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Survey: Employers are Turning to "Extreme Flexing" to Support Working Parents

The 2020-2021 school year is fast-approaching and working parents with school-age children are confronting continued COVID-19-driven uncertainty about what’s ahead.

Data from a new pulse survey of 275 business professionals fielded by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), which explored the strategies organizations are implementing to support working parents as the pandemic persists and summer winds down, found that the number-one strategy continues to be flexing work arrangements.

The survey asked respondents to tell us about the actions their organizations have in place now and what is under consideration to support working parents.

In addition to flexing work schedules, the other two most cited practices are (respectively): posting a variety of resources and other information to the company’s intranet and expanding leave policies.

While these practices are relatively unchanged from the responses to pulse surveys we ran in the early days of the pandemic, what is evolving is the degree to which policies are being loosened and long-held workplace norms are changing.

In reference to flexible work arrangements, some open-ended comments mentioned “further,” “expanded,” and even “extreme flexing” (e.g., managers and employees negotiating creative schedules that will meet both the needs of the employee and the organization).

Extreme flexibility is a tactic that may help employers retain talent as the pandemic marches on and the fatigue of trying to balance homeschooling and work pushes people to the breaking point (see this post re: women being more likely to leave their organizations due to ongoing homeschool demands). This also helps employees feel that they are better equipped to show up for work (and their colleagues) effectively.

Noted one survey respondent: “We are strongly advising managers to provide ‘extreme flexibility’—each person's situation is unique and if employees feel like they have autonomy, control, and flexibility, they are more apt to be able to address their own personal needs.”

Practices that are most commonly cited as being under consideration for possible implementation are: looking at ways to retain working parents with specific programs/offerings, offering concierge services that partner with employees to find child-care that’s the right fit for each individual’s needs and situations, and providing  discounts to regional and national child-care programs for employees.

Other strategies and recommendations mentioned in narrative comments included:

  • Expanding hours of operation to allow more scheduling options.
  • Providing free online tutoring and other educational resources.
  • Exploring online tutoring services paid for in part by the company.
  • Providing company-sponsored programs led by internal teams and employees geared toward children such as storytelling or activity time to free up an hour of parents’ time.
  • Hiring specialists to help train employees on helping their children with online learning.
  • Encouraging employees to establish a schedule and routine that kids can rely on and collaborate with their managers to design a realistic workday around that schedule (e.g., agree to core hours or days or both).
  • If they don’t already exist, establish parent communities (e.g., Working Parent ERG) that allow parents to get together and share ideas, resources, practices, and support and also advise the organization about what’s needed.

For more resources and ideas, the i4cp resource page for working parents can be found here.

Lorrie Lykins is  i4cp's Vice President of Research

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.