With parents and carers once again forced to juggle homeschool and work, it's key that firms and organisations understand the issues faced by their employees and for those struggling to know they're not alone. Our Head of Careers & Outreach, Heather McKendrick, shares what we learned from the first lockdown.
I last wrote a blog about the challenges of balancing working and caring responsibilities back in early summer and many members got in touch to say they were experiencing the same issues and concerns. I couldn’t have imagined then that I would be writing about this issue again in January or, indeed, that autumn 2020 would now start to look like a golden age. But yet here we are.
At the moment, it looks like there will be four weeks of combining work and full-time childcare / home schooling and I’m sure many people are hopeful that we will start to see some normality again after that, but it’s still a bit uncertain.
With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some of the concerns and points made by solicitors when we ran sessions focusing on balancing caring and working back in the summer. Hopefully, sharing some of these worries and challenges means we can help to open the lines of communication between employees and their managers, and also people can realise they are not alone.
When homeworking, it can be easy to think that you are the only person wrestling with these demands – I hope it helps to know there are many of us in similar situations.
This is what our members told us:
The guilt is real
Many of the participants expressed deep guilt and worry about getting the balance wrong – feeing that they were failing at work and failing at childcare / home schooling. Nobody wants to feel that they aren’t giving their all to what they are doing, but when there are two competing demands, this isn’t possible. Even when employers have been very supportive, the guilt remains.
Plans break down
Many people told us they had designed schedules, timetables and plans to work at night / start early / do shifts with a partner. That did seem to work for a minority of people, but most said that they hadn’t factored in being exhausted, client expectations (being available 9am-5pm) and children interrupting them during the day, along with it not being possible to home school children in the evening. The overall feeling seemed to be that schedules went out of the window and, when you were doing childcare, you felt like you should be working, and vice versa.
This doesn’t just affect parents/carers
There was a recognition that, for every person reducing hours to focus on caring responsibilities, there was a colleague having to do more hours to help balance it out. This, along with people being furloughed, meant significant pressure on employees and back to that general feeling of guilt once again.
Men are parents too
Stating the obvious here, but statistics and anecdotal feedback support the fact it is woman who are more likely to reduce their hours and take the bulk of the childcare responsibilities (although obviously there are exceptions to that). While in the minority, there were males present at the sessions that we ran and the feeling was that males find it more difficult to ask for flexibility and are often fighting against real or perceived conceptions of the family set up.
Role models are vital
Many people said that firms and organisations had flexible policies in place, but there was a gap between the policy and practice. It was felt that having role models in senior positions ‘walking the walk’ would send a strong message to all employees and make a real change within the firm or organisation. If this can include male role models, that’s even better.
Time recording adds an extra layer of pressure
This is the nature of the work and people acknowledge this, but it was a significant source of pressure for many. Seeing in black and white what you have done and not done, removed from the context in which you are working, led to concerns around redundancy, promotion prospects, pay and confidence levels. There was also a concern that, for the reasons outlined above, this will widen the gender pay gap.
Meeting members at these sessions highlighted that, while there were common themes, everyone had different situations and challenges to deal with. No one solution will suit everyone – and in many cases there isn’t really a solution.
We would encourage firms and organisations to speak candidly with employees to try to find an individualistic approach and discuss people’s concerns. This is an extraordinary situation, but at some point it will pass and we want to ensure people are supported during this challenging time.
For additional support
- Lawscot Wellbeing has lots of information, modules, events and signposts to further help.
- Lawscot mentoring is a free programme open to member at all stages, if people are looking to speak openly to someone outwith their firm / organisation.
- LawCare has a wellbeing and workplace hub, along with a free helpline.