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School Reopening Delayed: 5 Ways To Support Working Parents

Published on August 26, 2020

It’s a tough and confusing time for everyone right now, especially working parents. When the B.C. Ministry of Education announced a full return to school for all K-12 students, parents and teachers alike responded with a wave of concern. A recent survey showed 49 percent of parents across the province are not comfortable sending their children back to school. B.C. parents have also launched a petition with over 32,000 signatures demanding that the Provincial Government make returning to school optional or voluntary.

Furthermore, a BC Teacher’s Federation survey revealed that last June, only 51 percent of teachers reported that there were proper health and safety measures in place while only 54 percent of teachers felt safe in school. Even with the official back-to-school date pushed back to September 10, there is still much confusion surrounding what K-12 education is going to look like in 2020.

So, what can leaders like you do to support the working parents within your organization?

1. Co-create solutions and include flexible work arrangements

Talk directly to your working parents to understand what they need and how best to support them. As there isn’t a perfect one-size-fits-all solution, listen to your employees and co-create solutions that will give your working parents the right type of support they need. Focus on providing your employees the flexibility to work optimally – this could take the form of a compressed work week, shifting start times, job sharing, or even blocking off certain hours or days to be meeting free. Some companies like Victoria-based tech firm Metalab provide unlimited vacation so their staff can easily book short periods of time off to handle unexpected situations like a child falling ill as well as to support a healthy work/life balance. Check out our remote work report for some best practices on how to best support your employees as many of us continue to work from home for the foreseeable future.

2. Ensure your employees can actually use your flexible work policies

Studies have shown that there can be a significant gap between generous flexible work and vacation policies on paper and actual usage rates. This is usually because of the “unwritten rules” or company culture – employees can feel guilty about “taking too many days off” or even see more direct consequences such as poor performance reviews. Instead, actively promote a work culture in which your employees feel comfortable and safe utilizing company policies without fear of discrimination or retaliation. Make time off requests reason-neutral, encourage staff to prioritize their individual and family’s health, and ensure everyone has access to the same degree of flexibility regardless of age, gender, family, or employment status (ex. contract employees versus salaried employees).

3. Help employees access care

Access to all forms of healthcare, including mental health services, is more important than ever. International SOS identified mental health as the fourth biggest impact on businesses in the coming year and Mental Health Commission of Canada reported that mental health problems and illnesses cost Canadian employers more than $6 billion each year. Review and update your healthcare policies and benefit plans to best support all aspects of your employees’ health. Making adjustments such as creating healthcare spending accounts and allowing those funds to be use as needed can give employees the freedom to customize their own health and wellness plans. Even more importantly, make sure employees know what supports and services are available and how to access them.

4. Provide regular health and safety updates

Take on the responsibility of providing your staff with regular updates on any pertinent and reliable health and safety information. For example, the HR team at local online grocer SPUD hosts a COVID-19 focused meeting every morning, seven days a week, to filter through the latest official health updates and recommendations and deliver a tailored information packet to best fit the different functions and cultures of their 15 worksites.

5. Reduce financial burdens should employees or their family members fall ill with COVID-19

Implementing measures to help reduce potential COVID19-related financial burdens is critical. Supporting measures such as paid sick leave, employment protection, or subsidies for health expenditures can help all employees, especially those who are primary caregivers.

Resilient people create resilient organizations. Now, more than ever, supporting your employees is an integral element of achieving and sustaining high-performance as your people are the ones who generate innovation, forge connection, grant loyalty, and hustle to get things done even during these difficult times. Communicate regularly, co-create flexible solutions to provide needed support, and most importantly, treat them as people first and employees second.


John Kay
Client Solutions in Strategy, Governance, Leadership and Finance

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