A new year is bringing back old issues for employers and employees alike.
The rise of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant meant many students once again switched to online schooling. And while some schools across Canada are now reopening, employers continue to use a combination of flexible schedules and benefits offerings to support working parents and their families amid the ongoing unpredictability caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Students in British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest Territories returned to in-person learning this week, while schools in Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are set to reopen on Jan. 17. New Brunswick schools will welcome students back on Jan. 18, while Newfoundland and Labrador is set to announce today whether schools will reopen next week. Schools in Yukon and Saskatchewan reopened their doors on Jan. 4.
Susan Goodyer, managing director of human resources at Accenture in Canada, says the professional services company has renewed its backup and crisis care program through at least the end of 2022. The program provides parents with up to 160 hours of child supervision or the option to be reimbursed up to $100 per day to have a caregiver of their choosing, such as an extended family member or a friend, come into their home to provide care.
“We saw many people take advantage [of the crisis care program] in the early days that it was offered. Some claimed a few days here and there, while others used it multiple times for longer periods. That’s why we made it part of the standard offering. If [employees] don’t know when a daycare or school is going to be opened or closed, we need to be able to help our people get the support they need. What they told us is that having that extra support, especially when schools are closed, helped them find the balance they needed. It could be a standard offering that we continue to provide, so parents have a backup plan in case schools close again.”
Goodyer says the Hoot for Companies tutoring program — which Accenture launched in August 2021 in partnership with online education platform Hoot Reading — is also seeing continued interest from parents and kids alike. Since the program’s launch, more than 32,000 lessons have been delivered to 850 children, the equivalent of more than 15,000 teaching hours.
Megumi Mizuno, chief of staff at Vancouver-based technology company Traction on Demand, says a formalized flexible schedule — which allows employees to take everything from half-day Fridays up to unpaid sabbaticals — has helped the company’s working parents adjust to the many school closures that have taken place over the course of the pandemic.
“There’s been very positive response. Employees are looking for flexibility — and it’s not that we didn’t offer flexibility before, its just become a little more formalized. If things change, they still have an agreement in place.”
Traction on Demand also allows employees to work remotely from the location of their choice, an option that has helped some working parents in need of support during school closures. “For example, maybe the grandparents are in the British Columbia interior and an employee wants to work from their home so they can watch the kids for a week. Even if it’s across the world, we encourage that also.”
Throughout the pandemic, says Mizuno, the company has also taken steps to support the mental health of employees’ children, such as offering online workshops for kids hosted by Disney princesses and superheroes.
“There’s multiple challenges [for our employees and their kids during the pandemic]. There’s anxiety and stress when schools are open, since a lot of kids can’t be vaccinated, but also when schools are closed and parents have to keep kids home for remote learning. We have a slightly younger demographic, so many of our employees have young kids. These kids aren’t necessarily vaccinated or able to take care of themselves, so there’s many situations we’ve been helping employees through.”