IBM’s HRD: How to support your working parents

For Katherine Faichnie, IBM Canada’s HR director, looking after working parents through COVID-19 was a paramount concern.

“We know that it’s been particularly difficult and overwhelming for many of our employees who are responsible for the health and well-being of others — in their role as parents and/or caring for family members,” Faichnie told HRD.

It’s no secret that employees with children have been hit harder by the global pandemic, with many stuck between needing to work and lacking proper childcare.

A recent report from Pregnant The Screwed found that 46% of mothers who lost their job during the current pandemic say a lack of childcare played a part in their termination. What’s more, one in five adults said the reason they couldn’t work was their current childcare responsibilities.

In the face of such startling data, it’s no wonder employers are going the extra mile to help their working parents.

“Back in the spring, we gave managers the discretion to provide flexibility to employees with an additional 10 days to use outside of their vacation – whether they needed a day or a week to move themselves and their families into the new routine,” added Faichnie.

“We hold regular sessions on Slack called, ‘Ask Me Anything’ with our general manager, Claude Guay. IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, also holds these sessions where employees can ask our leaders questions on topics and issues that concern them – with our leaders then answering as many of these questions as they can in real time.”

IBM also recently announced a new family emergency care paid leave that provides employees caring for children or elder care an additional 10 days they can use (outside of their vacation). Faichnie added that this is a safety net employees can use if school or day care closes unexpectedly.

Navigating the unprecedented waters of COVID-19 has been a nightmare for all workers, but for those who have the added stress of looking after children it’s been near impossible.

As always, the only real way of addressing any internal workplace issue is through clear and concise communication. Faichnie told HRD that IBM addressed these concerns by being flexible and amenable.

“We’ve told employees that they are not expected to return to the office for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year,” she explained.

“This gives working parents a sense of stability because now they have a better sense on what their work life will be for the rest of 2020. This gives families more control and a better ability to make decisions around their family needs.”

But it’s not just working parents that’ve been impacted by these sweeping global changes. The pandemic has changed how we interact with one another, how we talk about our futures, and – perhaps most surprisingly, how we fit into this new, remote-style culture.

For Faichnie, it all came down to prioritising work-life balance.

“IBM created a new pledge to promote work-life balance at the company while working remote and beyond,” she told HRD.

“This pledge is about embracing the new mindset on what working from home means: things like work flexibility – taking care of your kids when you need to; knowing that not everyone will be camera ready during video conferences – so if someone’s video is off, you understand that it’s because they’re not ready to be on camera. In the new culture that we’re in, you see families on camera now.

“We’ve encouraged managers to take the time to say hi if someone’s child appears on camera – acknowledge that they’re there and embrace them.

“We’re also constantly reminding our workforce that we’re in a “new normal” – it’s important that we maintain our awareness and sensitivity to employees. By doing so, we will have a huge impact on the culture of IBM and whether people think it’s a great place to work at.”


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