While vaccines bring hope for the future, right now there is still a lot of uncertainty around how long the current situation will last. It's important for you, as managers, to understand how best to support employee wellbeing during this difficult time. It is likely that at least some of your staff will be juggling their regular roles and responsibilities at work on top of homeschooling their children, as well as other caring responsibilities.
For many of us, it simply feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. And research by Canada Life supports this. Their poll of 2,000 working adults with school-aged children found that 39 per cent were balancing full-time jobs while also homeschooling. The parents spend an average of three hours a day – 15 hours a week – homeschooling. Many are making up the lost hours after their children have gone to bed. With schools likely to remain closed to the majority of pupils until at least 8 March, this situation is likely to feel unsustainable to many working parents.
Some parents have additional worries about homeschooling, due to their children being taught in a language which they do not speak or read. 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.
Tell your staff that you recognise that homeschooling is very difficult on top of working and you are prepared to be flexible and explore further adjustments. 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.
Make sure that employees are kept up to date with the full range of options your organisation is currently offering to support staff with caring responsibilities, such as furlough (including part-time furlough), flexi-time, reduced hours and carers’ leave arrangements. Check in regularly with staff to see if their current arrangements are working for them, and ask if there are any other adjustments that might make their work more manageable.
There are times when children will interrupt calls or meetings. Be understanding of the impact of this. Your employees might already have worries about this happening, so be mindful. Ask if there is another suitable time you can call back, arrange a catch-up over email or record the meeting so staff don't miss anything important.
Parents are likely trying their best to accommodate work requests, but many simply won’t have enough hours during the usual working day. Allowing staff to send emails outside of core hours could release the pressure for them to always be available during the day. However, ensure work is stopped at a reasonable hour so people can get adequate rest and keep weekends free.
Provide a meeting agenda in advance and allow parents to choose the times they're able to join. Providing staff with flexibility and as much information as possible on the upcoming meeting will give them the opportunity to plan ahead. This also gives staff who are caring for children, the freedom to plan around their child's homeschooling schedule.
With so many working parents facing this challenge at once, it can be really valuable to provide opportunities for parents to connect remotely with one another. You could set up a parents’ network or a buddying system for people to share their experiences and any approaches that have worked for them so far.
There are now many resources available online to support parents with balancing homeschooling and work. Our NHS People has curated some of them along with some key pointers and tips which may help, especially for those with younger school-aged children. While this guide was originally written for NHS staff, it is suitable for people in any industry affected by COVID-19.
Be aware that your staff will be finding this new way of working difficult, and this may impact their performance. Make sure to ask them about their children and how they're getting on when you're on any calls. Checking in regularly with staff to understand how they are feeling during this time is very important.
Remember that different children will have different caring needs, and family set-ups vary too. If your staff member is part of a two-parent family, allowing them to work different hours and lighter days could enable them to organise work around shared homeschooling responsibilities, perhaps through a shift plan across both parents. For those in single-parent families, try to be as flexible as possible. Emphasise that staff need to look after their own wellbeing too and that may mean prioritising their children's needs and homeschooling before their own workload.
The support and adjustments you have agreed might be working well but our home and working lives can be very changeable at the moment so it is important to check if what you’ve agreed is still helpful.
This is a very difficult situation for everyone but remember to be patient with your employees during this time and try to accommodate any situations they might be experiencing at home. We'd love to hear what's working for you and your team to support your mental health. Email [email protected] to share your experiences.