The past months have been hard. While that might be the understatement of the century, it’s important to acknowledge how hard it’s been, and how businesses and families have made sacrifices to get through this extraordinary moment in time. Statistics point to the way the pandemic has impacted women in particular, even before factoring in the family element. We face a reality that has been present for a long time but is now magnified significantly; without effective options for their children, whether that’s childcare or school, some people cannot get back to work.
We as businesspeople need to lead through this turbulent time. We all need to make a concerted effort to show patience, understanding and support for our staff this fall. Working parents face many COVID-19 challenges, and we know that working moms often bear a compounded burden.
There is no pandemic playbook. We have no manual that tells us the steps to follow, not unlike parenting. While every level of government is doing their best, the uncertainty, angst and ever-evolving effects of COVID-19 make it impossible to plan effectively. Childcare must be a top priority. A lack of safe, affordable, appropriately staffed childcare and schooling options serves the one-two punch of being incredibly stressful on families and also adversely affecting our economy. An extra blow to our economy could be the knock-out punch. It is therefore up to us to support our people differently, possibly even better, than we have before.
My own perspective on working parents was shaped by taking six months of parental leave when our eldest son was born. My wife’s career was taking off at the time. We reversed the roles with subsequent children. The right balancing act is unique to every family, which means employers that can show flexibility will be the employers of choice.
Businesses have been challenged to pivot, to use the buzzword, during this global health crisis. This includes thinking more deeply about how much childcare and families matter to businesses. If we don’t actively protect our employees’ families short-term, we’ll not have them long-term. Kicking antiquated habits will eventually generate gains across the board.
We have learned much about how to do this through the pandemic. First things first, you’ve got to let your people know you trust them. Be as flexible as you can as an employer — obviously different business models have different requirements. Allow for remote-work or flexible hours where possible. In my case, my company is an essential services business, where the bulk of the work can only be done hands-on in an industrial setting. Even so, we try hard to adjust shift schedules to accommodate the childcare needs of working parents – both moms and dads. This can be an opportunity to try a new way of working with your people, which leads to further growth personally and in our businesses.
Establishing and implementing new ways of operating can be tough to manage, especially when sales are down and operational requirements are changing. Consider the grit and hard, smart work that has brought us to this point; we need to keep that going for a while. At the end of the day it is in your interest to take care of your people as best you can. It’s the right thing to do.