Following the announcement of the latest National Lockdown leading diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert Chris Parke is calling for businesses to keep employee priorities at the heart of all business decisions – especially working parents who are now being faced, yet again, with the pressures of balancing work and full-time childcare at home.
Working from home can be tough. Homeschooling is very tough, and unfortunately, many businesses are using it as an opportunity to place working parents on furlough, and in the process, disproportionately impacting working women who dominate the service industries and have more childcare and caring responsibilities at home.
Toll on working parents
Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent, the global coaching consultancy leading the gender diversity agenda, says: “As a result of the latest national lockdown, many working parents will once again be forced to juggle remote working and full-time childcare throughout the day as schools are once again closed. Given this change’s immediacy, businesses are even advised to offer furlough to those working parents who will struggle to find appropriate childcare – but this should not be the first option.
“Businesses must actively engage in conversations about how they can support their working parents, and help them to establish a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout.”
Flexibility and communication are key
Flexible working has proven to be a valuable workplace policy, with employers confirming productivity remained high in the previous lockdown, partly due to flexible working.
Parke continues: “It is also important for businesses to keep the human factor at the forefront of all decisions affecting employees, and companies must make conscious efforts to bring their workers back to the heart of everything.
“It is important to remember that communicating is not the same as connecting, and employers must inject a personal touch into virtual communications to ensure that employees remain motivated and engaged.
“The previous lockdowns pushed everyone to their limits, and that’s why, now more than ever, companies must focus on bringing remote teams together with D&I efforts and usher the human element back into the business day – and into workers’ remote business lives.”
The pandemic has widened existing social inequalities in education, gender, income and ethnicity and created new ones for many working parents, which are why employers should not default to furloughing working parents to get them through lockdown 3.0.
The Government has pledged to provide extra business support during the third lockdown, including £4.6 billion in new grants, with business in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to receive a one-off grant worth up to £9.000.
The hope is that the extra support will help businesses through the months ahead, and crucially sustain jobs so employees can be ready to return when they can reopen. Still, it is widely acknowledged that existing measures are not enough to support many impacted groups’ long-term employment prospects in the UK.
Commenting on the announcement, Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Chief Economist, said: “More direct grants will provide some relief to eligible companies’ cash flow.
“Yet with businesses facing a third lockdown, there are other steps that can help provide a bridge to the all-important economic recovery, particularly those affected through supply chains.
“…extending the job retention scheme to end of the second quarter would provide firms with a clear line of sight, aiding planning and investment.
“And removing the business rate relief cliff edge in April will provide much-needed breathing space, as will re-examining the case for VAT deferrals.
“With the vaccine rollout now underway and increasing mass rapid testing, there really is a brighter future within reach. Maintaining steadfast support for firms during this painful period will help ensure the recovery is delayed for as short a time as possible.”
The impact of COVID-19 on employment was highlighted in a new report out today from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which showed that professional hiring across England and Wales decreased by a third (33%) in 2020 as the pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe.
Hiring in London tumbled last year, down 32.3% annually. The statistics also highlighted that the capital’s share of vacancy numbers had dropped two percentage points since 2018, a decline which could continue in a post-COVID-19 environment if the Prime Minsters ‘levelling up’ agenda continues to be rolled out.
While the data revealed several sectors were severely impacted last year – with numbers down 40.1% and 39.1% respectively for marketing and sales roles – some professions remained relatively resilient.
With a significant number of businesses across England and Wales continuing to operate remotely, it’s perhaps no surprise that IT jobs surged at various points throughout the year.
In the first few months of Q4, IT vacancies were up year-on-year, with November’s numbers increasing 9.9% in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This at a time when women hold only 26% of computing-related jobs.