Supporting working parents: Why it’s more important than ever and how HR and People teams can support them

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 22nd October 2020
3 min read

Let’s start with a shout-out to the working moms, dads and guardians who have over the past few months found themselves playing the roles of teacher, chief ‘fun’ officer and all-round caregiver, all while keeping up the nine to five.

The global pandemic has changed the way we work but particularly for those with dependents, including working parents. Without schools, sports clubs or even grandma and grandpa to look after the kids, moms, dads and guardians around the world have found themselves juggling both their work and parenting responsibilities at the same time.

Now, these aren’t new issues. Ask any working parent and they’ll tell you they were dealing with these things way before lockdown. However, the global pandemic has not only made us all more aware of working parents, it has exacerbated the challenges they face.

At the start of lockdown, the challenges were clear. The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed American families and found that working parents of children under 18 who were not going to school were “disproportionately likely to say their lives have been disrupted by the outbreak”, with 66% saying their lives had been disrupted compared to a national average of 40%.

Thankfully, since then, it seems the majority of working parents have adapted and found a productive balance. In fact, a recent survey in the UK found only 13% of parents want to return to the ‘old normal’.

As the world starts to look towards life beyond lockdown, and as companies adapt to the ‘new normal’, HR and People leaders must look at how they can support working parents more, whether at the office or at home. Here are four things you should consider…

1. Parents need (and want) flexible working more than ever

In June, UK charity Working Families polled moms and dads in the UK and found that 9 in 10 wanted to continue flexible working patterns once lockdown had finished.

Who could blame them? Ask any working parent, and they’ll tell you spending so much time with their children has been the best thing about lockdown – but that it’s also had a significant impact on their normal working hours.

Is flexible and remote working a permanent feature of your organization? If not, now’s the time. Our research found that 81% of employees placed value on remote and flexible working – and that was before the global pandemic.

Remember, there’s no time like the present, so if you haven’t already started to develop policies and guidelines for employees around flexible working, now’s the time.

2. Parents need contingency hours

Sometimes, things happen that require us to take leave at short notice – whether it’s sudden sickness, an emergency or an appointment.

Yet parents carry the extra burden of needing time both for themselves and for their children. Lockdown has made us especially aware of this, with parents needing to take time off with very little notice – even for things as simple as preparing food or going through schoolwork.

Depending upon where you are in the world, there are might be laws that entitle parents to take time off at short notice to deal with an emergency concerning their children. If your organization is present in places where no such law exists, consider making it a company-wide policy.

Make it clear that your company will support working parents and allow for emergency time off when parents need it and outline what reasons might be considered for acceptable time off or if any hours missed should be made up.

3. Parents need access to wellbeing support

Earlier this year, a survey found childcare to be one of the leading causes of stress among employees working from home.

The data suggests that parents are in need of more specialized mental health resources to help them stay happy and productive at work.

To help with this, you should start by creating an always-on survey to allow employees to gauge their emotions and stress levels in real time. This data will help inform your organization’s response to stress.

The survey can enable you to understand more about why your employees are feeling stressed too. For example, if employees are stressed about childcare, what can your organization do to support them more? Do they need flexible working on a regular basis? Is it the financial pressure of childcare? If so, is there anything you can do to point them to resources, such as making them aware of any workplace or governmental schemes?

In addition, many stress counselors now offer online workshops or, if you would prefer to signpost employees to online resources, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation offers plenty of materials as a starting point.

4. Managers need support too

Whether they themselves are parents or not, all line managers will need to support the working parents they manage.

A good place to start is with a brainstorm in which you let line managers discuss the common challenges their employees with parental responsibilities have encountered while working from home. Of course, make sure all information remains anonymous.

Based on these insights, you can start to develop strategies to deliver personalized support to line managers for the most universal issues.

For instance, if line managers are struggling to keep their employees productive, you can look at ways to adjust the parameters around productivity for instance, moving from weekly to monthly targets to accommodate flexi-time.

Start preparing now for the changing world of work

Even before the pandemic, we knew the world of work was changing. In fact, 69% of 500 HR leaders we polled in our research said that they predict employee expectations of HR to completely change within three years.

With all this change, HR leaders are having to adapt to the changing needs of their workforce – including realizing and addressing the needs of working parents.

After all, in the UK alone over 75% of mothers are employed and over 90% of fathers. Isn’t it time to ask what they need to succeed in the workplace and for their organizations to act upon it?

How else is HR changing? Get your copy of our latest research from 500+ HR leaders on ‘The changing face of HR’ today.

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