How employers can help working parents through school closures

Wednesday January 13, 2021

In efforts to control the spread of coronavirus as vaccinations get underway, the government has temporarily closed schools to most pupils. Schools remain open for children who are vulnerable or whose parents are key workers and need the cover so they can go out to work.

The closure of schools coincides with stay-at-home guidance, meaning that many working parents who can work from home, are also juggling childcare and now home schooling.

This lockdown is different to the last

After nearly a year of lockdowns, enforced to varying degrees, being at home has been dubbed “the new normal” and some people have become accustomed to their new remote working routine.

However, not everyone will be feeling this way. For the working parents on your team, the situation now is quite different to the lockdowns of 2020. Perhaps you can relate?

What’s changed?

With the bulk of 2020 interrupting the education system in one way or another, parents may feel under pressure to make sure their children do not miss out on any more learning.

Suggested learning timetables and expectations on parents vary from one school to the next. They could involve a full day of activities requiring access to the internet, a need for printed materials, new online learning systems, calls with teachers and more.

This is on top of the usual time and attention that childcare requires and responsibilities for work.

Why should employers support working parents?

Businesses have had more time to adjust to working through lockdowns with more tasks and processes becoming accessible to remote workers. In addition, employee absences due to the ongoing pandemic can create heavier workloads for employees in attendance.

It is important that employers remain aware of working parents who are currently home-schooling and the mounting pressures they may be under.

If these employees are left unsupported, they may experience increased levels of stress which can have long-term damaging effects on both their mental and physical health.

January is already a tough time for many people, and life interruptions as a result of the pandemic can be hard on your employees. The good news is, there are ways in which you can help.

Ways to help the working parents in your business

There are plenty of ways in which you can support working parents on your team at this difficult time.

Flexible furlough – HMRC have updated rules to the furlough scheme meaning that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus. This includes the event of school closures.

It is up to you whether to furlough employees and depends on the needs of your business. Don’t forget that flexible furlough is an option which would see employees working part time.

Expect interruptions – Not everyone will have a dedicated home office, and with curiosity playing a big role in child development, you can expect to see them pop up occasionally mid-Zoom meeting. By expecting and allowing minor interruptions, employees will be better able to manage them with a clear head.

Flexible working – If suitable to the role, a temporary change to employee working hours may be helpful. By focusing on work completed rather than hours worked, employees can work around their home life to meet their obligations. Be sure to discuss this with concerned employees as they would need to agree to a change in contractual hours, even temporarily.

Keep in touch – Keeping in regular contact with employees and maintaining 121s is vital to monitor well-being and be able to offer support when needed. Talk to employees and ask them how they are coping since having the kids at home full time. You may be able to come up with some ways to help there and then. For example, you may have spare devices that could be loaned to them to avoid a whole family trying to work from one laptop.

Professional help – An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a cost-effective and confidential support option for better worker well-being. EAPs give employees direct access to counselling, resources, and support on a variety of issues, from mental health to financial concerns, family issues, substance abuse and more. If you have one in place, a gentle reminder to all employees, including those on furlough, is a good idea.

Don’t forget yourself either. Your mental health matters and the business needs you. If you could do with some support with people management contact your local HR Dept today.

Preventing People Problems

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