School’s Out! What now for working parents?
Normally at this time of year, working parents are heaving a sigh of relief about not having to juggle school runs with early morning meetings, and class assemblies with weekly team briefings! However, thanks to our good friend Covid-19, the arrival of the summer holidays is just another source of stress for many families.
Parents were able to adapt to working at home whilst looking after their children to a large extent because they were kept amused by the work being set for them by school to complete at home. Some secondary schools have provided full, online timetables, allowing parents to sit their children in front of a screen and leave them to it all day. Primary schools have tended to supply work that can be completed at home with the help of a parent, which has presented more of a challenge to those who are also trying to do their own work!
Now with the 6 week (or 8 week for some private schools!) break upon us, parents still have the workload and the children to take care of, but no ready-made educational activities to amuse them while we earn the money to keep them alive…
Some parents who have previously relied on grandparents to provide childcare, may consider this not appropriate if these relatives fall into the clinically vulnerable categories. Holiday Camps and Summer Schools have been cancelled or forced to run at reduced capacity, meaning that even existing paid childcare bookings may not be honoured. In addition, many parents may have been required to use their annual leave entitlement during lockdown instead of saving it for the holidays.
Unfortunately, even after the holidays an end to parents’ troubles is not in sight, as schools announce staggered starts and early closures for social distancing and cleaning reasons. Some workers may now find that they can’t drop their children off at school until 9.30am, when they are required to start work themselves at 9am.
So, what can employers do to help working parents during this challenging time?
Where possible, employers need to allow their employees to set flexible working patterns that work for them. Some parents may need to work from home at evenings and weekends in order to fit round their childcare commitments, and as long as this doesn’t cause problems for the operational side of the business, this should be encouraged. Equally, some parents may find it impossible to work at home, and may need access to the office out of hours just to get some work done! Once schools are back in September, flexible start and finish times may be needed to accommodate changes to school-run patterns, and perhaps a commitment that the team meeting that ‘always’ takes place at 9am on a Monday morning might be better moved to the 10am slot!
The best course of action is to be open with your employees about your expectations and their challenges. Listen to each other and try and come up with a plan that suits both parties. After all, your employees are there because you value their contribution, so it is in your best interests to help them to continue to contribute through this challenging time.