The term "working parent" has taken on a whole new meaning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cooped up in their homes, caretakers are faced with managing personal responsibilities along with professional ones, all within the context of a global pandemic, and varying school, daycare, and nursing home closures.
"It's not just an issue of time management, which can be stressful enough," says Brian Christman, chief people officer of New York City-based freight and transportation company Transfix. "The emotional toll of having to worry about your work, your children's education, and your family's health and well-being right now is immense."
A number of large corporations have stepped up. For example, Amazon now offers a family care benefit that provides subsidized emergency child and adult care while Goldman Sachs offers employees 10 days of family leave so they can focus on caregiving. For small-business owners on smaller budgets, these new benefits probably are out of reach.
Even so, there are creative ways for companies with limited budgets to offer extra support to employees with children. Here are three to consider:
1. Crowdsource ideas.
After the more than 200 employees at Transfix started working from home this spring, the team used a #Transfixparents channel on their company Slack for parents to share ideas, useful articles, and other resources to help parents juggle both child care and their professional responsibilities. The channel also created a place to vent about their new circumstances and to tell jokes. Slack is also a good place for reminders about existing resources available through the company's benefit plans, such as mental health, child care, and other family care offerings, says Christman, who has three teenagers.
"Company leaders have to listen, have empathy, have patience, and be creative about developing practical solutions to help working parents through this time," he says. "Make sure you keep communication lines open."
2. Adopt make-your-own schedules.
New York City-based Ellevate Network recently instituted flex work hours, according to Kristy Wallace, the networking company's CEO. The change allows employees to work in shifts, rather than a typical 9-to-5 schedule, to accommodate caretaking throughout the day. The 20-person company also created Slack icons to easily indicate if someone is on child care duty and may be slow to respond.
Wallace suggests changing the times of reoccurring meetings that are inconvenient for caretakers, particularly early morning meetings that can take place when caretakers may be making breakfast or helping with daily routines. She adds that many working parents and caregivers are concerned that they're not doing well enough and worried about how their work-and-family juggle might impact their employment. After hearing this feedback from her own employees and understanding it as a mother herself, Wallace says she made sure to redefine goals about what a successful employee looks like at this time to her staff to clear up fear and confusion.
"There's a lot of unknowns. There's a lack of confidence and fear of stigma," says Wallace. Ellevate, which had been acquired by former Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck in 2013 when it was known as 95 Broads, ranked No. 3454 on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies. "The more that companies can create a space that eliminates a lot of that, and the more that the mental load of employees is lessened, then they've got more bandwidth to really commit to the organization and their work."
3. Offer low-cost but meaningful perks.
Shipstation, a shipping software company based in Austin, recently began offering its nearly 300 employees DashPass, a paid subscription to the DoorDash food-delivery service that waives delivery fees on takeout orders. Shipstation has also hosted activities for its staff's kids at home to keep them entertained and busy, such as a magic show, webinars, and virtual lunches with characters such as Elsa from the Disney animated movie Frozen.
Ask your staff for ideas, suggests Andrea McFarling, vice president of marketing at Shipstation and mother to a 5-year-old daughter. Consider appointing a person or a committee to vet ideas and feedback from your team.