Support for key worker parents should be a priority for employers in the care industry…
If you don’t look after your staff how can they look after anyone else?
As lockdown 3.0 continues, working parents are once again doing their best to work without being able to fall back on their regular childcare or traditional schooling.
For parents in the care industry, life can be even harder – they can’t work at home, childcare options are more limited because of Covid restrictions, and schools have become strict on allowing key worker children to attend during the school day – often insisting that both parents must be key workers for children to be eligible for a space.
Being a working parent in normal times is often a juggling act but throwing in the restrictions of Covid-19 and lockdown and times can be especially tough, particularly in an industry where many staff are not high earners.
For example, a study by Working Families in October 2020 [Working Families: One in five working parents has faced unfair treatment at work since COVID-19 onset 16/10/2020], also found that 2.6 million (one fifth of) working parents in the UK thought they had been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities during the pandemic. Women had been particularly affected, with more mothers than fathers leaving paid work since last February [Institute for Fiscal Studies: Parents, especially mothers, paying heavy price for lockdown 27/05/2020].
So how can you support the parents in your employ?
First of all, making it clear that you realise what a tough time they are having, and ensuring that they know their employer is supportive is one very easy and simple thing to do. A supportive message will help them feel that they have not been abandoned to struggle on through, and that case managers, deputies and parents actually recognise that they may be finding things difficult.
This in turn will help to encourage your staff to be honest about issues they are having rather than trying to hide problems, or even leaving work because it is too hard to manage childcare and employment.
From this, line managers can have honest conversations with the team about what solutions might work for them. They can discuss possibilities such as flexible working, changing roles or spreading hours throughout the week.
Your staff may benefit from more flexible rotas or more swaps between rotas than normal. Parents will have different requirements depending on their children’s ages, whether they have a partner working at home or if their children have additional needs. There are many reasons for a change in working pattern which is why open and honest conversation is necessary.
Line managers should also catch up with working parents on a regular basis, as circumstances may change, and if school closures should extend past 8 March, they may find it harder and harder to cope.
Proactive next steps
For those where none of these options work – what are the next steps? Could your employees be furloughed, take some holiday, unpaid leave or parental leave?
For many working in the care industry at this crucial time, taking unpaid leave is not particularly a viable option, either because of work requirements, or financially. However, eligible parents are permitted parental leave of up to four weeks in a year for each child (including adopted children). You should also offer support to anyone returning from maternity or parental leave, as the place of work they come back to might be quite different from the one they left. Ensure they are made aware of any changes in working practices such as staffing and change of rules.
Of course, uppermost must always be the concern that you are not being discriminatory. Check out the latest advice from the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) regarding Covid, employment and discrimination – especially concerning women, marital status and pregnancy.
You may be able to introduce some other ‘perks’ that will take the pressure off your staff. One housing trust, for instance, has offered parents one paid afternoon off a week. This could give them breathing space to help a child catch up with some homeschooling, do some fun activity with their children, or simply take a much-needed break.
While your working parents are looking after their families and your clients within the care industry, it is important that they are also looking after themselves. If you have a health and wellbeing programme, mental health first aid programme or similar scheme, make sure that your staff are aware of them and have easy access. If you do not have these programmes in place, there are many organisations with good advice that you can point your staff towards, such as MIND.
If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.
T: 01296 761288 or contact us here.
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Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited provide a specialised HR service to the care sector, from recruitment through to exit.