Finding Balance as a Working Parent During COVID-19
September 15, 2020 / Employee Wellbeing Best Practices
Being a parent is a tough job. Not only do you have to take care of yourself, but you also have the responsibility of raising children. There’s no manual, no how-to videos and no real opportunities for breaks. Mothers and fathers are expected to successfully navigate parenting in an ever-changing environment, and coronavirus has forced them to face an unexpected dilemma—finding work-life-parenting balance.
The rapid onset of remote work and virtual learning resulted in parents facing an entirely new set of challenges. COVID-19 has made it difficult for working parents to separate family and work, let alone find time for themselves. In order to help your employees avoid burnout, employers must provide the resources and tools their workforce needs to maintain balance in their busy lives. A healthy work-life balance will positively impact both their overall wellbeing and that of their families.
Parenting Amidst a Pandemic
With limited time for self-care and a sense of anxiety over health and finances, it’s no surprise that the physical and mental wellbeing of parents are suffering. According to a recent study, more than 7 in 10 parents are stressed about managing their children’s online schooling. This new role as a stand-in teacher is a major distraction during working hours, which could mean parents are working later to make up for lost time during the day. More time helping their children with schoolwork also means less time to exercise, prep meals or complete household chores. This results in a poor work-life balance, especially as many parents struggle with creating a healthy routine for their families.
Based on the experience many working parents had last spring as they tried to juggle childcare, Zoom meetings, deadlines and assisting with schoolwork, around 22% of parents are considering cutting back on work hours if their child has to complete online schooling at least part of the time. Without help from their employer, working parents will continue to struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage personal stress. Organizations must make an effort to alleviate the burden for these working parents by providing as much support and flexibility as possible.
The Importance of Routine
Improving the work-life balance of your employees starts with reminding them of the importance of a daily routine. Prior to COVID-19, many of us had a set schedule that provided the structure necessary to balance job duties, family and personal health. The rapid shift to remote work and virtual learning upended these routines, leading to stress, uncertainty and shifting priorities as everyone scrambled to adapt.
In these times of constant change, it’s critical that employees stick to a routine to maintain structure. A daily schedule will help parents keep both themselves and their families on track. For example, parents with children who are participating in distance learning should try to align their breaks with breaks in the school day. Not only will this help to give parents time to focus on work while their children are occupied, but it will give both themselves and their kids something to look forward to. Additionally, taking a 10-minute walk or enjoying some time outdoors can boost productivity for parent and child alike. Keeping up with other activities, such as setting alarms to wake up, making lunches for their kids and getting ready for school or work will create some normalcy for working parents and their children. The addition of ground rules for the children to follow and rewards based on their behavior will also reinforce the effectiveness of the schedule.
Another strategy to help parents to place their wellbeing first is to create a list of important tasks that need to be completed every day. A to-do list can help with prioritizing responsibilities and maintaining balance. Working parents may also find that waking up before their children will allow them to complete major household tasks or allow time for self-care so they can start their day with a sense of increased productivity. By encouraging your employees to stick to daily routine, they will be better equipped to stay focused at work, help their kids stay on-task with school to minimize distractions and dedicate time to their own physical and mental wellbeing each day.
How to Support Your Employees
Communication is key to helping your workforce find work-life balance as they navigate remote work and virtual learning. Let working parents know that you understand that interruptions will happen and remind them that it’s okay to go on mute or off-camera to handle disruptions as they arise. By accepting and embracing background noise during video meetings, you’ll reduce the stress and anxiety experienced by employees with children at home. Managers and workplace leaders can also remind all employees to put themselves on mute when not speaking.
It’s important for organizations to establish and inform employees of a policy regarding flexible working hours for parents, depending on the needs of their families. Working parents are less likely to quit or experience job burnout if they know that they can take time off or step away from work if needed. By demonstrating empathy, your employees will know that your organization deeply cares about them. Adapting your workplace policies and programs to give working parents the support that they need is especially important during these stressful times. Your organization can further encourage working parents to put their wellbeing first by making sure that your leadership team is modeling wellbeing practices. By adhering to a schedule and honing in on work-life balance, managers and executives can inspire their employees to do the same.
Putting Wellbeing First
Personal wellbeing may not be top-of-mind for working parents, but engaging in healthy habits will help working parents better manage their own stress and that of their families. With offices closed, you can’t provide your employees with healthy snack choices or remind them to utilize an on-site fitness facility. While this creates an extra barrier to promoting healthy behaviors, it also provides an opportunity to bolster your digital health resources. Encourage your employees to make nutritious food choices or move more throughout the workday with a company-wide healthy habit challenge. Suggest that employees utilize the chat feature to share their favorite recipes or home workout tips to motivate others—don’t forget to lead by example!
Managing mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health for working parents and non-parents alike. We’ve all become familiar with video conferencing platforms like Zoom this year, and we can use these programs in a variety of ways beyond the workday. Remind your employees that these online tools can be used to help employees stay connected outside of meetings. A virtual happy hour will allow workers to unwind from the workweek and provide some “face-to-face” social time to give them a break from the responsibilities of work and home life. Employees could also set up virtual cooking sessions, fitness classes or meditation exercises during lunch hours or after the workday has ended.
Creating and maintaining a culture of holistic wellbeing for your organization will go a long way in helping your entire workforce find balance and build resilience during this time of constant change. With wellbeing at the core of your company culture and clear communication of policies and expectations, working parents will feel more supported, allowing them to show up each day more focused, at ease and motivated to meet deadlines and stay engaged in their work while caring for their families. Living and working with COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, but we can make small adjustments to make this all a little more manageable.