Parenting, working from home and Covid-19…the ugly truth
The first rule of parenting and work is not too dissimilar to that of fight club; you do not talk about how difficult combining the two can be. And in usual times, most of us comply with this, bearing in mind that becoming a parent is a choice (well at least I hope it is for most of us), and also an incredible gift.
However, one thing I am sure we can all agree on is that we are not living in usual times. Most of us are now home-bound; some working from home while others have been furloughed with no work to do. Those who are attending work due to providing frontline services, are doing so while accepting the risk of being infected.
Consequently, conference calls are now peppered with the plaintive cries of babies and toddlers, or the moans of older children who are bored with their activities or who need assistance with their online homework. Those who are attending work are now having to do so with the mental anguish of worrying that they may unwittingly infect their loved ones with Covid-19.
How can members of staff with children work as effectively as their peers who are either childless, or whose children have long left the nest? The simple answer is that they probably can’t. This needs to be acknowledged from the outset. With most members of staff having no additional childcare assistance, it is unrealistic to expect that employees can (or even should) be required to put work first.
I fortunately act for wonderful clients who recognise the need for flexibility and “best efforts”, given that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to be as proactive and responsible as I pride myself on being as well as being a full-time parent. However, I recognise that I am fortunate given that I can dictate my own hours. Many are not that fortunate.
We must all recognise that this is a stressful time for everyone, and not only employees. Many employers are fretting as to whether they will be able to survive the impending recession or depression which is likely to ensue, and their focus will therefore clearly be on trying to rally staff to be as productive and profitable as possible. While such concerns are legitimate, expecting staff (including managers and senior staff) to work normally will only add more stress to the situation.
Now is the time to view members of staff holistically – as parents, those with health issues, financial concerns etc. This does not mean financial support necessarily (and hopefully the Government’s various schemes will alleviate some financial concerns), but rather recognising that staff members will have problems that will impact performance. Are all of the various zoom team meetings required, or can staff be permitted to partake in-between doing PE with Joe? Are all of the tasks given to an individual actually required or being done simply because they always have been?
The optimist in me hopes that this Covid-19 virus outbreak will result in positive societal changes such as how we review certain roles, the importance of migrant labour and the wonders of the NHS and the need to protect it. With regard to work behaviours, fingers-crossed, any remaining objections to remote working on a “just because” basis will have been done away due to large percentage of the UK’s workforce having done so for several weeks. I hope that the surrounding stigma of individuals admitting that they have life challenges which will impact their work performance from time to time will also be turned on its head.
I find parenthood to be an amazing blessing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beset with difficulties from sleepless nights to toddler tantrums. I am confident that – on the whole – employers who recognise this and encourage flexibility and for staff to only focus on actual key work to be done to the best of their abilities given the current situation will be rewarded with loyalty, gratitude and in the long-term improved performance. I have already witnessed this first-hand with my clients who have a good work culture and who show compassion to their staff and their personal circumstances. Such clients have been rewarded with employees who are working as hard as they possibly can (if not furloughed) to ensure their employer’s continued success, even where they have accepted significant pay-cuts. Only time will tell…