2020 has been a turbulent year for companies around the UK. Although things are starting to settle down to a ‘new normal’ – there are still lots of important questions facing employers as they start to examine how they can get their company up and running again.
Considerations like social distancing and safe working practices might be front of mind – but it is also critical to consider how to help your employees adapt to the changes.
For some groups of employees, there may still be considerable disruption to other areas of their lives, which must be taken into account.
Foremost amongst these are parents or carers with infants or school-aged children.
Childcare responsibilities during lockdown
Undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit groups during this healthcare crisis has been parents.
Schools shut abruptly in March, and look set to stay closed to most children until September.
For many working parents, schools – and their associated school clubs and societies – are a lifeline for allowing them to structure their family life.
With these support structures removed, many parents have no choice but to look after their children full-time, at home.
How you as the employer can help
There are many options that you may wish to talk through with your employees, to help them establish a working pattern that best facilitates them to look after their children.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may have already found that remote working is a feasible option for your employees.
Whilst schools and childcare remain unavailable, giving parents the continued option to undertake home working may provide the flexibility they need to juggle caring commitments around their workload.
Working patterns that include working longer days, but fewer of them, may be a suitable option for some roles.
This may be particularly useful for couples where both partners wish to retain the ability to work, with the increased number of days off meaning the childcare can be shared more easily.
Shifts or flexible working
Some parents may already have sought flexible working patterns to accommodate childcare – for example, arriving early and leaving early, to complete a full day of work before being able to pick up their child from school.
It is well worth talking through with your staff, whether their existing flexible working patterns are still relevant, or if there are changes or updates they need to make to facilitate different family schedules.
Temporary reductions in hours
In some situations, it simply will not be possible for your employees to undertake their full contracted hours.
In this scenario, we strongly suggest that you let your employee lead the conversation, to allow you to comfortably discuss different options, and come to a mutually agreeable solution.
Remember as well that if you do reduce your employees’ working hours, it is also important to review their work targets – particularly if they are sales driven.
There is little point in allowing them to cut their hours, but then expecting their working output to remain the same.
Again, this is something that it is best to discuss with them, so you can both be happy with the situation.
Helping them to set realistic targets during this difficult time should be a helpful way to reduce stress, and keep your team happy and motivated at work.
Childcare burden when only one partner is working
There may be some situations in which one parent is able to stay at home full time with their child.
For example, this may be the case if they have been furloughed, made redundant, are shielding to protect their own health, or their child’s health – or a number of other reasons.
However, just because the other partner does not have a direct need to care for a child during the working day, they may still need to adjust their working pattern to support the family.
The mental health implications for any adult who has gone from working, either full time or part time, to being in lockdown with a small child, or several children, can be problematic.
So, even if you employ a working parent who is technically ‘available’ for work - as a responsible workplace, you may still wish to discuss with them whether there are adaptations to their working pattern they wish to make, to help prevent the childcare responsibilities falling solely on their partner.
The best advice you can give employees with childcare commitments
As an employer, it’s important to maintain good communication with your employees – especially during these difficult times.
It is, however, equally important to encourage them to communicate back to you.
Encourage them to check in regularly, update you on how their working patterns are going – and whether they need any changes or additional support.
We strongly suggest that managers schedule regular chats with each of their team members, whether that is through video conferencing, over the phone, or a socially distant face-to-face in the office.
If your employees are working from home, give them the flexibility as to when the calls are scheduled.
Also be mindful that they may have to react to situations unfolding at home; for example, they may need to step away for a few moments to help respond to a child.
If you have a number of employees who have childcare responsibilities, it is always worth encouraging them to support each other.
Either official, or unofficial, support networks – even if it’s just a WhatsApp group – can provide parents and carers with a value mechanism to talk about problems before they escalate.
Ultimately, even though we are all now working in a more socially distant way – keeping in touch, listening to your employees, and working closely with them to help settle into a new routine will be what keeps businesses going during these unprecedented times.