How to Support Working Parents During COVID-19

August 18, 2020
 

With many schools starting virtually in the fall, daycare centers closed and after-school and summer activities canceled, many working parents are facing a challenge they’ve never faced before: balancing a full-time job with child care, homeschooling and housework all at the same time. In fact, a recent survey showed that one in five working parents say that either they or their partner are considering leaving their job to take care of the kids during COVID-19.
 

To help employees with children navigate and adjust to these new and unprecedented demands, consider offering resources, perks and flexibility to accommodate and retain them — especially since working parents make up about 41% of the workforce between the ages of 20 and 54. Supporting working parents during the pandemic (and beyond) can boost productivity, improve loyalty and morale and foster a more inclusive, family-friendly company culture.
 

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In this guide, you’ll find ways to support working parents, their children and their families during COVID-19, including:
 

 

Offer child care assistance, resources and programs

Despite 72.3% of mothers and 93.4% of fathers participating in the U.S. workforce, less than half (42%) of businesses that have already brought their employees back to work report having a dedicated plan to support working parents.
 

Stand out by offering child care programs that help the working parents at your company better meet their child care and work obligations. Here are some options to consider of various costs and levels of effort:
 

Access to backup child care services

With child care options fluctuating across the US, many parents are constantly having to reassess their child care plans. To help parents find and pay for child care, consider paying for employee memberships to backup child care services or referral systems. (You may even be eligible for a tax credit for offering this type of benefit.)
 

For example, more than 850 companies provide employees with backup care through Bright Horizons, a platform that places children in nearby daycare centers or brings in available in-home care at discounted rates. The program also gives employees $100 per day to pay a friend or relative to watch their kids as a last resort, up to a certain number of days. Similarly, Workday offers its employees a membership to backup care provider Care.com — and recently expanded the number of available days of care per year from 10 to 15 during COVID-19.
 

There are also other forms of emergency and backup child care you may want to chip in for, such as virtual babysitting and online tutoring.
 

Dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs)

A dependent care flexible spending account (FSA) is a program that employers can sponsor to help their employees save on child care bills. Up to $5,000 can get pulled out of your employees’ paychecks pre-tax to use for child care expenses each year. Employers can also choose to contribute to employees’ dependent care FSAs up to the yearly limit.
 

Check with your benefits provider for more information on sponsoring dependent care FSAs.
 

Programs for new parents

Navigating pregnancy and new parenthood can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Caring for a newborn under social distancing rules can add a whole new level of stress. Grandparents can’t come over to help out, for example, and friends and family may only be able to visit over Zoom.
 

Consider offering a benefit specifically for new parents to help them adjust to life with a newborn, transition to new schedules and balance work and family life during the pandemic. Maven, for example, provides virtual maternity, postpartum and return-to-work support to employees and their partners (e.g., lactation consultants, mental health support, back to work coaches).
 

Pinterest also recently expanded access to its new parent program during COVID-19. Previously, the benefit was available only to parents with children 18 months and younger. Now, parents with children five years and under can access the platform.
 

Stipends for child care expenses

More than half (52%) of families say they will lose money or income by having one parent stay home to care for their children during the crisis. Consider reducing some of the financial strain many parents are facing by offering subsidies to cover child care related expenses.
 

These subsidies can help pay for meals, internet, books, toys, tablets, distance-learning materials and other supplies so children are supervised and learning. Workday, for example, offered its employees a one-time bonus (equivalent to two-weeks pay) to help pay for child care expenses and any other unforeseen costs. Wells Fargo is offering $100 per day to help employees with children 13 years and younger who are unable to work remotely pay for child care through their own personal networks.
 

Encourage working parents to take time off

Make sure working parents are aware of the time off options available — and consider expanding your paid leave policies, especially during COVID-19. When working parents take time off, it can improve their mood, motivation and productivity and help prevent them from leaving your company due to child care obligations.
 

Make employees aware of FFCRA. Depending on the size of your company, some working parents may consider taking advantage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires some employers to grant extended leave in cases where an employee must care for a loved one, such as a child, due to school closures or lack of child care options. Some of your employees might be eligible for 2/3 of their pay for up to 10 weeks.
 

Comply with state and local paid leave laws during the pandemic. Several states, including Arizona, Michigan and New Jersey have laws that allow workers to use accrued sick leave to take care of their children if schools are closed for public health reasons.
 

Try combining all forms of paid time off into a single plan. Instead of offering a specific amount of paid time off for categories like vacation, sick days and personal days, consider offering a total lump sum of PTO so employees can take time off as they need it, regardless of the reason.
 

Consider offering longer-term leave options. This can be a good temporary option to help employees with children take care of family responsibilities, especially for working parents in jobs that can’t be performed from home. For example, Intuit is offering 20 days of family support time that employees can use in small chunks, like an afternoon off for homeschooling.
 
Related: Parental Leave Policies: Do’s and Don’ts for Your Business
 

Consider rethinking the typical 9-to-5

For many working parents, work flexibility isn’t just a perk — it’s a necessity.
 

One employer said: “We grant a flexible work from home policy for everybody instead of teams coming back and forth. The office is open to our employees if they want to come in anytime/day they want, but it’s at a limited capacity. We have a lot of working parents too so we understand that they might not have daycares or schools to be able to leave their children while they’re at work.”
 

Here are some other things you can do to give employees the freedom they need to balance work and child care:
 

Ask employees what types of schedules would work best for them. Each parent’s situation is different. Some employees may need to start their workdays later than usual, while others may need to block off time in the middle of the day to take over from their partner’s morning child care shift or to help their third grader with homework.
 

Consider allowing make-your-own schedules. While this may not be a possibility for every business, giving employees the space to choose their own schedule can help them work around their children’s needs. For example, graphic design software company Canva follows a “whatever works for you, works for us” mentality.
 

Offer flexibility even if work from home isn’t possible. The CDC recommends that businesses allow their employees to work remotely as much as possible. However, if your workers can’t simply log into Slack or Zoom to do their jobs from home, there are still ways to offer them flexibility. Here are some ideas for flex schedules and alternate work arrangements — especially if WFH is not an option:
 

  • Four-day work week
  • Extra day off
  • Part-time work options
  • Shorter days
  • Staggered starting/finishing times
  • Split shifts
  • Job sharing

Try offering unpaid/reduced pay flex options employees can opt-in to. For example, you might offer employees a reduced schedule for reduced pay (e.g., 80% schedule for 80% pay for a certain number of days) or a period of unpaid leave for 30, 60 or 90 days with the ability to return to the same or similar job.
 

Modify performance expectations

Parents are putting in an extra 27 hours per week on household chores, child care and their children’s education during the pandemic. All of these extra responsibilities can impact productivity at work, causing many parents to worry about their performance reviews, bonuses and future promotions. In fact, around 44% of working parents feel that their work performance has decreased as a result of having to juggle work and child care.
 

Since many working parents may be unable to hit the same goals they did pre-COVID-19, consider temporarily relaxing deadlines, quotas and metrics to account for the new challenges parents are facing, making sure to factor caregiver status into performance reviews. PwC, for example, lets parents who are returning from parental leave skip the annual review. At Facebook, each employee will get an “exceeds” rating for their first six-month review of 2020, allowing them to receive their full bonus.
 

Build community among parents at your company

Parenting during a pandemic can be an isolating experience without the village of family, friends, neighbors and local support groups they previously leaned on for support and guidance. Here are some ideas to help the working parents at your company connect with others facing similar challenges:
 

Provide digital spaces for parents to chat. Indeed has a Slack channel (#wfh-parents) where parents share educational resources, snapshots of their work from home life, ideas for kid’s activities that don’t interfere with work focus and offer support and advice for one another.
 

Start a formal parent support group. Employee resource groups (ERGs) can help parents connect and learn from each other. For example, Freddie Mac has a Working Parents ERG that offers encouragement, guidance and support for those who are returning from parental leave, raising children or caring for family members or loved ones.
 

Host kid-friendly virtual events. Create opportunities for parents to include their children in work-sponsored virtual events and activities. For example, at Lenovo, virtual events have included a funny hat week, a spirit week and pet parades. ShipStation hosts activities for its employees’ children to keep them entertained, including magic shows and virtual lunches with characters like Elsa from the movie Frozen.
 

Take care of parent mental health

With working parents being pulled in so many different directions (and self-care and sleep often last on their to-do list), it’s no surprise that mental health is taking a big hit. In fact, 27% of parents report worsening mental health for themselves, with even larger declines in mental well-being reported by working moms, single parents and those with younger children.
 

Here are some ideas to help support the mental health of working parents at your company:
 

  • Offer a virtual therapy benefit or free access to a mindfulness app
  • Promote your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Send a survey to find out what kind of support working parents need
  • Encourage leaders to open up about their own struggles and emotions
  • Simply ask “Are you okay? How are your kids?”

Read more: Supporting Employee Mental Health During COVID-19
 


As parents attempt to balance their careers with childcare responsibilities, employers are in a unique position to help ease the burden. Supporting the working parents at your company starts with understanding and compassion — from offering unprecedented flexibility and adjusting productivity goals to saying “hi” to kids and pets that appear on video calls to providing child care assistance, mental health resources and a way for moms and dads to connect during COVID-19.

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