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East Midlands Chamber News

How employers can help home-working parents to balance job and childcare duties during lockdown

As the third national lockdown brings us full circle to the beginning of the pandemic with heavy restrictions on normal life, it creates a number of problems for both employers and employees to overcome – particularly with regards to school closures and mental health. Lucy Robinson, the Chamber’s director of resources and HR lead, explains how businesses can help their staff.

Offer flexible working options to parents

One of the biggest issues with the national lockdown for parents is balancing their work duties alongside childcare.

Playing around with hours can make a huge difference to the wellbeing and happiness of parents, so this should always be the first port of call for businesses.

At the Chamber, we have allowed staff in this bracket to take longer or more regular breaks during the day and then make up the time at either end of the day.

It means they could, for example, go for a two-hour walk at lunchtime to tire out their children and then return to their desk, where they don’t have to worry as much about keeping them occupied as they might do otherwise.

Employers could also offer to shorten the week during the lockdown period so the employee either balances out the hours across the days they are working – or work fewer hours in total for a reduced wage only during this time.


Help employees access extra support for home-working parents

The pandemic has revealed a large, and growing, divide between the socioeconomic backgrounds of workers and not every homeworking parent can offer their child a laptop or tablet to work with during the day, or even have access to a Wi-Fi connection.

A lot of councils have offered support for equipment and schools are acting as a conduit, so businesses could help the relevant employees by pointing them in the right direction.

It may also be sensible for any firms that have spare kit lying around their offices, particularly after reducing staff numbers, to loan this to employees so their children can use it for home-schooling.

Another way in which employers can offer support is by encouraging staff to link up to share tips on keeping children occupied during working hours and home-schooling.

This could involve using company intranet sites, WhatsApp groups or Zoom meet-ups – or even just getting people to reach out to their colleagues.


Furloughing parents

Of course, not everyone is able to work from home and a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in March last year found that 42% of key workers, who are by and large required to attend a specific workplace, have at least one child aged 16 or below. And of this cohort, about 28% have a partner who is also a key worker.

Thankfully, schools have remained open for children of key workers so this should offer help with childcare.

But if parents don’t have key worker status and therefore can’t use schools or grandparents for child support, one option might be to offer either full or partial furlough leave for a set amount of time.

This is something we’ve found that not every employer is aware of, but they have the right to use the Job Retention Scheme to support working parents while schools are closed.

Research from the TUC found that 16% of mothers reduced their working hours because of school and nursery closures.


Keep on top of staff mental wellbeing

It’s not just parents who face challenges during another national lockdown and businesses should be aware of the mental health issues that could arise from isolation for people who live alone in particular.

Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published in September, six months into the pandemic, found that 47% of employers identified reduced staff mental wellbeing during home-working.

Another half a year on, this has likely only amplified and therefore it’s crucial that managers keep on top of this by organising team meetings every week – even just for 10 minutes to grab a coffee and chat about things outside of work or hold quizzes – because people are missing out on those informal kitchen chats in the office.

Employers can also share advice articles to help keep people moving, get fresh air and improve posture, while they should now be carrying out risk assessments on working from home if they haven’t already.

Did you know about Quest and ChamberHR?

All Chamber members benefit from free access to the Quest service, which offers support for HR, health and safety, legal and tax issues.

Members can access our Information and Knowledge Hub at the Chamber HR website.

It features more than 400 free downloadable documents on aspects such as redundancy, maternity, absence, disciplinary and recruitment. The news feed is regularly updated with the latest HR news.

As part of ChamberHR, members are entitled to a free health check via a one-to-one review with a Quest business manager to check your level of HR compliance, advise on any issues you may have and then give an honest appraisal of what you need. Employment law services are also available, including up to £1m of cover for employment tribunals and £100,000 per claim.

Members also have unlimited 365-day access to experienced specialist HR advisors via our advice line by calling 01455 852037.

Popular HR enquiries include disciplinary issues, long-term sickness, persistent absence, redundancy and holiday pay.