Supporting Employees with Child Care + Increased Flexibility

Supporting Employees with Child Care + Increased Flexibility

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the undeniable need for a supportive workplace culture as many employees grapple with concerns over their health and wellbeing, financial stability, job security, and child care challenges.

This is the time for businesses to support their staff, particularly those with children, to address these challenges. Acting now will help ensure your business can reap the benefits of greater employee engagement, productivity and loyalty in the longer term.

In 2019, and pre-COVID-19, the National Working Families Report, an annual survey that interviewed more than 6,000 parents and carers in Australia, found:

  • Two-thirds of Australian parents and carers have difficulties looking after their own physical and mental health as they attempt to balance job and family responsibilities
  • 1 in 4 parents and carers had considered – or actively intended – leaving their job in the next 12 months due to difficulties combining their job with caring
  • Despite 85 percent of those surveyed saying paid parental leave was offered in their workplace, and that around half of all mothers and fathers had used it, there are still issues with access and attitudes around taking parental leave.

The results revealed that parents and carers across Australia are finding it difficult to balance their work and family commitments and report their personal wellbeing and family relationships suffer as a result.

Increasingly, employees want to work for organisations that recognise and support their responsibilities outside of work.

So, prior to the COVID disruption, working parents were already buckling under the pressure of competing personal, family and workplace demands. And now, amid the pandemic fallout in Australia, working family issues have become more visible and elevated as many parents struggle to manage caring for children and work demands.

To tackle the issue, a good place for employers to start is to broaden and expand existing family-friendly workplace policies.

Here are five strategies employers can explore to extend support for working parents:

Assess existing policies to ensure support for families 

The best way to know if existing policies are working for parents is to ask them. Communicate with employees individually about their situation and use it as an opportunity to discuss their workloads.

Identify and research ways to co-create solutions – such as reduced hours, more flexibility or carers leave. Fostering close working relationships with staff can lead to greater understanding of and flexibility around employer and employee needs. Open conversations facilitate trust while helping to manage expectations and create a supportive work environment. It’s also important to create internal networks of support to encourage parents to share, connect and to access relevant information.

Make flexibility the norm

Regardless of COVID-19 working parents have always required flexibility and the Dolly Parton worker’s anthem of the ‘Nine to Five’ business model has been under threat for some time now.

However, different types of flexible work may be necessary because the needs of each working parent vary. Flexible working can generally be defined as flexibility around the hours, location or patterns of work such as compressed workweeks, remote working or split shifts.

Giving parents control to set their own work schedule to support a better balance between what they need to do with their kids and their professional life is a simple way to ease daily pressures and promote loyalty within an organisation.

Support employees to find child care

With COVID-19 induced free child care ending in July working mothers, who in many cases assume more care responsibilities than fathers, may be particularly impacted by the demands of child care. Options employers could explore to support working parents in this regard are providing assistance with sourcing and securing child care, emergency care support, subsidised child care, offering flexible or remote working arrangements and extending parental leave.

By implementing child care assistance and robust family-friendly policies, businesses are more likely to be able to retain their people and recruit high quality staff.

Support working from home

Working from home offers many benefits that can include a better work-life balance, less time commuting and improved productivity, but there are also negative impacts such as isolation and distractions.

Employers should provide practical assistance for parents adapting to the working from home environment. This includes providing appropriate equipment and supplies and ensuring training has been provided. Set realistic expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communications and don’t forget to offer encouragement and emotional support.

When employees are adequately supported to better meet the competing commitments of home and work their ability to thrive increases – this is good for families, business and society.

The momentum for change is growing due to COVID-19 and ensuring greater investment in family-friendly policies is greatly needed as it has positive impacts for employers and employees.

A recent, pre-COVID report, Redesigning the workplace to be family-friendly, by UNICEF states: “Not only do family-friendly policies pay off in healthier, but better-educated children, greater gender equality and sustainable growth, they are also linked to better workforce productivity and the ability to attract, motivate and retain employees.”

References and other resources

Flexible child care and Australian parents’ work and care decision-making