Employers Get Creative Supporting Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 29, 2020

​Samantha Cesare, an accounting associate at NEST, leads the children of colleagues in "Story Time with Sam" during an after-school enrichment program the company initiated in September.

Photo courtesy of NEST.

Associate Account Manager Keith DuBarry teaches a virtual piano class to children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Administrative Assistant Jessica Green is introducing cursive writing to students in grades three through five.

Compliance team member Yvonne Miles leads all age groups in weekly arts projects. 

They are among 21 volunteer instructors at NEST, a facilities management service in Gloucester, N.J., who lead virtual enrichment programs for colleagues' children.

The company employs 250 people at its four offices around the U.S. One of the company's HR specialists in Florida—with backup from an employee in the New Jersey office—oversees the new virtual school, launched in September, that replaces enrichment programs many schools have canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers instruct students in any of 12 subjects ranging from cooking to music to shop class, for kindergarteners through college students. More than 50 students are registered for the small classes.     Children of NEST employees participate in an arts and crafts project led by an employee serving as a volunteer instructor.

The idea sprang from a brainstorming session to find ways to support the company's working parents and their children—many of whom colleagues have known since their birth, said Jodie Argraves, NEST's executive vice president of HR. A 15-question survey gauged employee interest in signing up their children for classes and volunteering as instructors.  

"We have so much creativity here," she said, pointing to one employee with construction expertise who will teach students how to make a folder-holder for their class notes. Some teach more than one class. Green, for example, also taught the art of reading a map and compass to students in grades six through eight. 

Most classes are kept to half an hour. The program does not require any funding other than parents supplying their child with supplies, such as for an arts and crafts lesson.

The program is a hit, Argraves said. 

"It just kind of took off. It started off good, but then it got great."

It's an example of how employers are devising smart, creative and unique benefits for employees with children and providing support to help them juggle it all.

Relieving Caregiver Stress

Caregiving responsibilities have increased for U.S. workers since the pandemic; 25 percent are struggling, according to the Wellthy Pandemic Employment Survey. Although 40 percent of 647 employed adults surveyed said the pandemic has not impacted their daily or weekly caregiving responsibilities, 21 percent said it has greatly increased the amount of time spent per day or week on care-related activities. Wellthy is a health care concierge based in New York City. Its findings are based on a survey conducted June 19-24.

Torchlight, a caregiver support provider based in Boston, released findings in September that show the pandemic "is accelerating the burnout of millions of caregivers in the American workforce," said founder and CEO Adam Goldberg, who foresees "a seismic collision between work and home."

"The human resource leaders I'm speaking with are recognizing and eager to address—now more than ever—the parenting and caregiving needs of their employees during this unprecedented crisis."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Work/Life Fit: Dependent Care and Elder Care]

Parents of children with special needs and learning disabilities are particularly worried their children will fall behind during the pandemic. All of this adds to working parents' stress.

Goldberg said Dell is an example of an organization that supports its employees with these concerns; it launched the resource group TrueAbility for parents who have children with disabilities. Such groups, he said, end up having lobbying power that results in executive sponsorship for policy changes.

One change to consider is introducing a COVID-19-related leave policy, suggested Denise Broady, chief operations officer/chief marketing officer at Workforce Software in the New York City area.

"This could look similar to a maternity or paternity leave plan, but instead allows parents to take time off to determine child care schedules with partners or caretakers or, overall, just recharge and regroup mentally," she said.

A short-term leave—especially for those with young children who require more attention—would be helpful for those employees, she noted. Employers also might consider reallocating money budgeted for team outings or other activities not used at this time and use the funds for stipends for tutoring or after-school care.

Organizations taking such steps to support their employees will foster a positive, productive culture and retain top talent, she said.

"If the past six months have told us anything," she observed, "it's that the 9-to-5 culture no longer exists for many people. In understanding this, employers must also adjust to retain top talent, and that involves giving working parents some leeway and providing them the luxury to set certain schedules dependent upon family obligations." 

See SHRM Online's upcoming story on creative approaches employees are taking to handle their children's schooling while working during a pandemic.  

Other SHRM resources:
Quiz: Employees with Caregiving Responsibilities
Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies, SHRM Online, September 2020
Child Care Complicates Return to Work, SHRM Online, June 2020
Improving the Lives of Employee Caregivers Makes Business Sense, SHRM Online, January 2020
Working Daughter: A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Making a Living, SHRMStore




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