Written by Kathryn Hathaway

20th January 2021

Thousands of working parents in the UK, may today have started their morning by participating in a Joe Wicks workout with their child before coordinating their child’s school work for the day and finally being able to sit down at their own desks to get on with the day job.

Their biggest hope will be that their children will get on well with their online lessons. And then the inevitable interruptions will start ‘mum please can you help me with my  maths’, ‘dad, I can’t understand this sentence’. And then a call comes through from that very important client who needs some undivided attention…

This is an unenviable reality for many parents who find themselves juggling work commitments, childcare and homeschooling once again.  Education is not on pause as it was last time, this time around children are expected to learn and complete their work and be present for often mandatory, daily online learning.

Previously children were not given any new curriculum topics – this time they are, so the expectation to learn is massive and it falls on the parents to support them, particularly in the case of younger children.

The parents in your team may be feeling stressed or burnt out and a little bit of reassurance from you could go a long way in supporting their wellbeing and happiness at work. If you are an employer or manager who has employees working from home with their kids, here are five ways you can support them.

  1. Look to offer alternative working patterns/hours so that your parents don’t feel conflicted

Work with parents in your team to understand their difficulties and explore solutions that work for them and for you. This might be agreeing a temporary change in work pattern or hours of work. Perhaps they can reduce their hours or days of work to only work core hours, or perhaps you can agree that they work more over the weekend or during the evening so they can complete their work at times to suit them (whether at home or on site).

Could you accommodate a later start each day? School hours tend to start at 9am, so perhaps allow time for parents to get their children set up for the day. Consider that these employees may need to sit with their children to support them with their learning– especially for those with younger children who often cannot be left to work on their own.

Parents often won’t be able to just allow their children to play, or watch TV, while they work either – many lessons are compulsory, so employers need to be making proactive arrangements with staff.

There may be some calls that all employees need to attend, but outside of those fixed times, consider giving your team the freedom they need to balance work and life challenges.

  1. Adjust your staff and client meetings

Consider the hours when the parents on your teams are most stretched, for example first thing in the morning – between 8:30 and 9:30am when parents are going over schedules for the day with their families and making sure their computers are up and running. Block out those hours as meeting-free.

Don’t expect employees to pretend their children aren’t there! There are times when children will interrupt calls or meetings, but you should expect this to happen and accept it. Your employees might already have worries about this happening, so be mindful. Say hello to their children, ask to see their drawings or ask what they have been doing.  You could ask your employee if there is another suitable time you can call back, arrange a catch-up over email or record important meetings so staff don’t miss anything important.

  1. Check if they need tech support

Lots of households will be dealing with the unreliable internet that comes with multiple family members using the WiFi, or not have enough devices to go around.

Employers should help to make sure employees have the technology they need, that could mean lending an unused iPad for their child to do their schoolwork or provide noise cancelling headphones to drown out distractions!

Have your tech person or team gather a list of best practices for optimising internet connection, so that parents aren’t stressed about missing out on video calls or their children not attending live lessons.

  1. Pay close attention to their wellbeing

Being the parent, teacher and employee is likely to leave your staff feeling frazzled and at times deflated. Many will have anxieties and fluctuating mental health, so do have regular and ongoing conversations about wellbeing, ideally through a regular manager-employee one-to-one meeting.

Encourage parents to block out some time in their working day for a walk, or simply to enjoy a cuppa and a breath of fresh air. If they feel unable to take a break, this may affect some people’s health and ability to work effectively. All staff, including parents, shouldn’t feel obligated to be checking emails or work platforms at all hours of the day.

Employers should do everything they can to support employees who have caring responsibilities and should offer as much flexibility and understanding as possible. They can request holiday or unpaid leave to cover periods of childcare if you can agree to this.

Also ensure they are aware of further advice or support, such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and any other wellbeing resources you have available.

We offer bespoke Wellbeing Training, which provides practical ways for managers to identify, deal with, and proactively avoid mental health issues. It is delivered by our HR & Training Consultant, who understands the importance of staff wellbeing and its commercial impact on driving resilience and productivity.

  1. Remember that communication and consultation are important

Having a regular dialogue with staff is vitally important. When you are all in the office it’s easy to talk to staff frequently but when everyones at home  it isn’t so easy to find a suitable time to catch up. But make it a priority to tell your staff that you recognise that homeschooling is very difficult and you are prepared to be flexible and explore solutions to help them. Ask them to get in touch with you if they want to discuss any adjustments to their working day. It is important to keep in contact with each other, making sure you can be supportive and understanding wherever possible.

Agree any changes in writing (email is fine) to confirm amendment and agreed timeframes so that you can revert to normal contractual terms when needed or when the schools reopen.

Supporting your staff in any of the above ways should reap dividends in the longer term. Hopefully those members of the team who are parents will appreciate your calm and supportive approach and feel engaged and motivated once we can return to a more normal working arrangement.

Please get in touch if you need any further advice or support. We’ve also updated our factsheet to include guidance for employers and parents during the current lockdown. This can be downloaded for free here.