Many firms not prepared for return to school challenges for parents

Many employers are not aware of the ongoing childcare issues for parents and there are fears that they may make decisions on redundancy without taking into account the impact of lockdown childcare on employee performance.

women sleeping on laptop


How prepared have employers been for the challenges facing working parents around the return to school?

A new survey suggests that many were not at all prepared.  Only half of the organisations that took part in the research said they’d planned for the challenges arising from the return to school this autumn, according to the survey by research firm Karian and Box unveiled at a webinar on the career costs of Covid for parents and carers.

James Tarbert, of Karian and Box, told the event held by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, that the results confirmed worries that women are set to suffer disproportionately as the economic crisis unfolds.

The event, chaired by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, heard from Tarbert that 57% of parents and carers had to use annual leave to cover childcare issues during lockdown. A third had to reduce their hours, one in five took unpaid leave. And 14% asked to be furloughed so they could deal with the demands of childcare and homeschooling.

Forty per cent of the firms surveyed said they were planning to make redundancies. Most said they’d select by performance and/or absence. But most had no policies in place to take into account the impact of lockdown on parents’ performance or absence. Moreover, most line managers were not aware of their companies policies to support parents and carers.

Tarbert suggested many of the 200 firms surveyed were failing to take into account the short-term situation of parents due to coronavirus as they make long-term decisions on issues like redundancy.

Sharing care

Sonia Sodha, chief leader writer for The Observer newspaper, was also part of the discussion. She said the UK needs to follow Iceland’s example and establish a ‘use it or lose it’ element of parental leave for dads. She reckons that key to equality is to get men and women sharing the work at home and that needs to start from the very beginning of parenthood.

She also questioned the current norm that men work full time while many mums work part time. She envisioned a future in which both parents work three or four days a week. “We should aspire to live in a society where no parent works five days a week,” she said. However, she recognised that men face a social stigma when they ask to work flexibly. To counter that she argued that women need to ask for more workplace rights for fathers, even if that can feel uncomfortable.

Sarah Churchman, chief inclusion, community and wellbeing officer at PwC said that for many people parenting through the lockdown had been “a complete and utter nightmare”. She said many PwC employees ended up working long hours to try and fit everything in, but the firm made sure line managers kept in close contact with their teams to monitor wellbeing and look for signs of burnout. One positive of the lockdown experience was that “empathy levels went through the roof” she explained.

Impact of lockdown care on performance

Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said: “Many employers currently find themselves facing extraordinarily difficult decisions which will lead to significant numbers of people losing their jobs – but what’s worse is that many are making these decisions in the dark. This data shows an alarming one in four companies surveyed do not have policies in place to mitigate against the brunt of redundancies being borne by people whose performance has been affected by the closure of schools and childcare providers.

“Women continue to undertake the greatest share of unpaid caring work in the UK and they have already been disproportionately represented among those laid off during the crisis. If more isn’t done to ensure that those who took on the bulk of the caring during the lockdown aren’t the first to be out of work, we risk losing a massive pool of talent from the workforce and reversing progress on gender equality, neither of which will help achieve the economic recovery we all hope for.”

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