As we approach two years of the COVID pandemic, new variants, like Omicron, continue to surge — and along with it, most likely the anxiety and stress levels of parents in your workplace. As many parents learn about school closures (and reopenings), virtual learning, or new quarantine protocols, they may have questions, concerns, or confusion around how these uncertainties will impact them, and their children, both at home and in the workplace.
Supporting working parents remains even more important, given all we learned about how leaving them without help can impact morale, productivity, talent retention, and workplace equity.
How Parents Have Been Treated in the Workforce
Historically, parents in the workplace have not been specifically focused on as a potentially marginalized group. In fact, many parents work hard at not bringing their parental issues into the work environment — some may go so far as keeping it from employers that they even have children. Why? They may fear that they might be overlooked for jobs, promotions, or special assignments because they may be viewed as having too many conflicting priorities. Loss of such opportunities can lead to pay equity issues that have primarily affected women in the workforce.
Here’s what you can do to support parents in your workplace.
Employees that also have caregiving responsibilities, have to split focus between their work and how their kids are faring. Considering the needs of this workforce segment is important from both a culture and training perspective. In addition, organizations have an opportunity to build parenting needs and considerations into their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The contents of diversity and inclusion training shouldn’t just focus on one or two facets of diversity. To truly create an inclusive work environment, training should reflect the unique experiences of many people with different identities, including parents. Parents represent another potentially marginalized group that needs to feel included and needs support to ensure equity in the workplace.
Pandemic Brought Parents into the Open
The emergence of the pandemic, its associated closing of schools, and the need for parents to play an active role in providing education to their children has brought parents in the workplace out into the open. The pandemic has resulted in the blending of work and home life more than ever before.
Children learning at home while one or both parents are also working at home required flexibility that hadn’t existed in the past. Consider that even those companies that allowed working from home pre-pandemic often had policies that required working parents to ensure they had childcare arrangements for younger children, or that children were in school. In other words, companies were concerned about the potential distractions employees might face at home if simultaneously caring for children and wanted to avoid the potential drain on productivity.
But then the pandemic emerged and, as schools closed, both parents and employers had no alternative but to recognize the elephant in the room — the need for parents to work, parent, and in some cases teach their children — all during business hours. That led to a great deal more flexibility related to work hours and engagement expectations.
Workplaces Will Look Different Moving Forward
The workplace will never return to the state it was in before the pandemic. It’s likely that some form of hybrid working — and learning — will continue as the pandemic continues to play out, and even afterward. Today’s workplace requires greater flexibility and demands different ways of managing employees.
It will be critical for organizations to train supervisors and managers on how to create inclusive environments for everybody in their workgroup, regardless of where they’re located or what their parent statuses may be. Intentionality will be the key to success for developing inclusion training designed to be not an event, but an ongoing process to support everyone during challenging times.
Providing Support For Parents at Work
As parents face continued uncertainty of children and their school environments, employers need to be prepared to provide appropriate flexibility to meet their needs. Ongoing awareness and supportive communication will be critical.
Parenting issues are an important addition to any organization’s diversity and inclusion training efforts. A component of this training should also include coverage of retaliation training.
The EEOC has prepared guidance on “Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities” which offers insights into what employers can and should be doing to ensure they aren’t discriminating, however inadvertently, against workers with caregiving responsibilities. It’s important to note that, while we’re focused on caring for children here, those responsibilities for many may extend to caring for other relatives and aging parents.
The coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter movement, and racial tensions around the country have all resulted in the increased recognition of diversity in the workplace and the need to work inclusively. Working inclusively means recognizing the diverse needs, values, and concerns among all segments of your workforce.
Now, more than ever, this includes parents.