Ever since COVID-19 struck, the switch to working from home has been a challenging journey for all parties involved. This is especially so for working parents, who now face an uphill battle of juggling multiple responsibilities in a space that might have once been a refuge for them.
Naturally, their mental health has taken a toll.
According to McKinsey, employed parents “face higher numbers of and longer exposure to stressors from the multiple roles they play, compared with nonparents, and they have less ability to access periods of recovery as a result.”
- a lack of work–life balance,
- increased responsibilities at both work and home,
- greater concern for safety at work around COVID-19 infection,
- a loss of social support and increased isolation, and
- recent organizational changes affecting their jobs.
Since their responsibilities can seem never-ending, the most common stress working parents face is related to time management, explains counsellor and Intellect coach Sandya Padmanapan. The lack of ‘me-time’ turns into frustration since they are not able to “let the steam out,” she adds.
The good news is, companies are increasingly becoming aware of the challenges that parents face and sensing that they can play a role in helping them with self care, and Southeast Asia is no exception to this trend.
One such company is telco company Bridge Alliance. During the pandemic, the company recognised that employees may experience additional anxiety during this difficult time. As an employer, they wanted to do more to support staff well-being to help them live and work well in this ‘new normal’.
“We believe that a happy and healthy employee who is able to balance both work and personal duties is also an engaged and productive one,” says Joseph Choo, director of human resources and administration at Bridge Alliance.
Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) Jakarta shared similar sentiments.
“The pandemic situation has changed our working culture. Previously, we never had a remote working arrangement, but now we have the privilege to perform our daily work from home,” says Annisa Putri Lefana, assistant vice president of human resources at MUFG Jakarta.
To help working parents best take care of themselves as they work from home during the pandemic, here are some practical policies and activities these companies are implementing.
1. Off days and leaving work on time
These days, parents frequently need to take days off. Not just for themselves, but also to cover inescapable family obligations. Then, when their vacation days are running out and they’ve had very little time to themselves, they’ll be miserable.
Alternatively, they could work themselves to the bone in order to avoid taking time off.
Either course of action is a sure-fire formula for burnout. As such, companies are starting to take a closer look at their leave and work hour policies.
For instance, Bridge Alliance offers two days of pro-family leave on a no-questions-asked basis to employees, on top of their annual leave. These two days can be used to spend time with their family and bond with them, Joseph explains.
Similarly, in 2022, MUFG Jakarta introduced “staggered working hours”, so employees have more flexibility to organise their workdays.
Previously, they only had two options: 8am to 4:30pm or 9:00am to 530pm. Today, the company has two additional work hour slots: 7am to 330pm or 10am to 630pm.
MUFG Jakarta also has a “log off on-time” campaign, which happens every Wednesday, shares Annisa. This campaign was introduced in response to employees’ requests to have a day where it was mandatory to log off at the end of working hours, and hence encourage better work-life balance.
Going an extra step, the company also decided to add in a “no-meeting half-day” every Friday from 2pm to 5pm, so employees can focus on finishing their pending items by end of the week and then log off on time as well.
“This arrangement allows employees or working parents to be able to manage their family life more easily, such as preparing their kids for school from home, or even making breakfast for them,” Annisa says.
The number of companies that include paternity leaves for their employees is increasing as well, Sandya adds. This gives an opportunity to both parents to appreciate the arrival of their little one and spend some quality time together.
2.Taking care physically and mentally
Extensive research has shown that exercise releases “feel good” hormones and increases our body temperature which helps to calm the nervous system. It has been proven to help with mental health, especially with anxiety.
During the pandemic, Bridge Alliance set up a mental wellness committee to promote initiatives for staff to take their minds off work and engage in healthy activities.
Some activities include getting employees to take mental wellness courses, participating as a team in a race for a good cause, or encouraging them to exercise with their families, Joseph explains.
Similarly, MUFG Jakarta also kicked off “healthy friyay”, a series of physical fitness sessions conducted once every two months by professional instructors in yoga, pilates, Zumba, and poundfit.
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, MUFG Jakarta also introduced an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), where employees can leverage the help of professionals to talk through personal issues for free to maintain their mental wellbeing. This program was also made available to employees’ family members.
“These initiatives help employees feel more comfortable with, and adaptable to, the stresses they face,” Sandya explains. “Parents need those intentional breaks to de-stress and process their emotions.”
3. Work wherever your family is
Many companies have had to embrace remote working since the pandemic began. An unfortunate side effect of that, Bridge Alliance’s Joseph realised, was that several of their foreign employees were separated from their children over the past two years.
“So we decided to allow employees to work from wherever their families were, so they can spend quality time with their children,” he recounts. “To date, we have a few employees who have benefitted from stints of a few months with their families on this policy.”
“We recognise that they are not just employees, but also a member of a family and our society, holding vital responsibilities as a spouse, a parent, or a caregiver,” Joseph adds.
4. Regular check-ins
It is also important for companies to constantly stay updated on the current state of their employees.
In 2021, MUFG Jakarta conducted a “well-being pulse check survey” to find out more about how their employees had been affected by the pandemic.
Check-ins don’t necessarily need to come from the top, either. MUFG Jakarta also introduced “Pat on the Back”, a program where employees can recognise and give appreciation to other employees who have helped them during difficult work situations.
This is one of the company’s efforts to encourage self-talk and create an environment of “mindfulness”, Annisa explains.
Walk with your team, one step at a time
For companies who truly desire to build a company culture and work environment where everyone—including working parents—are able to thrive, now is the time to step up.
What we’ve outlined above are merely starting points. While there is a wide area of improvement, a little bit can go a long way and your employees will appreciate it.