Strategies to Help Working Parents Amid COVID-19

keels_strategies_to_help_working_parents_amid_covid_19 November 24, 2020 By: Valerie Keels

The pandemic upended schooling and childcare, meaning parents are working overtime caring for children while also handling their full-time jobs. Associations can employ several strategies to help provide much needed support to their employees with children.

One of the most pressing byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the challenges created for working parents with younger and school-aged children. Organizations employing parents of pre- and school-aged children must provide support to help them navigate their options over the next few months and beyond.

A recent HR Roundtable on working parents noted some important data. Approximately 75 percent of working parents have children staying at home, and almost half are now working remotely. Sixty percent of parents will need to change their current childcare within the next year—and many are single mothers. There should be strong messaging from organizational leadership indicating that they understand there is a problem and employees’ needs are being considered.

Beyond referring frazzled parents to your organization’s Employee Assistance Program, work with your HR team to develop appropriate training and support options to meet the needs of staff.

According to the grassroots organization Mindful Return, which is dedicated to supporting parents in the workforce, the following are a few areas for forward-thinking organizations to consider when planning for their workforce re-entry activities and beyond.

FMLA Leave and Mental Health Support

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions currently run through December 31, 2020, and say covered employers must provide

  • two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular pay rate where the employee is unable to work because they are quarantined and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • two weeks of paid sick leave at two-thirds regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work in order to care for an individual subject to quarantine, or to care for a child under 18 whose school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19;
  • up to an additional 10 weeks family medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

HR departments need to emphasize that these leaves are in effect, and it is OK for working parents to take them. Beyond referring frazzled parents to your organization’s Employee Assistance Program, work with your HR team to develop appropriate training and support options to meet the needs of staff.

Support Parents With Schooling Concerns

Many public schools are offering both virtual-only and hybrid learning options. With the changing needs of students, as well as safety concerns, some association staff have had a difficult time finding the right learning solution for their children. In addition to public school options some are considering: homeschooling (Podcast-Psychologist Julie Bogart is an expert in the homeschooling space), remote learning coupled with tutoring, and pandemic pods.

A pandemic pod is a group of like-minded parents who coordinate the education of their children in a shared environment and agree on the terms and conditions of the learning pods. Emily Oster, a professor at Brown University, has assembled a set of pod considerations and risks.

Time Management and Productivity Support

Offer practical suggestions for stress management by encouraging staff to establish healthy boundaries and employ effective time-management strategies. A few tools include:

Advance planning. Calendar two to three weeks ahead on how your days will be managed and set a schedule. Include automated reminders throughout the day.

Boundaries. Staff should be open about applying work and home boundaries.

Acknowledgment. Employers need to understand that children under a certain age cannot be left alone and require more attention from employees.

Separation rituals. Provide younger children with mental separation triggers Find ways to signal to children that you are working (i.e., notes or colors on the door; creating a “quiet space;” respecting closed doors or home office space, etc.)

Time management. Try these three methods:

  • The Pomodoro Method suggests people work on one project with email and social media off for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. If your mind wanders to another task, simply write it down and go back to the task at hand.
  • Another method is to start each day with your most important task. Write it down the night before. Do the most important task first. A series of three Pomodoros is ideal, followed by a larger break.
  • The Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritize says to once a week write down everything you need to do and then sort it by the matrix, which includes a scale from urgent/important—do to not urgent/not important—eliminate.

Every employee is going to have different decisions to make in navigating their parental responsibilities. What is right for one parent may not be the same for someone else. Organizations must determine how to best approach supporting their staff and their families in the ways most appropriate for their needs and that of the organization.


Valerie Keels

Valerie Keels, SPHR, is head of office services at GAVI Alliance in Washington, DC, and a member of ASAE’s Finance and Business Operations Professionals Advisory Council.