Jane van Zyl: How can employers support working parents during the Covid-19 crisis?

For parents with children at home due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) school closures, working from home is anything but ‘business as usual’. On top of their normal jobs, many working parents now have the added pressures of helping their children with schoolwork, keeping the whole family mentally and physically healthy, and ensuring everyone gets fed.

In this situation, it is more important than ever for employers to show compassion and flexibility to their employees. Managers need to have open conversations with the parents and carers on their teams about what can realistically be achieved with children at home. It is important that parents are given leeway to fit work in around all of their other activities rather than being expected to adhere to ‘normal’ hours of work. This flexibility should extend to how annual leave and unpaid leave can be taken, with relaxation on rules about notice and time frame.

Remote working can often blur boundaries and lead parents to work extra hours. Employers should be mindful of this, and encourage staff to set boundaries and switch off. For this to be effective, managers and senior executives should lead by example, whether that is refraining from contacting colleagues during unsociable hours, or being open about their own caring responsibilities.

In this ever-changing situation, it is likely that as the weeks go on, aspects of home life might change. When this happens, working arrangements will need to change too. Being adaptable to these changes is a crucial way for employers to support parents and carers.

Jane van Zyl is a chief executive of Working Families