How can you balance work and childcare?
News of Lockdown 3 came as an unexpected shock to some businesses; however others were expecting it and to a certain extent prepared for it. This lockdown has seen some differences to the previous one in November – mainly the closure of all forms of education/childcare with the exception of nursery aged care. With no clear date for schools reopening, and speculation that the closures could extend into Easter or even the summer terms, the situation is causing increasing issues for working parents, and also for organisations trying to support and accommodate their staff.
For many working families this has caused significant problems in balancing work responsibilities with not only caring for their children, but also providing them with an education. Many schools are now teaching on line, making it difficult for parents to work alongside live or online lessons.
The furlough scheme was updated to allow for this – adding childcare responsibilities as a valid reason for employees to request to be placed on furlough. However, as with the previous schemes, although an employee can request furlough the organisation does not have to agree to this.
A recent study of over 50,000 working women in the UK has found that 70% of working mothers who have requested furlough for childcare reasons since schools closed have had their request refused.
So where does this leave these women? For many, without any form of childcare at all, they are therefore having to take unpaid leave, annual leave, or worst case even resign from their jobs in order to provide the necessary level of care and education for their children. Many are finding that they are unable to claim employment benefits whilst they are still employed, even if unable to work and taking unpaid time off. Some may still have access to informal childcare through support bubbles, however understandably many grandparents or older relatives are themselves avoiding contact in order to stay home and safe.
One question that is being asked a lot is why are these requests being refused? For many organisations who have work available, they may feel that they are not in a position to have employees absent and have no way of covering this work. For some, they may find they are busier now and with increased demand, can no accommodate absences. Others may not want to use the furlough scheme and morally feel this is not appropriate use of it.
How can you support working parents within your organisation?
The information being communicated at the moment focuses largely around women, and the detrimental impact on them of balancing work and school. However, many working men and Dads may also find themselves torn between home and work.
Organisations should carefully consider how they can support these staff if they choose not to use the furlough scheme. This might be through flexible furloughing, being flexible around working hours, allowing employees to work evenings/weekends if possible, providing additional support through managers to monitor mental health and burnout, and keeping communication and dialogue open to aim for a return to normal as soon as possible.