Listen and Learn: How to Support the Mothers and Caregivers in Your Workforce Post-COVID

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Even before COVID-19, women were disproportionately shouldering caregiving responsibilities — and that situation has only worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey of 500 HR leaders conducted by Lattice, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they saw women take time off or reduce their hours to help with homeschooling and childcare. By comparison, only 60 percent of respondents said they saw men do the same.

Caregiving can impact a woman’s job and broader career when she doesn’t have the right supports in place. Business leaders have an important role in helping working women and other caregivers navigate these challenges. Here’s how.

Understand What Your Employees Are Dealing With

Caregiving can pose a broad range of challenges for employees, including:

• Caregiving expenses (including daycare and hospital visits)
• Lack of flexibility for employees to meet their caregiving responsibilities
• Significant stress and/or physical strain caused by caregiving responsibilities
• Employer bias against employees who have taken time out of the workforce to focus on caregiving
• Limited understanding from managers or coworkers

Yet company leaders aren’t necessarily aware of these struggles. Supporting workers starts at the top. It’s critical the organization’s leaders and managers take time to evaluate the needs of their people, including working mothers and other caregivers. Are they stressed or struggling? Do they need additional resources or the opportunity to make an adjustment?

Listen to Employee Feedback

The easiest way to find out what your workers need is to ask them. At most companies, this is most effectively done by conducting a companywide survey to get a sense of your team’s biggest challenges and opportunities. On a five-point scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” ask employees to respond to survey prompts like:

• Our company’s return-to-work policy gives me the flexibility to address personal needs.
• I’m not concerned about being able to support loved ones at home who need assistance.
• I’m not worried about contracting COVID-19 at work and giving it to loved ones.
• I believe our company will accommodate caregiving needs during this transition.

As you analyze employee responses, be sure to pay attention to how feedback breaks down along demographic lines. For example: Do women report feeling burned out and disengaged at higher rates? Have they left additional comments explaining why?

Understanding these trends at a companywide, department, and demographic level is the first step to providing the support that most matters to your employees.

Take Action

Once you understand the challenges your employees face, you can make a plan to help lighten their loads. As you do, be sure to pay attention to three things in particular:

1. Customize Your Benefits

Once considered a back-office function within HR, 2020 and 2021 have shown us that benefits are truly front and center in the employee experience. Moreover, benefits are an opportunity to provide support for both your caregiving employees and those they care for.

Some ways to tailor your benefits to better support caregivers include:

• Adjusting your dependent care coverage levels
• Improving parental leave (lengthening leave and providing the ability to temporarily work part-time when an employee returns)
• Providing virtual healthcare options
• Flexible hours and in-office requirements
• Ensuring that non-birthing caregivers (whether it is an adoptive parent or someone caring for an ailing parent) are also supported by leave policies

In addition to better supporting your current team, improved caregiving benefits can also be a strong differentiator in hiring.

2. Invest in Growth

In our survey mentioned earlier, 52 percent of HR professionals reported a decline in promotions since the pandemic began. While 68 percent of respondents said their companies have mentorship programs for women, most (83 percent) said relationships have been harder to sustain during COVID-19.

After a tumultuous year, employees want to know that their careers are still on track and that growth opportunities are equitable. Communicate transparently with employees about their career paths, your approach to compensation, and your promotion process. Provide training and tools for development discussions between managers and their reports. Think critically about how you set and convey expectations for advancement.

3. Build an Inclusive Culture

Are all of your social events 6 p.m. happy hours? Are there employee resource groups for women or caregivers? Do leaders (including fathers) take their full parental leave? How do people react when a child unexpectedly (and possibly noisily) walks into a live video conference? Are managers at all levels cognizant of the challenges that can come with caregiving?

There’s no single act that ensures an inclusive culture on its own. Instead, people teams and leadership teams need to make it a priority and consistently identify opportunities to make processes, protocols, and programs more inclusive.

Listening to your people has always been important — but it’s especially critical given the challenges of the last year and the transition to a hybrid world ahead. Listen not for a single voice representing all employees but for many voices, including mothers and other caregivers. Do they have questions or concerns? What is their perspective on the support they do or don’t receive?

Take the time to really listen to employees’ input, and use it to foster a workplace where everyone can grow and succeed.

Dave Carhart is the vice president of people at Lattice.

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By Dave Carhart