How employers are helping working families during COVID-19

With school schedules still in flux in many parts of the country, the relief that working parents thought they might get still hasn’t come. Instead, remote workers are left to figure out how to juggle childcare, school, and household chores with work projects, video meetings, and more. Some companies are already helping working families during COVID-19, and those are the ones who’ll reap the benefits by being ahead of the curve during this completely unprecedented time.

The big question for employers right now should be: How can we help? In a recent Monster poll, 65% of parents said they feel stress or anxiety about their child going back-to-school amidst COVID-19, while only 21% said they strongly agree that their company is supporting them in that regard. When asked what they think a company could take to best support parents with children going back to school during COVID-19, 75% said work schedule flexibility would go a long way.

Some companies are stepping up to help their employees and support them in a variety of ways, including Monster. We just launched our “One Monster, One Family” program, which includes new initiatives such as two paid self-care days for all employees to be used before March 2021; one additional paid day per year for family time; a premium membership to (so employees can find a nanny, a sitter, an elderly care nurse, or a tutor); and a laptop lending program for school kids. Monster also instituted a new policy in which meetings that are less than one hour will end five minutes early, and meetings one hour or longer will end 10 minutes early. This gives employees a chance to get away from their desks for a break, or check in with their children doing virtual schoolwork.

Other companies have responded to the needs of working families in similar ways. Some examples:

  • Goldman Sachs is offering employees 10 days of family leave so they can focus on caregiving.
  • Target extended it’s free backup childcare option to offer both hourly and salaried workers 20 days of in-center childcare or in-home child- and eldercare.
  • PwC doubled its back-up care reimbursement to $2,000 and expanded its Bright Horizons care to also include an in-home service.
  • Fifth Third Bank began offering employees 30 days of subsidized child support this year, either in-home or at a care center. And, the company “reloaded” yearly sick time for employees to their full 56 hours for the remainder of 2020, plus added five vacation days for 2021.
  • When NerdWallet, the personal finance company, went fully remote in March, it declared that on Do Not Disturb Wednesdays, workers did not have to answer emails. Plus, each team member received $500 to put toward whatever they needed for their home office.
  • San Francisco-based software company Atlassian surveyed their workers during the pandemic, they realized many were feeling glued to their screens, so they created the Walk This Way challenge to encourage everyone to get up and go for a walk. Around 600 employees logged 77 million steps.

Why helping working families during COVID-19 matters

Once COVID-19 hit the workplace, “Our structures of support were stripped away,” says Melissa Mazmanian, author of “Dreams of the Overworked: Living , Working and Parenting in the Digital Age,” and associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, Merage School of Business. While working parents could rely on school and/or daycare as well as other household support before, many people are now pulling double duty with kids at home while working remotely.

“Companies that offer flexibility to all employees, including working parents, will attract and retain more talent and enable optimal performance,” says Christine Andrukonis, founder and senior partner, Notion Consulting, a global change-leadership consultancy. “People with different family situations will have the ability to create the work-life blend they need to be their best.”

And when employees are at their best, it’s good for productivity and job satisfaction, and it reduces costly turnover. Having a satisfied and well-supported workforce is also important for employer branding since organizations can promote the ways in which they are there for working families trying to juggle everything.

From small adjustments in mindset to big benefit changes, here are some strategies to consider implementing to support parents or any of your employees who could use a bit of extra help right now:

Reframe what it means to be a good worker

Our work culture has become one of constant availability – always on, always available to respond to colleagues at a moment’s notice. “In some companies, you may not be considered a good colleague if you don’t respond in five minutes. But that’s not a good metric,” says Mazmanian. In fact, one could say that it’s unhealthy and unsustainable now that many are working from home. Instead, employers should shift to a culture of accountability. That means giving employees more freedom to manage their own time and being flexible to take into account the demands they may be facing, but still keeping them accountable for the finished product, she says.

Give practical help

As many of the companies above are doing, think about all that invisible work that goes on in the home front – caring, cleaning, cooking, etc. – and find ways to give genuine assistance.

Kelly DuFord Williams, founder and managing partner of Slate Law Group, says, “I watched moms on my team struggle because they have kids who need to Zoom on different schedules, or they can’t put their child in preschool right now,” she says.

With the needs of her staff top of mind, Williams began offering a childcare and/or a tutor stipend to those with school aged children, as well as flexible working hours.

“It is important for employers to be empathetic of employees’ struggles with balancing parental and job duties,” she says.

It is also important to foster open dialogue and ask your employees how you can help and what they need. Sometime just picking up the phone and listening to their struggles is important,” she says.

You might discover that a small gesture of support such as a stipend to hire a dog walker, a tutor, a cleaning service, or a meal prep subscription would be appreciated.

Be flexible

While a 9-to-5 schedule and daily meeting times might work in an office setting, what happens when it coincides with multiple children logging onto Zoom or an infant’s feeding? Employers that offer leeway can help reduce stress levels. “Choose a core set of hours in which you require availability and let employees flex their hours around those core times,” suggests Andrukonis.

Encourage people to take PTO

When work and home collide, there is no such thing as downtime. During breaks, working parents might be helping with schoolwork or scrambling to get a healthy dinner on the table. Hence why it’s never been more important for people to actually use their paid time off, even if they can’t go on a traditional vacation.

“As an employer, you want your worker’s downtime to be actual recharging,” says Mazmanian. “The number one thing that will actually encourage employees to take advantage of PTO is seeing those above them to take advantage of those benefits. If you have leaders and mangers taking a mental health day and actually admitting it, that is the strongest signal that it’s actually important.”

Don’t just focus on parents

Although working moms and dads do seem to have bigger burdens during this back-to-school season, policies that help them shouldn’t result in a parent vs. non-parent showdown. “It’s easy right now for companies to rely on nonparents who may be available all day with no distractions, but that can create a really dangerous and toxic finger-pointing mentality,” warns Mazmanian.

In fact, as reported in a recent New York Times article, some tech companies like Salesforce and Facebook that added strong parent-focused policies are indeed facing backlash from their employees without children.  “Leaders need to be the ones to step in and take ownership for all employees, making sure all are being supported,” says Mazmanian. So while a parent might be worried about getting the school year off to a great start, someone without children might have an equally stressful situation, such as an elder to care for. Or perhaps they live alone and have chronic health issues, and the isolation of remote work is causing them to feel anxious or depressed.

The bottom line is that everyone is dealing with some level of stress and discomfort in this new normal. While it’s wonderful to offer support for parents, make sure you don’t do so at the expense of non-parents. Or, think of incentives you can offer to those who are picking up extra slack.

As organizations like Monster have realized, employees are their most important asset, so it’s imperative to find ways to help them do their best work. The fringe benefit of doing is that it also strengthens your employer brand. Offering creative benefits for all and developing an “everyone is in this together” culture helps ensure that your entire workforce feels supported. 

If you’re looking for more ways to help your team get through the challenges ahead, and how to make sure your employee support is reflected in your employer branding and recruitment marketing, get help with expert recruiting advice and the latest hiring trends from Monster Hiring Solutions.