COVID Chronicles: How Employers can Make or Break Working Parent Employees

In 2019, 33.4 million families, or two-fifths of all families, included children under age 18. At least one parent was employed in 91.3 percent of families with children. Among married-couple families with children, 97.5 percent had at least one employed parent in 2019, and 64.2 percent had both parents employed.

Simply put, this means a significant portion of the workforce is working parents that due to COVID, now have a new onset of inevitable work-life/ home-life challenges to navigate. But employers can knowingly or unknowingly make or break their working parent employees during this time.

Several of my colleagues (and I) fall into this category, and since March, we have a newfound sense of resilience, patience, and flexibility. But merriment of intentional support from employers could further ease the transition of work/home life into the latter half of the year. (Yes, there is still further adjusting!)

I posed the question to several of my working parent colleagues – employed from small to large enterprises holding the role of a supervisor to VP – “How could your employer better support you in this current work environment?” Answers ranged from, “My employer is doing a great job supporting me,” to “I don’t feel any support from my employer,” but there were four solution-based suggestions that resonated the most with me.

1. Flexibility, Adaptability, and Trust. The need for a flexible work schedule, and allowing employees to work during their prime time of effectiveness as long as the needs of the company are met was the most common response I received. Some of the non-tangibles an employer can consider are the “new normals” (kids out of school, limited childcare, children’s education schedules) and how this additional work can affect the mental and emotional state of their working parent employees. A flexible work schedule will help prevent burn out, and give the space needed for new adjustments.

2. Increase the Communication Loop. Enhancing the amount of communication in a remote environment was the next highest feedback, but we also know that screen burn out in a virtual environment happens often. A new virtual environment can be partnered with new ways to do things. Think about where and how new ways to communicate can be built. The frequency of meetings can change, so they are shorter. Prioritize a few topics to keep the attention and engagement of the meeting attendees, especially those that are multi-tasking. This virtual environment is an opportunity to be inventive or refresh how your company communicates.

3. Employer-Sponsored Resources for Professional Growth and Development. Management at all levels is rather complex during this time, and now more than ever, leaders need to be equipped with tactical ways to be resilient and to build resilient teams. Some working parents’ career priorities haven’t changed at all. Internal promotions and external hiring may be delayed or even paused, but investing in the development of your current leaders keeps momentum behind their professional progress. It can increase morale, especially during this time.

4. Provide Cultural Competency Training in Light of Social Unrest. Procuring education and creating a safe space to learn about people of other ethnicities and cultures was a higher priority than I expected. Many employees are faced with managing their internal energy regardless of external social factors, and this can become exhausting, overwhelming, and even frustrating. Many working parents’ concerns now include the social and cultural unrest that may affect them directly, even at their place of work. Some employers have invited their employees to participate in listening sessions, which is simply a sharing of experiences followed by a solution-based brainstorming session. This type of support begins with intentionally creating a safe space for employees to learn and share.

Ultimately the suggestions above are just that, suggestions. To better understand the changing needs of your employees is to keep a pulse on how they are feeling during this time, and support looks different for all people. This step can be as simple as creating an employee survey that asks about shifting priorities, a flexible work schedule, internal and external concerns, continued professional development, and even better communication. However, inquiries must be paired with actionable next steps. The follow-up transcends the initial questions because employees will be expecting the implementation of the feedback given.

Working parents, just as all caregivers, are being hyper-affected by the remote, virtual, COVID working environment, but this is an opportunity for employers to assist in making this “new normal” more manageable.

– Written by Lauryn Deck

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