Working parents are facing an impossible predicament. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, millions are being asked to work from home full-time while simultaneously homeschooling their children full-time. Parents would have to hustle about 16 hours a day to make both happen. Realistically, something has to give. It’s worth noting the burden isn’t only on parents with school-aged children. Many working parents with infants and toddlers and scrambling as daycare centers close.
Employers are faced with a quandary, too. As the economy spirals, they’re facing tremendous financial stress. Most can’t afford to put parents on paid leave during this pandemic, which could last for months.
As we write this, the federal government issued the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which will gives paid leave to working parents who have lost their source of childcare because of the pandemic. While FFCRA is a solution for some, there are some effective ways employers can help multitasking parents during this hardship.
Know what you don’t know.
Though it seems obvious, it’s worth stressing: if you are not a parent, it’s difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of stress your employees with children are facing.
Even if you have parented young children before, this is unprecedented. In normal situations, such as sick days or snow days, parents could lean on a babysitter, a neighbor, or a grandparent to help. That’s not an option now. In fact, leaving the house with your children is not even an option.
They’re essentially caught in a daily tug-of-war between wanting to be good parents in a time of crisis, while not dropping the ball professionally. Keep this in mind over the coming weeks or months, and cut them some slack as you’re able.
Don’t compare apples to oranges.
Alison Green, a work advice expert, recently authored a piece for Slate to help companies dealing with newly remote employees. She says flexibility is a must for everyone on your team during this crisis, whether they are parents or not. But she points out that those who have lost their source childcare should get some extra wiggle room.
“The reality is employees in that situation probably can’t get as much done as their colleagues who aren’t simultaneously juggling child care,” she says. “In normal times that wouldn’t feel fair—and yet it’s the situation right now.”
Help your parent employees prioritize what is mission-critical. Any projects that can wait, should. If you have employees who have been thrust into homeschooling because of the pandemic, now is not the time to ask them to step it up. It’s time to help them keep their footing.
Give them the present of being present.
This isn’t just a stressful time for adults. Children are well aware that their schools and parks have been shut down amid a massive panic.
It’s important your employees know you support them being emotionally present for their kids right now. That means respecting off-hour boundaries. They need that downtime with their children more than ever now.
It also means letting them parent out in the open. Thanks to video conferencing, many of us are seeing the hidden struggles parents face every day–perhaps in the form of a fussy baby in their lap.
For internal company meetings, let them know it’s OK if their kids are building a blanket fort in the background or their toddler wanders into the frame. For external meetings that involve clients, consider giving them the option to skip the meeting if their participation isn’t absolutely necessary. It could be a simple way to reduce the stress of trying to keep their children silent while they’re on the phone.
Ask, don’t assume.
Perhaps most importantly, check in with your parent employees–often and directly. In this uncharted territory, things are evolving day-to-day. Regular two-way communication is essential.
It may even be helpful to create an action plan for parent employees as they recalibrate. Three tech companies recently teamed up to create a template plan for parents who have been thrust into homeschooling because of COVID-19.
When you do communicate with your parent employees, acknowledge their struggle. Find out how you can support them. Ask how they’re coping. Realize that this is a situation that no parent likely wants, nor could have imagined, much less planned for. Remind them, and yourself, that is a temporary hardship. When you and your employees emerge from this crisis, you will do so together, stronger.