Employers should consider offering more flexibility to home-working staff with children during the third national lockdown, believes East Midlands Chamber’s HR lead.
Director of resources Lucy Robinson has urged businesses to help ease the burden on parents forced to balance their job with childcare duties after schools were closed.
This may involve allowing employees to take longer or more breaks, with time made up at either end of the day.
Lucy said: “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.
“This 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.”
Other ways employers can help home-working parents
Further support employers could offer to parents within their workforce include setting up advice pages on company intranet websites, and encouraging staff to use WhatsApp groups or Zoom meet-ups for sharing tips on balancing work with childcare.
For lower-earning staff who may not be able to afford a laptop or tablet for their child to use for home-schooling – or have access to a Wi-Fi connection – Lucy says businesses could help by pointing people in the right direction, with councils and schools offering support for obtaining equipment.
“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,” she added.
For employees who aren’t able to work from home, they may still be able to call upon schools – which are remaining open for the children of key workers – while there is also an option for parents to take either full or partial furlough leave during the lockdown.
Lucy said: “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 because of school and nursery closures.”
Businesses should keep on top of staff mental wellbeing
It’s not just parents who face challenges during another national lockdown and Lucy also urges businesses to be aware of the mental health issues that could arise from isolation, particularly for those who live alone.
She cites research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published in September, which 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,” she added.
“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.”