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How HR can support working parents

As children head back to school in England and Wales this week and the government insists workers should be heading back to the office, we consider how HR can make the transition a little easier.

Offer half days

Insurance provider Aviva UK is offering parents a half-day of leave to drop off or pick up their child on the first day at a new school. This leave is additional to employee holiday entitlement and has been offered to parents since 2016, with over 1,000 employees having used it so far.

Danny Harmer, Aviva’s chief people officer, said: “This year is particularly poignant as families have spent lockdown juggling homeschooling with work, and children have been away from school since March.”

Open up the dialogue

Many parents have had to split their time between homeschooling and work while schools have been shut. Yet one in six parents could potentially keep their children out of school over COVID-19 fears, according to a YouGov poll.

Rob Bravo, coach director at Talking Talent, is urging businesses to have open conversations with working parents in order to help them achieve the ideal work-life balance.

He said: “Businesses therefore must actively engage in conversations about how they can support their working parents, and help them to establish a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout.

“The challenge of helping employees understand better how to manage their own wellbeing is part of protecting an organisation’s greatest asset - its people. If left unexamined, wellbeing issues will reverse positive trends in diversity and inclusion aimed at improving organisational performance.”

Consider a new working model

Workers have now experienced first-hand the benefits of remote working - no commute, more time spent with family and often, more productive working days. Chris Biggs, MD of Theta Financial Reporting has backed calls to create a more flexible structure for both working parents and other employees.

He said: “HR should consider a mixed model moving forward, with some home working and some office-based work. Mixing shift patterns carefully and in a coordinated fashion will help distance staff and make them feel safer. Office spaces may need redesigning, allowing staff to collaborate safely, and office hours may need to change to avoid peak travel hours.”

Recognise all parents are facing different challenges

Dependent on role, location and personal circumstances, parents will all have been impacted in different ways. One group which has seen dramatic change has been single parents.

Joe Richardson, research and policy officer at Gingerbread, said that since the start of lockdown, single parents across the country have had to be their child’s sole breadwinner, teacher, parent and playmate.

He said: “This group has stepped up admirably, but for many, this has come at a cost. Many single parents have been unable to work due to them looking after children not attending school, as shown by the recent jump in single parents relying on social security.”

Many schools have altered their class times, so firms need to recognise the problem is far from over, Richardson said.

He added: “It is crucial that employers allow staff – but particularly single parents to work flexibly during this difficult time so they can build their working hours around childcare. Employers must also recognise that single parents will have no choice but to stay at home if that’s where their young children are, and use common sense and compassion in their approach.”

Return to schools may impact women more

Around two in five (41%) working mums with children under 10 can’t get – or are unsure whether they will get – enough childcare to cover the hours they need for work this September, according to a TUC poll.

The trade union said this means it will push more women out of work due to the difficulty in juggling work and childcare.

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Mums have picked up the majority of childcare while nurseries and schools have been closed. And many have sacrificed hours and pay to do so – especially those in low-paid jobs who can least afford the financial hit.

“If we don’t take this childcare crisis seriously women will be pushed out of the workforce, turning the clock back on decades of labour market progress."

The TUC has therefore called on employers to extended furlough beyond October to support parents who are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities.

It has also recommended staff are given the right to work as flexibly as possible from their first day in the job.