The pandemic has created a level of constant stress that is wearing on us all. And this is especially true of working parents- who must balance their work responsibilities while monitoring their children’s distance learning or watching non-school aged kids. According to a July survey, 1/3 of working parents have left the workforce or gone part-time due to COVID, with 70% of those parents being women.

Recently, some organizations, like Florida State University, have come under pressure for policies that bar employees from working from home and caring for kids at the same time. While in the past, this was a completely acceptable policy for teleworkers, companies can’t realistically demand this today without providing solutions and alternatives for parents who are already at the breaking point with balancing work with their childrens’ needs.

Given the current economic reality, you may feel like your business isn’t in the place to provide any additional benefits. However, the cost of having to replace a great employee can be high- both monetarily, and in the harm, their absence can cause to workplace morale and culture. Even small gestures can go a long way in helping working parents feel appreciated.

Here are some creative ways you can show empathy to your employees while maintaining productivity:

1. Monthly Care Stipend:

Funnel what you are saving in employee meals, office electricity bills, and the like into a monthly stipend employees can use on home office supplies, internet reimbursement, or providing for childcare.

2. Flexible Work Schedules:

Instead of mandating a standard 9-5, give parents an opportunity to make their own hours around their children’s distance learning schedules.

“Core hours” may be a system that works for you. This includes a block of hours where employees must be working (i.e. 10-2), while the employee chooses when to work their remaining time. This hybrid system provides a block of time for meetings and group activities, while still allowing for flexibility.

3. Coordinate/Pay for Nanny Shares:

Nanny shares are when a nanny will watch 2 or 3 families’ children at the same time and the families split the costs. It is more affordable than each family securing its own childcare while being a lower exposure risk than a daycare or in-person school.

4. Shift Benefits to Childcare:

See if you can add childcare reimbursement to your FSA, or if you can temporarily shift 401K matches to a childcare fund. If you provide perks like gym memberships, these can also be sidelined in exchange for a childcare stipend.

5. Sabbatical at a Small Percentage of Pay:

This solution may be perfect if you are considering layoffs, but don’t want to lose great people. Employees maintain a low-level pay that is enough to keep benefits, while being able to focus on their family, and you don’t have to rebuild your workforce once the crisis lifts.

6. Provide Paid Sick Leave Related to COVID:

A policy providing for sick leave for those who may have, or are confirmed to have, COVID can go a long way in reducing stress and ensuring a healthy workplace.

7. Think Out of the Box:

Working parents may be struggling with more than just balancing work and distance learning. They also need to cook, clean, grocery shop, etc. A monthly Grubhub gift card, a meal subscription service, monthly housekeeping service, or an Instacart stipend can go a long way in reducing these stress points.

8. Ask!

Send out a Google Form or other survey and ask your team to vote on which solutions will work for them, or to share how you can help.