Supporting faculty and staff with family responsibilities

Many of our faculty and staff have young children. As much as possible, managers and supervisors are encouraged to be flexible by modifying work hours, reassigning duties and/or enabling staff to use vacation or time off so that they can address their family responsibilities during this time.

Balancing work and family is a common challenge facing working parents. In addition to raising children, faculty and staff may be supporting aging parents or other family members needing assistance. Add in a pandemic, working from home, school protocols, online learning, or isolation from community support, and our ability to balance work and home is stretched even further.

We recognize that faculty and staff must make decisions that are in the best interest of their families. This may include the decision to keep children home from school or daycare, invite a parent or extended family member to live with them during the pandemic, or isolate to keep family members with compromised health safe. And we know that these decisions may impact an employee’s ability to work, whether they are currently working on one of our campuses or at home. 

Leaders are similarly challenged to ensure the important work of the university gets done. Below is guidance for managers and supervisors in helping employees balance work and family, while meeting operational needs.

Transparency and communication are essential

Faculty and staff should be encouraged to identify their needs and express their concerns about balancing work and home life. Managers and supervisors must create a safe environment where faculty and staff can share their struggles without fear of judgment or reprimand. The impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of our staff may be significant, and it is important to listen with an empathetic ear.

Similarly, managers and supervisors should be honest with faculty and staff about the needs of the university. Although the pandemic has changed much about the way we work, the work still needs to be done. Operationally, there may be some things that cannot be compromised.

By speaking openly and honestly about difficulties and worries, and frankly about operational needs, the staff member and manager will better understand the challenges each other face.

Creative solutions to support working parents rely on flexibility

Working parents with children at home or other family responsibilities may not be able to work a standard 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. work day. This does not mean that they can’t contribute to the work of the faculty, department, or administrative unit -- but the time they work may need to look different from the average work day. 

Any modification to the regular work week as defined in a collective agreement may require consultation with the union. Contact your HR Partner if you are considering one of these flexible options. 

Consider the following flexible options to support employees in meeting work and home obligations. 

Flexible scheduling - Employees may be able to work early morning and/or late afternoon and evening, freeing them up to deal with parenting or other family responsibilities during the day. Explore whether the work can be done in “off-standard” hours.

Break up shifts - Maybe a staff member can work three hours in the morning, two in the afternoon, and make up the rest in the evenings or on weekends. 

Job sharing - Can two or more employees share a job? Would this enable them to reduce their time working but stay connected to the job until they can resume regular hours?

Compressed work week - Some employees may opt to work longer days, enabling them to take one day off per week or every second week. This option may work well for parents of young children who don’t attend school every day. 

Leave programs - An employee may wish to use available leave programs (vacation or leave of absence without pay) or use banked overtime to enable part-time work for a period of time.

A modified work arrangement should be documented and reviewed periodically to ensure it continues to meet the needs of both the employee and the university.

Hours worked versus deliverables

Our traditional view of the workplace includes employees gathered in an identified workspace, with defined standard hours of work, and a supervisor to ensure employees are present and completing tasks assigned to them. In a remote work environment, assessment of work should focus less on hours completed and more on deliverables. As a manager, be clear about what you expect an employee to accomplish in a set period of time (a week, for example) and let them decide when they will work to meet those expectations.

Employees must recognize their responsibility to accept reasonable solutions

The university wants to support employees in balancing work and family obligations, but this does not mean the employee has no responsibility in identifying solutions or accepting reasonable work modifications. Employees need to understand that the employer has work to assign, and that arrangements to modify or reduce work hours may not be perfect. Both the supervisor and employee should consider reasonable solutions, discuss if those options could meet the needs of both, and be prepared to adjust as necessary.

Employees must exhaust all options to attend to their family obligations while meeting the expectations of their workplace. In asking for flexible or modified work arrangements, an employee should expect to outline what they have explored.

In some cases, the employer may have a legal obligation to accommodate an employee with particular family circumstances. In these cases a formal request for accommodation would be required. Contact your HR Partner for guidance. 

One thing is for certain: work is now different, and we should not expect things to be as they once were. Open communication, transparency, and flexibility will help us adjust to the changing work environment and address needs. 

Employees caring for someone with COVID-19

  • Advise employees to take all reasonable precautions to protect themselves while they care for the person, and to follow the guidelines from Alberta Health.
  • Discuss options for working from home, including modified hours or duties.
  • Apply leave provisions per the collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment (e.g., compassionate leave).
  • Employees may use vacation accrual or banked time, or request leave without pay.