Just as parents and children begin to get used to COVID guidelines, things seem to change again. From work and schools being fully remote to in-person with masks, then maskless, then back to hybrid models, parents are constantly having to change their personal and professional routines, which has taken a toll on working parents and their children. The lines between work and home continue to blur, as parents have to manage to be professionals as well as childcare providers, chauffeurs, chefs and online teachers. As an HR professional, I witness firsthand how this much responsibility can affect my colleagues, and as we continue to grapple with the pandemic, it is our job in HR to help our peers find the right balance—one that can work as the “new normal.”
Embracing maximum flexibility
The best rule that I’ve incorporated into my work life is to embrace maximum flexibility—whether that’s scheduling meetings with my team after they’ve dropped off their kids at school or gotten them settled for online learning, or letting parents have their toddlers on their laps during a Zoom call. Nothing is going to be perfect when it comes to parenting throughout a pandemic, and if we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s to allow ourselves and others some grace.
Prior to lockdowns, we forced ourselves to work eight-plus hours straight from the office, oftentimes without taking breaks. But now we’ve seen that maximum flexibility is not only great for working parents but for the entire workforce. Taking the time to go for a much-needed walk in the middle of the day, attend a yoga class in the morning or even give oneself a break from an intimidating task and get back to it later can improve everyone’s relationship with work and promote a better overall work/life balance. As we come out of the pandemic, maximum flexibility should be something we take with us, as it enables us all to show more humanity in the workplace.
Being a working parent can be stressful in the first place—but then add in the extra uncertainty of the pandemic and many working parents found themselves lost and alone, trying to find the balance between working and caretaking. By creating groups at work for parents to discuss their current frustrations, share tips on how they’re handling their workload or share information on resources like nannies in their area, we can help make being a parent in the workplace far less daunting.
Creating communities, especially while we’re either working remote or in a hybrid model, can be beneficial for all of our teammates, both parents and non-parents, whom we might not know are struggling. Work provides a community for many employees and when the pandemic first hit and we weren’t seeing each other in person during the week, it was a jarring experience for most of us. Coming back into the office again after so much time at home will also be another shift that people will have to adjust to. Creating spaces at work that benefit employees, like in-office gyms, salons or meditation spaces, can help make that transition easier and create even stronger connections among co-workers. The office can be a place for working parents to get something done during their workday that will make life easier for them once they get home and provide them with the tools they need to focus at work instead of being stressed out by personal tasks.
Providing resources for the whole family
Many Americans, both children and adults alike, have been dealing with mental health issues more than ever before. From anxiety to stress and burnout, people everywhere are looking for resources to help ease these issues, especially from their employers. Many companies have been including mental health services like virtual therapy within their healthcare benefits or providing extra “mental health days” on top of their regular paid time off to allow employees to take some time for themselves.
Related: The reality of burnout
While these benefits are great for our colleagues, we should be taking them one step further and providing mental health benefits for all dependents of our employees. More children and teenagers have reported symptoms of stress or anxiety-related issues as their lives completely changed two years ago, leaving many parents trying to find helpful resources for their children. By allowing any children of an employee who is currently dealing with mental health struggles to use the therapies and other resources that your company provides, your HR team is not only helping that child but directly helping your employee.
These types of benefits can be the thing that helps an employee stay on track and remain successful at work and at home. The more we talk openly about how mental health struggles can affect ourselves, our families and our jobs, the more likely more companies will begin to incorporate mental health benefits.
What the future holds: returning to the office
Return-to-office has been a topic of discussion among HR teams since we first went remote back in March 2020. Now with vaccines and office safety precautions, the idea of returning to work is a reality that many employees are excited about. But in order to continue to make coming back into the office successful for everyone, we must continue to embrace the lessons we learned during the pandemic. Maximum flexibility, openness about mental health struggles and community should be some of the core principles top of mind as employees are returning to work. Working parents are still going to need time to drop off kids at work or stay home when daycare closes and discussions about the hardships of parenting while working shouldn’t just go away.
The pandemic provided HR professionals with the opportunity to change how we operate at work. No longer should we expect employees to sit at their desks from 9-5, ignoring their personal lives until they close their computers at the end of the day. Giving working parents the ability to be transparent with the struggles they’re having both internally and externally will not only give us the chance to change policies that have just been accepted over the years but make work somewhere where parents can thrive.