Andrew Laing, a senior solicitor in Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), is a member of the Law Society Wellbeing Steering Group and the Health and Wellbeing Champion for COPFS. In this article, Andrew shares some ideas about how employers can continue to offer support to parents who are juggling work and home-schooling during the pandemic.  

At our recent Lawscot Wellbeing Steering Group meeting, we discussed the ongoing challenges that carers are facing, particularly those juggling home-schooling with working from home once again.

Legal mental health charity LawCare has reported that it has seen a recent trend in the number of helpline calls relating to this issue, usually from people who are struggling to cope with the balancing act and who don’t feel supported by their employer.

While parents have faced this challenge before, that does not mean employers should assume the challenges this time have reduced or have somehow been overcome because of experience. While we hope schools will open soon, it’s not too late to be reaching out to parents as a manager or a leader to find out how you can minimise stress.

The Lawscot Wellbeing Steering Group has shared some of the initiatives and policies implemented across their workplaces to inspire others to think about additional ways they can support parents. Some solutions may work better than others in your workplace, but looking at a range of possibilities is a good place to start.

Taking a person-centred approach

Rather than implementing initiatives across the board, the clear message is that discussing each person’s requirements and situation with them individually is much more effective. People feel recognised if they are asked directly how they’re getting on and are part of the discussion about what might help their personal circumstances. Feeling acknowledged and understood by a line manager is one of the main ways parents have fed back that they feel supported, which couldn’t be easier to achieve.

Consider how you can measure performance differently

There are a few different approaches to take here and you can consider what might work for your teams:

  • Some organisations have extended core hours or even dropped them completely, allowing people to work flexibly whenever they can.
  • Identifying priority areas of work within the general workload will help key projects get delivered, while anticipating what will need to get dropped, postponed or covered by someone else.
  • You could offer a temporary reduction in hours, which can revert when it suits the employee and the workplace.
Offer additional leave

Some workplaces are offering additional holidays, perhaps adding a set number in the year or ‘topping up’, for example adding one extra day for every four days of leave taken. Other workplaces are offering additional unpaid leave, with others offering paid carer days on top of the annual leave allocation.

Help people protect their productive working hours

Assessing whether someone really needs to attend particular meetings can really help to take pressure off. Often diaries can be filled up in working hours, which means there is no time left to complete the work itself. Another great tip is to make sure any training, development or important meetings and communications are recorded, so people can catch up when it’s a better time for them, rather than missing out.

Set up a parent ‘group’ where people can share thoughts and ideas

Digital networks are working particularly well at this time, whether it’s a forum on an intranet site, an email chain or a whatsapp group. Connecting parents together allows people to share home schooling tips and resources, as well as having somewhere to speak about the highs and lows they’re experiencing.

A loud and ongoing ‘no guilt’ message needs to come from leadership

One of the most powerful things leaders can say at the moment is ‘I know you are trying your best, which is enough.’

During the pandemic it’s unrealistic to think that anyone, regardless of whether they’re a parent or not, will be working to their usual capacity. The likelihood is that staff are feeling guilty about what they’re able to achieve and deliver, plus parents are probably feeling guilty that they’re not delivering a good enough level of home-schooling either. So it’s important that we all hear positive messages again and again, which show us that our efforts are recognised and managers know we are doing our best.

The health and wellbeing of staff is the paramount consideration for COPFS, which has more than 500 legal staff and over 1,400 support staff. COPFS has designed its wellbeing strategy based upon feedback from staff, conducts regular pulse surveys with staff, has a corporate and local health and wellbeing committees and hosts a “Wellbeing Space” for staff on its intranet.

Parents in the pandemic

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.