As any working parent will testify, lockdowns are difficult. Juggling a job and parenthood is hard at the best of times, but when the two things are both happening at home, it becomes slightly more complicated.
For employees at a Sydney council, working from home was made even more difficult when they were made to sign declarations that they weren’t supervising their children while working.
Workers at Bayside Council received an email during the initial stage of Sydney’s citywide lockdown, declaring that “working from home and supervising home learning is not permitted”. The email said parents should make other arrangements for their children’s supervision or take annual or long-service leave.
Bayside Council’s actions raised important questions around entitlements for working parents during lockdowns. It is worth knowing, then, that under the Fair Work Act, employers can’t take an adverse action against employees because of family or caring responsibilities. Employees also can’t be discriminated against for having carer’s responsibilities under state anti-discrimination laws.
Realistically, working parents in the midst of a lockdown are going to have to juggle parenthood and employment. How can employers assist? How can you support your employees working from home with children while also helping them remain productive?
Offer support and understanding
A simple acknowledgement of the situation can mean a lot to a parent who is struggling to balance their job and their children. Empathise and offer a listening ear, assuring your employee that you understand the difficulties associated with working from home with kids.
Accept flexible schedules and interruptions
It’s unrealistic to expect working parents to clock in at 9am and clock off at 5pm. Their working day will most likely be fragmented. If, as an employer, you are able to offer employees the opportunity to work to a personalised schedule, it will be greatly appreciated.
Employers also need to understand that children will interrupt work calls, Zoom conferences and virtual meetings. Be tolerant and accepting of interruptions.
Lower expectations and amend productivity targets
It’s important to understand that some employees simply will not be able to meet KPIs while working from home with children. If you can amend productivity targets on a temporary basis, your employees will be extremely grateful (and keen to increase productivity when back to a normal working schedule).
Keep teamwork alive
Foster teamwork and a sense of community, even when staff are not physically able to come to work. Encourage employees to use Zoom chats and instant messaging platforms to stay in touch, check in on each other’s wellbeing and keep up a spirit of camaraderie. Working from home – with or without children – can be very lonely, so encourage a sense of community.