The latest announcement by President Ramaphosa that most grades in public schools were closing again for a full month to curb the spread of COVID-19 comes additional responsibilities for families. While school closures should – in theory – impact all working parents equally, international research from UNICEF has shown this to be unlikely, with women said to carry out on average three times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work of men.
For many South African women – a growing number of which are becoming the primary breadwinners of their households – this latest lockdown twist has therefore meant having to resume the juggle of childcare, homeschooling, and a surplus of domestic work, all the while working full-time from home.
In being mindful of this oftentimes biased reality, here are four simple ways that business owners can better support all the hardworking superwomen during this challenging time. (Women business owners also take note!)
1. Ensure lines of communication are open
Something that many working parents struggle with is the tendency to pretend they aren’t ever torn between their children and work. But the fact of the matter is that there will be times when the children will need to take priority, and that’s okay. Ensure that employees feel comfortable speaking up when these times arise, and are able to ask for additional support at work when they need it.
2. Be output-driven and allow more flexibility around working hours
No matter how much preparation goes into the day, parenting can be unpredictable, which means things don’t always get done when they’re supposed to. What’s important at the end of the day is that urgent tasks be prioritized, and deadlines aren’t missed – when the actual work gets done and targets are met is much of a muchness. So, if working parents find it easier to get their jobs done in the early hours of the morning or late at night, make provisions for this.
3. Spread the workload across the office
Everybody has had to adjust in one way or another over the past few months, and some people will be handling this new way of working better than others. As a business owner, you should be observing who is coping and which members of staff may be needing some additional support, and reallocating the workload accordingly.
4. Encourage workplace support systems
Whether you’re a parent yourself or not, part of a business owner’s job is to foster a supportive culture amongst employees, and a good way to do this is by showing people that they’re not alone. By normalizing the conversation of work-life balance, you can create a platform for employees to speak about their current struggles and possibly offer support and coping mechanisms that they’ve found to be helpful over this difficult period.