If you’ve ever run a race (competitively or casually to raise money for a good cause), you’ve experienced the solace that comes with knowing the finish line is just around the corner. It’s this idea of a pandemic finish line that has kept many of us going for the last two-plus years, even when we thought we had zero reserves left in us.
But Covid-19 is not like a regular race. This finish line keeps moving. And parents in the workforce are feeling like every step forward leads to two (or twenty) steps back. A 2022 Maven Clinic survey showed that 70% of employers have seen higher rates of attrition among working parents due to Covid-19. They also found that unsupported employees feel less loyal to their employer.
As it stands, we’re in yet another wave of high Covid cases, not to mention new fears of monkeypox spreading in schools. Instead of that return-to-normal fairytale we’ve been telling ourselves at night so we can sleep, it’s a boogeyman-filled screen that plays behind our closed eyes.
How can pandemic-fatigued parents realistically handle a third back-to-school transition where Covid is still an unwelcome guest—and more importantly, can employers and managers help ease the burden?
One could argue that after two years, experience should be at the helm guiding parents forward. But both anecdotally from our own lives and from the research, we know that’s wishful thinking. The unknowns are still too many, and a recent report from the American Psychological Association noted that 73% of U.S. adults feel “overwhelmed by the number of crises facing the world right now.”
The field and playbook are shifting with each phase—and even within each phase. Parents are desperately trying to stay on top of the emails filling their inboxes with each iteration of return-to-school policies, testing protocols and CDC guidance. While lengthy quarantines may no longer be required, relaxed protocols add extra burden to families with immunocompromised children or family members. It increases the general fear for all parents that at any moment they will get the call to come pick up their child from school. The mental stress from struggling to stay up to date may only be overshadowed by some parents’ emotional choice of having to choose between the risks of depriving their child of social interaction and in-person learning versus the risks of exposing them or family members.
Not to mention that after-care and preschool programs—the traditional safety nets that help buoy a massive workforce to keep it functional (and productive)—continue to experience limited capacity, fewer staff and reduced hours.
And the last I checked; the workday has never aligned with the school day requiring working parents to juggle a patchwork of solutions. So how can company leaders help employees manage the weight of these demands within a normal workday?
Here are four ways we can provide tangible support right now in areas where employees may need it the most:
- Provide 1:1 or group coaching. The Maven 2022 report found employees’ most requested area of support was around starting a new family or adding family members. And for many employees, the back-to-work-after-baby transition is even more daunting than back-to-school. 43% of employees said that return-to-work coaching would have helped them be better equipped to perform their job after a return from parental leave.
- Create space for community and education among working parents. This could look like a sponsored workshop to focus on how to manage the mental load that comes with a return to school. While a difficult transition at any time, a structured support group is especially valuable now.
- Acknowledge the need for back-to-school flexibility. During the weeks surrounding back to school, offer added flexibility for working parents. Ongoing, provide hybrid and remote options that allow parents to navigate responsibilities more easily like sick children, doctor appointments and gaps in childcare coverage.
- Remind employees of care benefits. Use a company newsletter or create a support section on an internal company portal to collect and share ways that employees can source and find care, back-up care, on-site care or online support for education (companies like Outschool and Adventure Academy are helping to make home learning manageable, even fun).
The COVID finish line may never appear, but one thing we do know is that there is no end to care disruptions. The majority of parents in the U.S. are employed and it is increasingly rare that there is a parent that is solely dedicated to caregiving. Employers can the assists we give our employees as they dig deep and go the distance.
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