is challenging even for the most tech-savvy parents. To support parents during the ongoing pandemic, Accenture partnered with Bright Horizons, the childcare provider, to offer employees access to small-group, part-time school day supervision at a subsidized cost. Other organizations such as Microsoft and Bank of America are also offering this benefit to employees.
Bank of America is also offering employees benefits such as $100 in childcare reimbursement per day and virtual experiences for school-aged children. School-aged children of employees can participate in tutoring, virtual field trips and after-school programs through the non-profit online learning tool, Khan Academy. Working parents also have access to an online hub that features information about childcare, virtual education resources and opportunities to connect with other parents.
Citigroup is adding new employee benefits to help working parents balance their day-to-day work and virtual learning. The organization is offering employees discounts on test preparation and tutoring services to kick off the new school year. Employees can receive assistance with finding an educational caregiver to supervise their children’s online learning and if they prefer small group learning, they can be matched with other families and educators.
Benefits such as those offered by Accenture, Bank of America and Citigroup require a financial investment up front but putting in the extra effort to support working parents at your organization can help drive productivity and improve your bottom line as a result. By providing children with virtual learning supervision and online field trips, these companies help alleviate some of the pandemic-related stress for working parents and enable them to focus more on their jobs. Offering such benefits can also help your organization increase employee retention, as employees will be more motivated to stay with an employer that helps them balance family and other personal priorities.
highlight benefits during the recruitment process
While many organizations have implemented temporary hiring freezes due to the financial strain of the pandemic, if your team is actively hiring, it’s important to highlight steps you’re taking to support employees – including working parents – during these challenging times. Given all the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, many individuals who are already employed might not want to jump into a new role or company. And employees who have taken time off for childcare or virtual learning might hesitate to rejoin the workforce unless they know they’ll receive support from their employer.
In your job descriptions and on your careers page, list any benefits you’re offering to working parents during the pandemic, along with benefits you always offer. New benefits might include childcare reimbursement and tutoring resources like the examples listed above. Other options – such as flexible scheduling, a commitment to work-life balance, a stipend for remote work supplies and access to online wellness and mental health resources – can help all employees feel supported during these uncertain times.
During the interview process, you can discuss these benefits in more detail to engage top job seekers. If working parents realize during the interview process that they will receive support with balancing work, childcare and education, they will be more likely to join your team and make positive contributions to your organization.
support flexible scheduling
The uptick in remote work since the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March leaves many individuals wondering whether they’re ‘working from home’ or ‘living at work.’ In the absence of set times in the office, employees across organizations are often taking a different approach to their working hours. Some start the day earlier or work later than they did before the pandemic because they don’t have to spend the extra time commuting. Others need to take a break during the day to help children with virtual learning or to run an errand for an at-risk relative. Due to this shift, employers should consider placing less emphasis on gauging success based on showing up at a certain time and instead embrace flexible, employee-driven scheduling.
Starting with new hire onboarding, encourage employees to block time on their calendars when they might have personal conflicts – such as supervising virtual learning or preparing lunch for their children. Foster a culture in which this type of time blocking is widely accepted and employees do not face negative repercussions for not being available at specific times. Encourage new hires to speak up as soon as possible if they’re struggling to balance their home and work schedules. This can help you identify solutions to set up for immediate success your new employees who are working parents, rather than only having this discussion if the employee’s performance noticeably suffers.
Another option for flexible scheduling is placing less importance on holding meetings at specific times by offering online, on-demand training sessions and communicating through collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.
One example of an organization that took flexible hours a step further is Patagonia. Prior to the pandemic, the outdoor clothing company offered on-site childcare. When childcare centers temporarily closed, Patagonia surveyed employees about what support they needed. One outcome involved offering working parents the option for more asynchronous work – such as switching to long-term projects if their personal responsibilities were more time sensitive.
Flexible scheduling has the potential to increase engagement and doesn’t mean employees are any less committed or productive. Employees who block time on their calendar might end up working later in the day, into the evenings or over the weekend when their children are occupied. If work is completed and employees are meeting expectations, flexible scheduling will only have a positive impact on your organization.
rethink performance reviews
Many employees who have faced challenges with juggling work and parenting responsibilities are concerned that this balancing act will lead to poor performance reviews. Google, for example, suspended performance reviews due to the pandemic in March and recently decided to reinstate them. In a recent survey of 870 Google employees who are parents, many indicated they expect the upcoming assessments to show that their job performance suffered in recent months. Others are asking Google for an option to opt-out of this review cycle, which determines raises and promotions.
Other organizations are taking different approaches to performance management. Facebook suspended its usual performance ratings in early 2020. Instead, all employees who exceed expectations will receive bonuses. Facebook and other tech companies like Netflix and Google have also implemented performance management initiatives such as providing constant feedback, the ‘Keeper Test’ (in which a manager is asked, ‘Would you fight to keep that employee?’), and separating performance reviews, salary discussions and peer reviews.
A recent survey from Willis Towers Watson found that 66% of employers are not planning to alter performance expectations or career development and promotion processes for workers dealing with childcare issues. Whether employees are working parents or not, they have spent the past six months adapting to this new normal while doing their best to perform well in their roles. The unusual circumstances surrounding the pandemic need to be taken into consideration during performance reviews. This might mean setting up more frequent, informal check-ins instead of formal annual reviews for the time being or having a more open, two-way conversation rather than gauging success based on measurable numbers. By showing understanding, companies demonstrate that they truly care about their employees, not only generating higher productivity in the near term, but also strengthening employee loyalty in the long term.
During frequent check-ins, managers can take the time to understand how your organization can better support employees in their roles. For example, if a working parent missed an important meeting because their child had a Zoom malfunction during a virtual learning session, don’t hold this against them and instead empathize with the need for more flexible scheduling. Or, if a working parent’s performance is suffering and they indicate they might leave the company because of personal priorities, you can identify ways for this employee to move to a part-time or project-based role. This will enable you to retain the employee and give them the option to return to their previous role when they have more bandwidth.
About 41% of US employees between the ages of 20 and 54 have a child at home, meaning two in five employees are currently managing work and childcare or education in one way or another. By understanding the strain the pandemic has put on all employees – including working parents – your organization can put a plan in place to better support your team, retain employees and drive results that will support long-term business success.
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