How HR can manage the work and childcare juggling act

More than a quarter of workers find managing the work and childcare juggling act the leading cause of stress during the coronavirus pandemic.

This was the findings in a recent study by Cartridge People. And that’s without the added burden of having to home-school, when many parents won’t have any experience of this.

While it may not be a struggle we always face, it’s something that HR and business leaders need to manage effectively right now. That’s not to say they aren’t thinking about it - People Management conducted a survey which polled more than 300 employers and found that 65% of organisations were concerned about staff’s ability to balance home working with parenting commitments.

With this in mind, what steps can HR take to make sure that they are looking after their people’s wellbeing, while balancing the business expectations?


Identifying the Issue

To an extent this will certainly fall to managers, but HR needs to ensure that they are enabling managers to identify the issue and also putting the measures in place for employees to feel able to communicate around the challenge.

Enabling Open Conversations

Line managers, business leaders and HR all need to be having open conversations with employees. Without gaining a complete understanding of the situation, and the impact it is truly having, it’s hard to make changes to the working environment to support your people.

Keeping an Eye Out for Signs

Organisations that use video calling will no doubt be used to chatting to their colleagues’ children by now – and most have welcomed it and have hopefully made it clear that this is okay. It’s unusual circumstances so it’s great to let your people know that they don’t need to hide it, and children are welcome if necessary.

However, there are some key signs that you should keep a look out for which can help identify if someone is struggling. These could include:

  • An unsettled call – possibly a lot of background noise where your colleague may be unable to focus, or lots of unwelcomed disruptions
  • Being regularly tired, irritable or a low or unsettled mood
  • Trepidation about new tasks or projects
  • Missing deadlines or not delivering work to the usual standard
  • Lots of late-night emails and communications from a colleague – unless working hours have been amended to support


Putting Appropriate Measures in Place

More often than not you’ll find that parents who get to spend a couple of quality hours a day with their children get the peace and quiet they need to get on with their work during other hours. So being flexible is important.

Be proactive and flexible

Managers and HR need to be proactive with solutions and flexible with what’s happening around them.

Firstly, if you recognise some signs, be conscious that people may not want to ask for help, so being proactive is important. Don’t wait for your people to come to you asking for help – if you think they need it, offer it.

Secondly, if you speak to someone and it sounds like a busy or stressful time, postpone the call until a little later or offer alternative solutions. Flexibility can make people feel at ease and much more comfortable to have open conversations about the situation.


Amendments to Working Hours

There are a couple of options here to support your people and many employers have been very proactive with flexible working hours.

One option is to either reduce their working hours to fit their current situation, or perhaps split them out. Maybe it suits them to work in an evening, instead of the afternoon, or earlier in the day instead of 9-11. It’s important to try to identify with them what times are the biggest struggle and try to adapt their working day to suit – should the organisational structure allow.

One caveat here to be sure to remember your duty of care. If an employee is working late into the night and starting early, they’re inevitably going to burn themselves out. HR need to be considerate of this and realistic when amending any working hours – your people need downtime away from work and children and it’s important that they get this to be on top form.

Reducing Failure Demand

Failure demand is a huge time stealer – it’s the work that someone has to do because something wasn’t done right earlier on, or the correct system wasn’t in place to prevent the work.

Take a look at our earlier webinar on how to reduce failure demand, which might help.

Re-focusing workloads

Another alternative is to refocus workloads to ensure that people are only spending their time on the most important tasks. It’s easy to get bogged down with other things or get caught doing tasks that don’t carry the urgency of others.

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle could come in handy here, or even a simple workload and priorities review with managers. It’s also a good idea for HR to make sure managers are on board, so that other tasks aren’t sent over that could interrupt their focus.

Regular paid, or unpaid leave

One option is for some of your people to drop down to three or four days a week – whether that be via a temporary contract amendment or the use of leave.


Then, of course, there’s the option of furloughing some colleagues who are unable to complete their work due to home responsibilities. We recently undertook a webinar with Zoe Wilson from ReThink HR, who advised that you need to be careful furloughing staff because of childcare if they feel they are able to do their working day, but it is a legitimate reason if they cannot. Find out more about the grey areas around furloughing with our download.

Reviewing the Situation Regularly

Whichever solution, or solutions, are right for your organisation and its people, HR needs to review this regularly. If you go down the furlough route, this is for a minimum of three weeks, but reviewing the situation and the differences changes have made is very important to find a system that works well for you and your people.

Everyone will react differently, and need different solutions, so consider this and remember it’s not a one size fits all. HR leaders need to make sure that their organisation is being as flexible, proactive and considerate as possible during these difficult times.

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