Working parents now make up about a quarter of the New Zealand workforce – which is why smart businesses are prioritising caring for caregivers.
A flexible work culture is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but an essential part of maintaining a reliable and productive team.
This was a reality brought sharply into focus during the recent Covid 19 lockdown.
Without our schools, day-cares and grandparents on hand, many working mums and dads became full-time carers and teachers, on top of being full-time employees.
Unless businesses stepped up to offer flexibility and support, this presented a perfect storm for creating an over-stressed workforce. All the common stress triggers1 came in to play, including:
- Heavy workloads
- Extended hours
- Pressure on relationships
- Financial uncertainty.
Now with social distancing and restricted workplaces to be the new normal in 2020, offering working parents flexibility and access to support has never been more important.
Changing how we work to improve the way we live
Creating a family-friendly workplace involves much more than organising a Christmas BBQ. It’s about enabling people to define their own work-life balance, and supporting them so they can live it. That’s something we’ve embraced at Southern Cross.
Everyone at Southern Cross can work from home and has the tools to do so, thanks to our Activity Based Working programme. And we encourage each other to take time out with kids and be flexible about when we log on to work.
Staff can also ‘buy’ two weeks’ extra annual leave. Why? Because as an organisation full of mums and dads, we know that it can be a genuine struggle to stretch four weeks of annual leave across 12 weeks of school holidays.
These are all good policies, but to make a difference, you also need to support these with a culture that permits flexibility. For that, you need to look to the top management.
Lead by example and share your experience
For a flexible working environment to truly hum, leaders at all levels need to embrace it.
During the Covid 19 lockdown, many Kiwis had to experiment with when, where and how they worked, and this has given us all common ground to start a constructive conversation about flexible working.
Encourage leaders to share their experience. Talk about what was great (like having breakfast and dinner with the kids) and what was a challenge (like making a video call with those same kids in the background). Chat about ideas for balancing the demands, including maybe occasionally saying, “Hey, we all know it’s impossible sometimes – and that’s OK. Let’s put our families first”.
Deal with those blurred lines
With less separation between work and home, it’s easy for people to neglect their physical and mental health. Be pro-active and ensure people exercise, eat smart, get enough sleep and socialise. One simple way to help is by visiting our blog and sharing some of the helpful articles about staying well – physically and mentally - during the current health crisis.
Consider how to include all caregivers
It’s not just parents who need consideration. Some employees may be looking after vulnerable people, like aging parents or people living with physical or intellectual disability, or mental illness.
Consider these caregivers too because they experience the same stress as parents and require the same flexibility and support to be high-performers.
Listen to their needs and respond with thoughtful support and they too can achieve their work-life balance.