Most parents will have worked from home with their kids occasionally, during a sick day or because of weather-related school closures. But with most workers quarantined during the coronavirus outbreak, people are facing the daunting prospect of working from home with their children for the foreseeable future.
Families are facing new challenges to work-life balance under the current circumstances, which involves juggling work and trying to keep their kids busy and happy without losing their minds. It is stressful and exhausting, to say the least - and it is pushing many parents to the brink.
The COVID-19 crisis has put an extraordinary demand on couples and single parents forced to work at home alongside their children. It’s important that they are treated fairly and allowed to work flexibly by their employers.
But it’s also essential for employers to support all staff in other family types, including those without kids.
People are facing other pressures
Non-parents may not have the struggle of trying to educate and entertain their children at home while working, but they may still have other concerns too. In some way or another, everyone has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. People are worried about vulnerable loved ones - and some will be trying to care for a high-risk relative or elderly parent instead of a child.
Millions of people have lost their jobs and businesses are facing huge economic uncertainties. Those working in the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries - as well as the self-employed - are facing the difficult reality of unpaid leave, redundancy and huge pay cuts, leaving many struggling to pay their rent or put food on the table.
A worker may not have a child to look after, but they may be under extra pressure to keep earning if a partner has lost a job. In addition, workers with existing mental health problems such as anxiety or depression may be struggling too.
Being quarantined at home isn’t easy for anyone, but for single people or those living alone, it can be even harder. Loneliness and isolation can seriously take its toll on people and although we’re connected by phone and online, it’s no substitute for actual physical company. As an employer, being understanding of all these pressures and worries is essential.
Non-parents may not have ‘spare’ time to give
Under these challenging circumstances, there are going to be times when people have to share workloads and parents may have to delegate tasks to others. However, it’s important not to assume that all non-parents have extra time to give.
One of the key issues is stigma levelled at women without children, who are often unfairly assumed to have chosen an ‘easier’ life free of responsibility. The assumption is that people who are quarantined alone are free to take up new hobbies with their newly found time, but this isn’t always the case.
To find out how this stigma impacts workers, researchers at the London School of Economics surveyed managers and professionals without children.
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“Individuals who lived alone without children felt that their organisations and colleagues assumed they could work longer hours, as they did not have as many demands on their time outside of work as parents do,” the researchers concluded. “On the contrary, they spoke of specific types of time demand – often as a result of their solo‐living status. These included having sole responsibility for the household.”
Although many employers are beginning to embrace the idea of a work-life balance, family-friendly policies risk excluding people without children. Recent research from York University’s School of Human Resources Management found that employees without children may miss out when it comes to work-life balance policies. The study, led by Galina Boiarintseva, found that workers without kids often feel less welcome to attend to non-work aspects of their lives than co-workers who are parents.
“Despite the increasing diversity in family structure and personal responsibilities of employees, most organisations' work-life balance policies cater to the needs of employees with children, while inadvertently paying less attention to the work-life balance needs of those without,” she wrote.
It should go without saying that parents are facing a tough time at the moment. But if employers want a happy, healthy and engaged workforce during the current crisis, it’s essential for them to stay attuned to the needs of all their employees.