The consequences of Covid for working mums

Employers need to be aware of the short-term consequences of the Covid double shift on working mums and adjust their expectations to ensure that longer term negative consequences don’t result.

Woman helps daughter with homeschooling at the table


The Covid pandemic has been hard for many individuals and groups, with working parents being one. During lockdown many have had to combine childcare and working from home, for instance, with studies showing women have been carrying most of the childcare/homeschooling burden despite dads increasing their input generally.

Though schools and childcare are back, we’re now in the next lockdown phase with local lockdowns, quarantines, self isolation periods, staggered drop-off and pick-up times, restrictions on wraparound care and so forth.

Many employers are checking in on employees regularly in recognition of the mental health impact of all of this, although in some cases it is more like monitoring than checking in, which of course, increases stress.

But have they thought through the long-term consequences of all of this on, for instance, women in the workplace? It’s great running resilience workshops and intranet pages signposting to external resources, but how many employers have looked at their internal promotion and appraisal processes in light of the extra pressures certain groups are facing?

A US study, Women in the workplace, published last week from McKinsey and, highlighted that relatively few companies have taken steps to adjust the norms and expectations that are most likely responsible for employee stress and burnout due to Covid-19.

Less than a third of companies had, for instance, adjusted their performance review criteria to account for the challenges created by the pandemic, such as the double shift, and only about half had updated employees on their plans for performance reviews or their productivity expectations during Covid-19. The report says: “That means many employees – especially parents and caregivers – are facing the choice between falling short of pre-pandemic expectations that may now be unrealistic or pushing themselves to keep up an unsustainable pace.”

The result will be people dropping out of the workplace, women in particular, or downshifting or failing to apply for promotions amid Covid exhaustion. In fact, the report highlights evidence that this is already taking place.

It calls for employers to be aware of and monitor particular groups’ progress over the next months in light of this evidence and to foster a more inclusive culture that values all groups, particularly those who have been traditionally marginalised, such as Black women, and makes them feel welcome. It says employers need to re-evaluate productivity targets and expectations in light of Covid-19 and consider extending deadlines or narrowing the scope of some projects to relieve unnecessary pressure and advises that they consider creative responses to giving people more time to recover from the unequal impact of Covid, such as Covid-19 days.

The most important step is the first one: recognising the extent of the problem and putting into place ways of tracking how it plays out. In the UK, the gender pay gap audits were suspended this year. We’ll see what happens next year, but that sent a message to employers that gender equality is not a core issue. Without that large-scale data it will be hard to see what the impact of Covid is on women’s career progression and pay. It is vital that employers individually continue to keep their eyes wide open and gather this evidence because everyone wins if employers take proactive interventions on the things that support long-term business success and productivity.

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