By Stephanie Anderson
Balancing the duties of work and childcare have traditionally presented challenges for working parents, long before a global pandemic further exacerbated these fears and anxieties.
Shared concerns and uncertainty among working parents across the country under the specter of COVID-19 center on children’s safety, the need for social interaction and adapting to different learning models, all while maintaining workload and schedules.
Families have had to figure out new child-care arrangements during the pandemic, and many parents have spent more time looking after their kids, which undoubtedly affects their ability to work, regardless of the age of their children. Companies have been incredibly understanding about their staffs’ balancing of work and family, but as the fall approaches, a new school year is upon us—in many places one that will continue virtually, at least initially—and the loss of employee productivity during this time could prove devastating to their employers. Right now, the U.S. economy loses an astounding $57 billion per year in revenue, wages and productivity as a result of childcare problems.
The challenges of working parents with school-age children include longer workdays, frequent holidays, vacations and half-days as scheduled by the school, as well as unanticipated time-off to tend to sick children and doctors’ visits, just to name a few. One study found that schools are closed for an average of 29 days during the school year, which is more than 10 days longer than an average private-sector employee earns in paid vacation and holidays, and doesn’t include summer break. The trick to being successful as a working parent while maintaining one’s sanity is to have a plan, a back-up plan and a back-up plan for the back-up plan. Expecting the unexpected allows working parents to stay ahead of the changing times.
The problem, as has always been the case, is that great talent is hard to find. And when it is found, the last thing an organization wants to do is put this talent in a position to be forced to choose between career and family
How do organizations begin to tackle the common challenge of childcare affecting many working parents during the COVID-19 pandemic? It begins with encouraging internal conversations within the company that evaluate viable solutions. This will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, but together, the goal for the employee and employer is to find common ground so that businesses continue to run smooth and successfully while employees can find a balance between work and home (even when these are sometimes the same locations).
- Learning PODS – This is the latest trend, also known as Pandemic Pods, created to help supplement or replace children’s virtual education this fall for working parents. They are small, in-person groups of students learning together with the help of an in-person tutor, caregiver, fellow parent or teacher. The curriculum can be private home school or virtual education offered via a public school. Children may be in the same grade or the POD may be compiled of multiple grades for siblings, neighbors and friends. These are purely private initiatives on the part of parents and families to provide instruction or tutoring—just as many families do to pool resources and provide private daycare, music lessons or recreational activities for their children.
- Co-Working Spaces – Some companies are offering the opportunity for employees to bring their children to work. Using available spaces like a clubroom, business center, conference room or unoccupied offices, children can be close to their parent while also attending online school. There should be discussion of adult presence needed for younger age groups and if this should be allowed every day or select days to offset childcare. The issue of safety also should be addressed.
- Alternate Work Arrangements – It may be possible to have a work schedule that allows an employee to be at home with their children. This does depend heavily on the job position and required duties. Options may include the following:
- Job-sharing - Two part-time employees are assigned to the same job that is equivalent to one full-time employee. Job-sharing offers two individuals working as a team to accomplish one full-time position's duties. A sample workweek might involve Teammate A working Monday to Wednesday and Teammate B working Wednesday to Friday at the same position, with some handoff and complementary responsibilities on the overlap day.
- Remote Working – A temporary or permanent agreement between employee and manager to work from a non-office location for more than three consecutive days.
- Flexible Scheduling – An alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour workweek. It allows employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Under standard policy, generally, an employee must work a predetermined number of hours per pay period and be present during a daily "core time" that is conducive to the business. Flexible scheduling may include reduced hours, teleworking and compressed workweeks.
- Leave of Absence – Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), an employee qualifies for paid sick time if the employee is unable to work (or unable to telework) because of a need for leave because the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19. Before exhausting this option, please speak with your company leader or supervisor. You can check the department of labor website for your state to read about further qualifications.
Additional NAA Resources: