How to help working parents avoid burnout during lockdown

Managing a job and children at the same time is challenging. Here’s how employers can get the most out of PR parents without placing unnecessary pressure on them.

Balancing work with children is not always an easy task (Photos: Getty Images)
Balancing work with children is not always an easy task (Photos: Getty Images)

Juggling a job and family responsibilities during the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up a new set of challenges for many PR parents and employers.

It’s a problem that has been being experienced across the UK economy since lockdown began in March.

A recent poll by HR specialist magazine People Management found nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of employers were concerned about their staff’s ability to balance home working with parenting commitments.

Two PR professionals – Ben Brooks-Dutton and Corinna Field – recently shared their views on how they had been coping managing work with parenting.

PRWeek has compiled tips from three experts: Aaron & Partners employment associate solicitor Steve Davies; Parent and Professional co-founder Helen Letchfield; and Astute.Work managing director Sarah Waddington.

Don’t expect them to work ‘core hours’

Helen Letchfield: Where possible, now is not a time for attempting to enforce fixed working patterns or asking parents to adhere to core hours. Instead, the focus must shift to judging people on their output and the quality of the work they’re producing, instead of when and how long they took to produce it. If people aren’t able to work the same hours every day or as many hours as they used to, the main thing is that they are working productively to provide a valuable contribution.

Steve Davies: Allow your employee to work outside the traditional hours of 9am to 5pm by starting earlier, working later, or perhaps even working at weekends – although remember that your employee will also need to make time to rest and recuperate. Discuss with the employee what output is expected of them and how this will be monitored, but explain that, as long as business needs are met, you are happy for the employee to work around any needs they have.

Give them the benefit of doubt

Letchfield: Being allowed to work flexibly from home brings out the best or worst in people. Employees who were already motivated, hardworking and committed before the outbreak will continue to be so, while those who had a bad relationship with their manager, were disengaged and thinking about leaving are likely to feel even less motivated. Encourage managers to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust them to work productively unless there are genuine reasons to doubt them.

Keep up regular communications

Davies: Stay in regular contact with your employee. For example, regularly pick up the phone, send an email or perhaps invite them to join a WhatsApp-type messaging group. Be there for your employee to answer any queries or concerns they have. Have regular catch-up meetings with your employee, which may include team meetings by way of videoconference software such as Skype or Zoom. In this way you can invite a number of staff like any regular team meeting. It provides a perfect opportunity to ask your employees questions.

Retain focus on diversity initiatives

Letchfield: With women typically doing the majority of domestic chores and being 10 times more likely than men to miss work to look after a sick child, there is a very real risk of them burning themselves out or quitting work and slipping back into ‘traditional’ gender roles. Employers that don’t want to lose valuable female talent must be aware of this risk and ensure women feel supported at this time – not least by encouraging them to ask for more support at home where possible.

Encourage managers to show empathy

Letchfield: Managers who don’t have children are unlikely to be able to fully comprehend the pressures working parents are under at the moment. Some of those managers might assume they are slacking off if they can no longer pick up emails in the middle of the day or can’t make a call in the late afternoon because they’ve shifted their working day to start earlier. Both sides will find this difficult if not used to talking about stress and feelings. Managers need to communicate to understand the issues and be supported to develop empathy and listening skills.

Davies: While you will want to keep an eye on whether targets are being met, it is important to understand there will likely be a downturn of work in most sectors of the economy and that it will take many employees time to adjust to new and temporary working arrangements.

Allow working parents to lead by example

Letchfield: Many parents who have had to work flexibly or from home in the past will have already acquired the time-management and communication skills needed to get more done in less time and influence and collaborate with others over videoconferencing software. These are skills that many of their office-based colleagues may only just be exploring for the first time. Far from having a less important role to play as a result of having to work more flexibly, parents now have a valuable role in helping colleagues adjust and adapt to this strange new normal.

A version of this article first appeared in PRWeek sister title People Management.

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