Many employees have been working from home with their children for months and months. Some were able to send their children to school, but many were not. This topic has received a lot of press and for good reason: There is not enough time in the day to be a full-time worker and a full-time teacher and have enough rest and relaxation to sustain these jobs long term.
It has been 8 months since the pandemic started, and for that entire time, employees with children at home have been burning the candle at both ends. It is up to employers to step in and support these employees before they burn out.
Rather than simply providing advice on what employers should do, today we are going to look at a specific example of what one company does for its employees. I recently spoke with PwC’s Kimberly Jones, Managing Director of People Experience, about the topic.
Her organization had always valued flexible work arrangements, and its polices were put to the test when the pandemic hit. “We were a bit ahead of the curve concerning flexible work arrangements,” she said, “but overnight, those options became a lot more relevant and applicable to a whole lot more of our people.”
I’ve heard that from a lot of organizations; they had flexible policies in place but had to take a very careful look at them once the pandemic hit, especially regarding parents. They may get a lot of attention but for good reason. Employees with children, especially small children, have to devote a lot of time to them—time they also need to devote to workplace duties. Many thought things would settle down and that they’d be able to send their children back to school after the summer, providing the promise of a much-needed break.
As the summer marched on to late June and early July, many were beginning to realize that schools, day cares, and other childcare facilities were simply not going to be able to reopen. Even those that were would only be able to do so on a part-time basis. The rug of hope was pulled out from under a large slice of the workforce.
Jones recounts what happened in late June, when employees started wondering whether they’d be able to send their children back to school or not. “I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every evening, there were e-mails coming through to various leaders from parents saying, ‘I am struggling. The thought of having to teach at home, homeschool my kids, on a longer-term basis is completely overwhelming me.’”
The Crisis Is Real for Employees and Employers Alike
What was happening at PwC was happening everywhere. The childcare crisis represents an existential threat to employees and employers alike. Large percentages of the workforce have children at home, and employers need their employees to stay productive; otherwise, they will flag and fail in a world that has become much more difficult to operate in.
The amount of stress and anxiety placed upon working parents is huge. You want your children to learn and grow, but you also need your employment to provide for their other needs. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, many employees with children at home have had to just suck it up.
A Promising Package
Jones says that “suddenly, my team’s project was to try to figure out how to help our people. And that’s what led us to the point of having a package that we rolled out to help.” Helping employees must go beyond understanding that your employees have to split their time between their children and work. The support has to be there because that situation is not sustainable. PwC seems to understand that.
Protected time and reduced schedule. One solution many have suggested is to reduce these employees’ hours so they have enough time to tend to their children. But, as Jones points out, “Many parents said they just can’t afford to do that right now. Or [they] felt nervous about reducing their income during such uncertain times.” PwC offered a number of solutions, one it called “protected time.”
Using protected time, employees can block out, say, 2 hours in the morning during which it is understood they are busy and are not to be disturbed.
Partial pay for leaves of absence. Another benefit PwC has rolled out as part of its pandemic parental package is partial pay for leaves of absence. Employees are able to take up to a 6-month leave of absence and still collect 20% of their pay. Yes, that’s a pretty big pay hit, but it’s better than nothing and represents an emergency relief value for parents who are stressed to the brink.
Backup care benefits. PwC also has a $2,000 benefit that can be used to pay caregivers when options like school or day care are off the table for employees with children at home. It also provides discounts on nanny placements to offer further support.
Subscription tutoring services. While the company does not pay for the entire service, PwC also offers help with subscription tutor services so employees with children can lighten their educational role and focus on work.
Each workforce has unique needs and requires unique support. Employers, however, must take action to help their struggling employees if they want to survive. What kinds of assistance do you offer your employees with children?