Sara Thompson: Should employers offer more support for working parents?

The past year has put more pressure on working parents than ever before, with the national lockdowns forcing many to juggle working and caring for their loved ones. At Phoenix we welcome the diversity of thought and resilience that working parents and working carers bring to our workforce, and would urge all employers that can to offer more support.

We’ve provided five days’ emergency paid leave for working parents during the national lockdowns, alongside a range of expanded initiatives to help colleagues work flexibly. The emergency leave is intended to help with the immediate challenges of lockdown, giving colleagues the time and space to ensure that dependents are properly looked after and to think through the ways in which they can continue to work. The leave is to help our colleagues while schools, childcare or other respite services are closed or unavailable.

This emergency leave is over and above the existing support already we already provide for our colleagues and recognises the specific challenges working parents are facing; we know how hard it is for colleagues to home school or care for their children alongside doing their normal day job. However, once the five days’ emergency leave is over, that’s not it in terms of the supportive structures we’ve put in place to enable flexible and agile working, as well as clear policies on carers’ leave and parental leave, without any reduction to pay.

We’re all having to think about working differently and how we adapt to these new restrictions, and while we don’t have all the answers, it’s clear that working parents and carers need to be supported. We have been trying new things too, including sessions for colleagues and their children focused on ‘family wellbeing’ which include arts and crafts for children to help colleagues get on with something else, drawing workshops and yoga for children too.

We urge all business leaders to think about what more they can do to support colleagues, and hope any changes made now will continue following the pandemic to ensure parents never have to choose between working and caring for a loved one.

Sara Thompson is group HR director at Phoenix Group