Images of parents trying to shush their kids during work Zoom meetings are now as commonplace as, well, Zoom meetings. With many people six months into working from home due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, employers can often literally see employees with kids trying to juggle it all.

A new survey by Willis Towers Watson found the three-quarters (74 per cent) of employers believe supporting working parents is a top priority, but only 39 per cent agreed that current programs and policies to support these employees are effective. 

Read: How can employers support staff with children during pandemic schooling?

However, the survey, which polled more than 550 U.S. employers earlier this month, found more companies are planning, or considering, a bevy of benefits to help working parents. Three in 10 employers said they currently offer access to backup childcare services, while another 30 per cent said they’re planning or considering doing so. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents said they provide discounts or subsidies for childcare centres, tutoring or other educational resources and another 22 per cent said they’re planning or considering offering these discounts and services.

Meanwhile, 22 per cent of employers said they offer company-subsidized backup childcare days and another 20 per cent said they’re planning or considering implementing this benefit. And a similar percentage (22 per cent) of employers said they provide concierge services to address a broad set of needs, while another 23 per cent said they’re planning or considering offering these services.

And with many kids recently returning to school, some (13 per cent) employers said they’re already providing offerings that support the formation of learning pods, tutoring or other school-focused needs, while another 28 per cent said they’re planning or considering these offerings. And to assist with in-person and virtual back-to-school costs, nearly three in 10 employers have implemented, or are considering offering, a subsidy to an employee’s dependent health-care spending account for childcare expenses (26 per cent) or providing discounts or subsidies for technology and supplies required for virtual learning (29 per cent). 

Read: Women’s participation in labour force reaches lowest level in three decades: study

Despite the increase in planned or possible benefits, employers are bracing for even more change, with 25 per cent of respondents saying talent leaving the organization due to increased caregiving responsibilities will be a significant workforce challenge.

“The challenges and stress of balancing work and childcare, heightened by the pandemic, have exacerbated the everyday juggling act required by working parents,” said Rachael McCann, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, in a press release. “With increased remote work and schooling, employers are moving quickly to evaluate and implement sustainable solutions to offer employees relief over and above flexibility in work schedules.”

Offering solutions that actually provide relief will be key, with the majority (79 per cent) of respondents reporting rising stress or burnout among employees. And more than half (55 per cent) said they’re facing higher mental health-related claims.

Almost all (97 per cent) survey respondents said they’re assisting working parents by providing flexible work hours, with 76 per cent allowing employees to work reduced schedules or hours. Among those employers allowing reduced work time, 10 per cent said they’ll maintain pay and benefits, while 23 per cent said they’ll reduce pay and benefits and 43 per cent said they’d reduce pay but maintain benefits.

Read: Five workplace changes that should stay post-coronavirus

Many employers are also being flexible with unpaid time off during this tumultuous time. More than half (57 per cent) of respondents said they’re offering unpaid caregiver leave, while 54 per cent said they offer other unpaid leave, such as a voluntary furlough, as options for employees who are unable to fully perform their job due to caregiving responsibilities. Unpaid leave with job protection is an option provided by 52 per cent of survey respondents, while 26 per cent said they provide paid caregiver leave.

While relatively few employers have changed their pay and benefit programs to date, nearly half said they’re planning or considering changes to their benefit offerings as the pandemic rages on.  More than a quarter said they’re either planning or considering resetting performance goals (26 per cent) and adopting more flexible performance evaluations (33 per cent). 

“The pandemic and the move to virtual work have accelerated the pace at which companies are redesigning the way work gets done and redeploying work across teams,” said Tracey Malcolm, global leader of future of work for Willis Towers Watson. “As these changes take hold, we expect employers will continue to facilitate new programs and workforce arrangements that enable greater flexibility for employees and the organization.”

Read: Survey shows strong support for flexible, remote working post-coronavirus

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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