Why working parents need extra help during Coronavirus Pandemic

By: Alyssa Place,  Senior editor 
Employee Benefit News

While all employees have had to adjust to the transitions and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, working parents are dealing with disruptions that add extra strain to their work and home lives. Now, more than ever, employers need to be communicating and offering support to this workplace population, says Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health and EAP at Aetna, a health insurance provider.

“We see parents struggling with their own anxiety in this time of transition, and we’re losing the boundaries of what’s my home life and what’s my work life,” she says. “Employers need to utilize their resources to help get the word out on the benefits that are offered and make people feel connected, even though you’re not face to face.”

McNulty shared tips for employers on which benefits make the biggest difference for working parents and how coronavirus will affect the future of work for all employees.

What kinds of challenges are working parents facing during this crisis?

When we present ourselves at work, we often leave home life at home. Now, we’re bringing it right into the workplace. Your personal life, your home life and your work life have come together. This is a time of transition — you’re working at home, your spouse or domestic partner is home, and your kid is going to be home. When we think about major things that happen in life, you try often as parents to plan for those transitions. This has just disrupted what we as parents rely on, which is a routine and knowing how things work. We as humans and adolescents and children all do better when we know the parameters.

How is that stress and that disruption affecting a working parent’s productivity?

For parents who are working, now they're not only the parent, but they're the employee, they're likely the teacher, they're the referee. It's hard for parents of kids of all ages. The disruption has been tremendous. People are concerned about how productive they are.

We also see that there's no break because your office is home. They're concerned about not having a start and end to work, and people are stressed because they're trying to work on and off throughout the day. They're working later into the evening. It's disrupting meal time and family time, and you don't see people keeping up with those boundaries.

How can managers address some of these stressors for working parents?

The companies that are doing really well are communicating with their employees and listening to what those employees need. If that isn't something a company is embracing, you see people really stressed. One thing that’s really effective is when leaders and companies role model and say things like, “Here's what I'm finding really hard. Here's what is challenging for me.”

Some of the biggest struggles right now are daycare. Some companies are offering a benefit that would allow you to hire your mother or somebody close in your ecosystem for backup childcare. Companies also need to be really flexible about leave policies and adjusting working hours. So if they have kids at home and need to get them online for learning and that’s disrupting, can you be flexible to how your employees adjust their time?

Most employers have an employee assistance program, and they’re not utilized well. But we need to talk about what they can do. Some good EAPs can help you find backup daycare. They can help you if you're concerned about finances or other social determinants on your health. Really look at how your company can be proactive and talk about the resources that are available.

How will this change work life for working parents going forward?

What we're experiencing is what a new normal looks like. Although we've had a lot of things that are really hard, there are some fantastic things that have also happened. I hope employers use this as an opportunity to advance the conversation around mental health and well-being and how we can think about work differently.

I do think employers are doing the best job they can with the skills and resources that they have. Continuing to help employers enhance the culture of open, honest discussion about how stressful this time is really can ease anxiety. The employer really understands that the healthier the employee is mentally, physically and emotionally, the better. It's leveraging the resources that we have and using this as an opportunity to elevate the conversation.