Parents, the pandemic and the perfect storm?
26 Jun 2020
Dr Jasmine Kelland, Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Plymouth
During the Covid-19 crisis, we will be opening up our blogs to guest contributors. These blogs are intended to broaden the debate and discussion on how public policy, employers and civil society can respond. Needless to say, the views will be those of the authors themselves rather than of IES. If you’d like to contribute a blog, then please email IES Senior Communications Officer: Steve O'Rourke
About the author
Dr Kelland is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Programme Leader of the Masters in Human Resource Management at the University of Plymouth. Prior to joining academia she worked as HR Manager in a number of organisations such as NHS, Boots the Chemist and ITV. Jasmine’s research is focused around the area of gender role stereotyping of parents in the workplace, with specific focus on fathers. She has had numerous papers published by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee regarding parents in the workplace. She has presented her research at CIPD conferences, international academic conferences and numerous organisations (such as Working Families, Fatherhood Network Scotland, Rolls Royce) with a view to raising awareness of the challenges facing fathers in the workplace.
All the elements are present for a perfect storm – the well documented separate spheres of home and work have collided and brought with it home schooling and unrelenting work schedules, not to mention the ever present household chores, within the context of a distinct absence of grandparents or childcare providers to share the load. However, many parents are somewhat surprisingly reporting multiple benefits in this return to a bygone age in which unpaid and paid work co-existed in the home. Whilst the societal pressures to simultaneously channel Mary Poppins, Jamie Oliver and Joe Wicks, as well as for paid employment are not to be underestimated, however, for many, the benefits appear to outweigh the challenges.
A recent survey of parents undertaken by the University of Plymouth at the start of the Covid- 19 lock down indicated that mothers and fathers have welcomed the increase in family time and the ability to manage more effectively both their home and work life. With parents appreciating the reduced level of travel time, the wider involvement in their children’s education and felt more connected to their children as a consequence. Mothers highlighted the additional benefits of higher quality family meals, increased ease of managing general household chores, less rushing around and enjoying the increased involvement of their partner. Whilst parents appeared to be realistic about the difficulties in making more permanent changes to working patterns post Covid-19 with many reporting they would consider continuing working from home and wider utilisation of flexible working practices, not to mention wider use of the increasingly omnipresent Zoom.
To explore the experience of parents during the pandemic in more depth, myself and Dr Laura Radcliffe from University of Liverpool have embarked on interviews and a diary study to explore at the micro level how parents are coping and what they might like the post pandemic future to look like for their families. Whilst the research is in its early stages, many parents are re-evaluating their work life balance as a consequence of their experience during the pandemic, learning the value of changes to work routines to allow for wider involvement in family life, with the argument for flexible working gathering significant momentum.
This new sense of parental optimism is palpable throughout the media and feels at odds with the previously fraught landscapes in which working parents have been observed to navigate through a complex terrain of disadvantages as they managed the spheres of home and work. Existing research has been largely consistent that flexible working is associated with reduced commitment and impeded promotability, with mothers routinely facing ‘motherhood penalties’ as they combine work and caregiving. Similarly, fathers who undertake an egalitarian approach to parenting have been observed to face significant career penalties and ‘fatherhood forfeits’ when they deviate from full-time working, which includes being less likely to obtain more flexible work to allow for caregiving and facing social mistreatment when they do.
The role of HR practitioners during this seismic shift in practices cannot be underestimated and the challenge over the coming months will be the creation of new frameworks in light of the monumental ‘trial run’ of home working and the consequent changes in expectations of work life balance. It is likely that the effectiveness of the adaptation to the post Covid-19 workplace will be central to the retention of employees, with those who are unable to reconcile their new discoveries regarding balancing work and home life with the reality of their working arrangements actively seeking an employer who does.
The effective establishment of wider flexible working in the post Covid-19 workplace will undoubtedly need to explore modifications to existing working arrangements, deviating away from the complex network of favours and negotiation that often guides decision making in this area. Such changes are likely to involve HR teams reviewing organisational work practices to ensure that those who utilise flexible working will not face forfeits and penalties as a consequence. Tackling workplace discrimination faced by staff who wish to work more flexibly in the post pandemic period will be an integral part of effective implementation. Finally, HR teams will have a central role to play in the establishment of a clear framework which addresses the potential risks to employees mental health when boundaries between work and home are increasingly blurred, taking steps to avoid an ‘always on’ culture.
We are currently still recruiting for participants and would love to hear your views on parenting in the pandemic if you have time!
Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.