The Current Situation
The pandemic ushered in major upheaval to all aspects of human life, with the adoption of Flexible Work arrangements being a hallmark of the changes. The scale of the shift towards flexible work was reflected in the Modern Families Index 2021 (a study based on a survey of 1,000 working parents around the UK regions and nations, with children aged 18 and under in their household) where 40% of respondents revealed that they are able to work more flexibly than a year ago.
Most companies have adopted Remote Work to adhere with the safety measures aiming to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has led to its fair share of consequences. In particular, parents have proven to suffer the consequences of remote work more acutely than most workers. After all, the added responsibility of childcare exacerbates the already taxing workload for parents, coupled with the need to adjust to remote work.
This is seen in a PEW Research Centre survey conducted in October 2020, where a third of employed parents who have the same job as before the pandemic and have children under age 18 (whether at home or not) report greater difficulty in balancing work and family responsibilities, while 13% say it has become easier and 53% say things are about the same. Amongst teleworking parents, those with childcare duties were more likely to face difficulty with coping at work or reject career advancements.
How can Employers help?
During the Pandemic
#1 Prioritise Staff Well-Being
Each workforce has their own unique needs, there is no simple “one size fits all” solution available. Nonetheless, a good approach would be to consider the following areas:
- Familial Responsibilities: Do staff members have dependents such as children & elderly in their care?
- Staff Wellness: Are staff members too isolated or overwhelmed?
- Communication: Is there clear and sufficient communication or feedback channels?
#2 Support through Actions, not Words
Be wary of the pitfall of inaction. This refers to the tendency to simply offer words of encouragement or commiseration without offering any practical means of support. Take the example of the nightly applause in cities around the world in 2020. While they were well-intended as a show of gratitude towards the healthcare workers at the frontline of the global pandemic, they did little to address their needs . Healthcare workers still lack adequate equipment, emotional support amidst burgeoning responsibilities and blatant disregard of social distancing protocols.
Similar displays of misplaced support will not be welcomed by parents finding their footing around flexible work and childcare arrangements . Hence, it is necessary to support workers by providing them with the appropriate tools and support, such as providing more maternity, paternity, or adoption leave and dependant care. Making these initiatives widely accessible and well publicised to most employees will be two elements that ensure they are sustained.
#3 Make Work More Flexible
Work arrangements are expected to shift towards a new blended approach that combines remote and office-based working, known as Hybrid Work. Hybrid Work allows employees the freedom to choose where and when they work best. Major organisations such as Microsoft and Google have already taken the first steps towards such a transition.
Hybrid Work has the following benefits for working parents:
a) Enhances Work Performance
The Modern Families Index 2021 reports that a third of working parents feel that flexible working allows them to work more effectively and efficiently. The proliferation of remote work will improve the management of familial responsibilities, which contributes towards work efficacy and efficiency for parents. Although working parents will be faced with familial responsibilities even during work, with the flexibility to decide where and when to work, parents and other family members will be able to coordinate their schedules in a manner that best manages the load of childcare or eldercare.
b) Improves Personal Health
The new flexible work arrangements has proven to reap rewards in terms of workers’ health and wellness. By giving autonomy to workers over their schedule, they will be able to better manage their health issues and take necessary breaks to prevent burnout, which ultimately improves work productivity in the long run.
c) Does not Impair Career Progression
The Modern Families Index 2021 notes that only 7% of parents consider flexible working as a barrier to their career progression. This is critical as career progression has been identified in many expert analyses such as the Work Trend Index 2021 as a major area that employers should account for.
Despite these benefits, employers must remain mindful of the differing attitudes towards remote and physical working. Some workers might favour physical work for the company of their co-workers or access to the facilities at the office. While others might gravitate towards remote work, preferring the comfort of their own home and the proximity to loved ones. Nonetheless, increasingly there are expectations for flexible working arrangements to remain, even after the pandemic ends. The permanence of flexible working arrangements must be a possibility for employers to consider.
Ultimately, the implementation of remote work occured overnight for many companies. Although the maintaining economic success remains the first priority, overlooking the social well-being of employees will have a detrimental effect in the long run, especially with regards to retaining talent. In particular, working parents will be a group that might be ill-equipped for remote work due to the added responsibilities of childcare, making it imperative that companies offer support where possible during this trying period.
Reflect - Has your own company overlooked the difficulties working parents safe? Can you think of other groups that require more support but are being overlooked?
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