The caregiver crisis at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents need flexibility from employers to balance work duties and caretaking as many districts continue with virtual learning.

More than half of parents who quit their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits this spring said closures of schools and daycare facilities due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic forced them to quit, according to research by Morning Consult for the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Caregiving duties stand in the way of nearly 60 percent of parents returning to work, 41 percent of them specifically citing school closures. Parents said they would be more likely to return to work sooner if they had access to paid leave, or if they were able to work on a flexible schedule.

In light of the caregiver crisis, which is raging once again as many schools plan to continue virtual learning this fall, Mercer identified a number of creative strategies employers can use to provide meaningful support to working parents facing this difficult situation.

The Caregiver Crisis at Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Parents are torn between caregiving and their careers. Sixty percent of parents agree it’s better to open schools later to minimize infection risk, even if students miss out on academics and social services and some parents will not be able to work, while nearly 35 percent say it’s better to open schools sooner so parents can work and kids can get services, even if there’s some risk of infection, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If schools do remain closed, 51 percent of parents worry about losing income if they can’t go to work and 47 percent worry about not being able to pay enough attention to their children if they’re working from home.

Strategies to Support Working Parents and Caregivers

Mercer identified two areas of increased flexibility where employers can provide meaningful support to caregivers in their post on Creative Ideas to Support Working Parents During the Caregiver Crisis.

Flexibility at Work

There are several ways employers can offer parents some flexibility at work. Flexible scheduling, where employees have some control over when and how they get their work done, is the most popular option. Compressed workweeks, where employees work more hours in fewer days (for example, 40 hours in 4 days), could help employees who are dealing with hybrid school schedules. Allowing job sharing or reduced schedules could also provide employees with additional time to care for children, but it’s typically associated with a reduction in compensation.

Flexibility from Work

Consider how employees might be able to use PTO, vacation or sick leave, Family Medical Leave (FML) or other company leaves, then remind employees of the available programs and how they work. Some employers are also creating emergency COVID-19 pandemic paid or unpaid leave programs that allow employees to maintain income and benefits for a specified duration of time during the pandemic. When taking into consideration leave programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also important to review return protocols for employees who take leave intermittently or in blocks. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a complex caregiving crisis. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between employment and their children’s safety and employers shouldn’t lose top talent to school closures. Identifying ways your organization can provide the flexibility Mercer recommends to support working parents is crucial until a vaccine for COVID-19 is readily available.

More on Topics Related to the Caregiver Crisis at Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Challenges of Working From Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: What It Is and Who Can Apply