How to Help Parents Succeed at Work & Home
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a number of challenges for businesses and workers. This is especially true for working parents and caregivers, many of whom are struggling to adjust their routines—at home and at work—to the ever-evolving situation. Concerns around health risks for themselves and family members, along with a need to be responsible about social distancing, are adding to their stress and anxiety.
Many people are particularly concerned about:
- Catching the virus at work, becoming seriously ill, or having a family member or child catch the virus and become ill
- The potential loss of life
- The loss of a job and the security it brings the family because:
- The caregiver is unable to work from home and/or has no available school or childcare options
- Productivity decreases when working from home while caring for children, especially those who are very young
Tips for working parents who are trying to do it all
It’s important to recognize that working parents—who are often among the most loyal and hard-working employees—need support and grace from their employers as they acclimate to their new situation. With this support, they are more likely to successfully manage their many responsibilities, including helping their children adjust to their new routines.
“Our children, who were once able to go to school, socialize with their friends, and participate in sporting events and extracurricular activities are now largely confined to their homes and struggle to deal with the isolation and distress associated with that,” says Olivia Curtis, wellness specialist for G&A Partners.
Parenting can be tough in the best of times. When it comes to parenting in times of crisis, such as during a global pandemic, things can get infinitely harder. Any change in routine can affect the health and mental wellbeing of children, causing them to act out or shut out their parents and caregivers. This only adds to a working parent’s stress.
“How our employees manage their own stress and anxiety has a large impact on their children,” Curtis says, “so anything we can do to support our employees’ mental health will positively affect their children and family life as well.”
Because every family is different, Curtis says it’s difficult to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution. But there are steps a working parent can take to set their kids up for success, thereby reducing the strain on their own jobs:
- Provide a consistent, structured routine and map out an easy-to-follow daily schedule. When children attend school in person, they are accustomed to a set routine, with teachers and other faculty guiding and monitoring their progress throughout the day. It’s different when students are online. Younger children, especially, may require regular reminders and check-ins from parents and caregivers to ensure they are where they’re supposed to be, attentive to teachers, and on track with their schoolwork.
- Be prepared and be ready to manage interruptions calmly. When your child is attending school online, interruptions will happen—probably every day. To limit avoidable disruptions to your workday, plan ahead as best you can by:
- Ensuring your child knows how and when to log into his or her various classes
- Confirming that your Wi-Fi can handle the extra load if you and your children—and possibly your spouse or another roommate—need to be in meetings at the same time
- Assembling a dedicated workspace for your children, with their school supplies and books easily accessible
- Preparing snacks and lunches ahead of time for quick distribution
- Explaining clearly to your children what questions or technical roadblocks warrant an interruption of your work, and which do not
- Giving your children a heads up before you are in a meeting, so they know they cannot interrupt unless it’s an emergency
- Be up front with your manager(s). Chances are, your managers may be dealing with a similar situation in their own homes. Even if they aren’t, let them know about the realities and challenges you are currently facing, and try to work out a good solution by recommending a schedule that works for you and the company. Being honest about your situation will go a long way toward building trust with your managers and it could also reduce your stress level so you can more calmly accommodate your children throughout the day.
How companies can support their working-parent employees
On the flip side, how a company responds to its employees during a crisis can impact not only the company culture, but the bottom line as well. Curtis recommends that employers and other leaders support working parents and caregivers by doing the following:
- Ask your working parents what they need and keep an open line of communication. “Going straight to the source can ensure your efforts are wanted, needed, and will be effective,” Curtis says. “By surveying your working parents, you will not only be able to glean ideas of how you can help in their specific situations, but also allow the opportunity for your employees to feel heard and cared about.”
- Be as flexible as possible and encourage a healthy work-life balance. “Some employees may need to start or end their workdays earlier or later while others may need to block out hours of time throughout their day to manage virtual learning or childcare,” Curtis says. “Work with your team to create schedules and meeting times that work for everyone on both a personal and professional level.
She says it’s also important for working parents and their employers to set boundaries. Agree on set working hours and don’t expect anyone to answer calls or emails at all hours of the day and night. It’s important not to blur the lines between work and family life, which can increase stress and possibly lead to employee burnout.
- Connect your employees to helpful resources and information. Employees can feel lost and alone in their quest to balance their remote work life with their family time. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), now is a good time to remind your employees that it is available to them and their immediate family members—including their children and parents. Some local community agencies offer support at little or no cost, too.
Curtis says you’ll help your employees feel appreciated and supported when you offer them resources that can help make their lives a little easier in times like this. Consider rolling out or highlighting your existing dependent-care flexible spending accounts, wellness programs, telemedicine services, and childcare reimbursements.
- Help to build social connections with your employees and children. It’s important that your employees feel connected to their coworkers, especially during this time. In addition to informal, virtual check-ins, you can also encourage employees to connect with each other to form learning pods for their children of a similar age or to share daycare options. Offering social activities where employees can include their children can help as well.
“Consider offering companywide virtual family-friendly yoga or workout sessions,” Curtis says. “Or get creative and facilitate other activities like virtual family bingo with prizes.”
- Be aware of local, state, and federal laws and regulations that protect your employees’ rights; update your policies accordingly. The Department of Labor and recent legislation such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act specify how employers must manage employee leave requests and other important job-protection protocol. Curtis recommends that employers strongly consider consulting with their legal counsel before making any changes to company rules and policies.
Grow stronger, together
As businesses struggle to accommodate new client and buyer behaviors, employers and their employees are also adjusting to this new reality. Giving yourself, your children, your clients, managers, and employees the time and tools to develop the most productive path forward will help you to not just survive, but ultimately grow into a stronger, more successful team.
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