With the new school year approaching and most of the United States still
mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, employees with school-aged children find
themselves making some incredibly difficult decisions.
Many schools are opening fully online. Others are considering modified
schedules where children go to school a few days a week. Either way, it
won’t be normal, and a portion or all of the teaching duties will fall on parents.
Low-wage workers face the biggest hurdles
The options are slim for everyone, but the landscape is particularly bleak for caregivers who tend to be mostly women and people of color who earn a wage that is well below the poverty level.
- In two-income households, one parent might have the freedom to decide against going back to work or cut back on working hours.
- Parents that previously relied on family members (like grandparents) to watch children have to decide if it’s worth the risk to potentially expose older and at-risk loved ones to COVID-19.
- Hiring someone to help is completely off the table for most. Many caregivers make $10 to $12 an hour. Childcare, in most places, is well above that.
Do you have a plan to support the caregivers in your organization?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s recent research, nearly half of all organizations polled admit they do not have a dedicated plan to help employees balance child-care and work responsibilities.
Of the organizations that do have a plan, most are responding with flexibility-related strategies.
- 63% are considering allowing reduced working hours.
- 71% are considering allowing full-time remote work.
- 86% are considering or allowing flexible hours.
While these options may work for some industries, most are just not realistic in healthcare. Reducing work hours won’t solve the problem and may even add additional financial stress to working parents. Caregivers cannot work remotely, so that’s not a solution. “Flexible hours” could work, but it would take some major scheduling and HR magic to pull it off!
What can you do?
Just like everything else related to this pandemic, there is no easy answer. And there is isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that will work for all employees.
Here are 6 ways you can help:
1. Start by asking each employee about their situation.
Find out how big (or small) the problem is in your organization. If you only have one or two people that think they will need help, you can find out what their needs are and do what you can to help meet those needs. If you have a large number of employees who are going to need help, it’s time to put some programs in place now before the problem becomes unmanageable over the next few months.
2. Consider flexible scheduling.
Find out what times your employees MUST be home, and then schedule shifts around those times.
3. Offer a child care stipend.
Some companies have opted to help cover the cost of childcare. For example, one healthcare system is giving employees a $50 stipend for each shift they work to help cover the cost of childcare during that shift.
4. Provide employer-sponsored daycare.
Partner with a local daycare to get reduced rates for employees and help cover the cost of care. Many daycares that previously only took small children are making accommodations to take older children and help with online learning.
5. Make socially distant study spaces in your office.
For office staff with older kids who need less supervision (but still can’t be left alone) create study spaces where children can sit with a laptop and headphones to do their school work. You might also offer to pay any willing office staff extra to supervise caregivers’ children as they use office study spaces during their parents’ short shifts. Again, this would be for older children who can work independently (but can’t be left home alone.)
6. Help band employees together to create a Pandemic School Pod.
Parents in some cities are partnering with other families to create Pandemic School Pods in churches or their homes. Three to four families band together and hire a teacher to come in the mornings and a college student to cover the afternoons. This defeats the purpose of social distancing, but it’s the only option for some families.
It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary.
Whether you choose one of these ideas or another solution, it’s clear that employers are going to have to step up and do a little bit more to help support employees during this difficult time. Employers that don’t offer any benefits or flexibility are guaranteed to have workers seeking jobs that DO have these supports in place.