With the HR Profession predominantly female, the dreaded ‘homeschooling’ being predominantly managed by mums, and families delaying their baby plans, the pandemic is looking to be a triple whammy of pressure for HR.
So if you’re a female HR professional feeling seriously under the cosh at the moment, you can take solace in the fact that you’re not imagining things, and you’re not alone. It really is an incredibly challenging time.
A predominantly female profession, and a profession facing an increased workload.
HR, at all levels, is dominated by women. In fact, the gender split is as much as 77% female according to Personnel Today, and these numbers are reflected in CIPD membership.
Over the course of the pandemic, the HR workload has become heavier and heavier. HR departments have had to grapple with the concept and administration of furlough schemes, manage redundancy and outplacement, cope with increased sickness and absence, handle the transition to home-working and supporting line managers with managing performance remotely, and, become more proactive and mindful of mental health and well-being across the workforce.
And this is borne out in reports and studies. According to a survey by Sage reported in Personnel Today, 60% of HR professionals have experienced an increase in both administrative and strategic tasks.
You would usually expect an increase in workload to result in strengthening the capacity of teams. However, as HR Magazine reported “Despite the upheaval, HR team sizes have stayed the same this year. Seventy-two per cent of respondents reported no change in staffing since the COVID-19 outbreak. Even for those companies experiencing increased demand for their products and services, only one fifth (20%) have strengthened the HR department to cope with increased workloads”.
This culminated in a further startling figure published by HR Magazine. Another survey in June 2020 found 57% of HR professionals were already finding their stress levels unmanageable.
But even if life is more difficult at work, it’s not too bad for women at home, right?
Er… wrong. The last year of the pandemic has been dominated by school closures, resulting in something that in normal times only a very tiny minority of families opt to do. i.e. ‘home-schooling’.
And it’s not just supporting children with their schoolwork and managing technology, questions and interruptions, it’s making lunches, entertaining through breaks, being asked for what seems like to many of us, non-stop snacks.
The evidence appears to point to women bearing the brunt of this particular challenge too.
Official statistics from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) showed some alarming disparities in gender responsibility in homes across the UK. Their figures showed women to have carried out more childcare duties overall, and that in the first lockdown
in households with children aged under 18 years, women were carrying out on average of two-thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men.
If we want to get really specific about it, women were reported as delivering an average of 3 hours and 18 minutes of childcare, which includes time spent supervising children, while men contributed 2 hours.
And the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and University College London (UCL) who interviewed 3,500 families, found that mums were only able to do one hour of uninterrupted work, for every three hours done by dads.
"Mothers are doing, on average, more childcare and more housework than fathers who have the same work arrangements," said Lucy Kraftman, a research economist at the IFS, adding that this applied to families where both parents worked, as well as to families where both parents were furloughed or out of work.
Interviews and investigations by the BBC continue to support this trend. In studies, mums appear to be doing most of the housework chores and general childcare during lockdown in homes where there is a working mother and father. In one article, a professional women’s coach, Paula Sheridan, quoted that "almost universally" women take charge of planning meals, creating timetables and downloading learning resources for children and much more.
But once this pandemic is all over, won’t life get a lot easier for HR teams?
Well…possibly. Clearly there will be aspects of the pandemic-specific workload which will no longer be necessary, such as managing furlough schemes. However, the transition back to workplaces, blending remote plus on-site working and financial pressures on some businesses, may continue to create challenges for some time in some sectors and industries.
Plus, there’s mounting evidence that once the pandemic is over, there may be a bit of a pregnancy boom.
At the beginning of all this there was some speculation of a Covid-19 induced baby boom due to the boredom and stress of lockdown (and based on trends following other national disasters). But this has not transpired to be the case.
There are a number of factors at play here; fears of catching Covid-19 in pregnancy or while in hospital, knowing you may have to give birth without a birth partner, financial worries and disruption to fertility treatments. This has all led to what some commentators describe as a ‘Covid Bust’.
In fact, as reported on Sky.com, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has predicted there could be fewer babies born in the UK in 2021 than in "any year since records began". This could be explained by a study about parenthood desires published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, where over 80 per cent over respondents stated they had no plans to try for a baby during the pandemic, and of those who were planning to conceive, 21 per cent have changed their minds.
The speculation is though, that once families feel safer and more secure about the future, they’ll resume their birth plans with a resulting rise in births in the coming years. And this may result on further pressures on businesses and particularly HR departments, as they manage the administration, recruitment, cover and then return to work process related to pregnancy support and maternity leave.
And going back full circle to the gender trend in HR, that over 70% of HR professionals are female, it’s possible a post-pandemic baby boom may increase maternity leave in this profession too.
Challenging, but positive for the HR profession
It’s no surprise, given all of this, that a global report by McKinsey showed that diverse groups (including women, LGBTQ+ employees, people of colour, but also working parents) are having “the hardest time, both in the workplace and with balancing work and home life”.
But there are positive trends.
Optimism for the gender balance in the home?
Recent events have put the spotlight on the split of chores and responsibility in the home, and whilst overall trends are that women are doing substantially more, there is some glimmer of hope. A study by the London School of Economics did find this trend being bucked in some households and they reported “childcare being distributed more equally in 20 per cent of homes which include a woman, man and dependent children”.
The researchers put this down to increased numbers of fathers working at home or being on furlough, and even more optimistically they suggest that as working from home becomes more the norm, we could see a trend towards greater balance in the future.
Raised profile and improved perception for the HR profession?
✔ In a Global Survey by HR Live, over 75% of respondents think that the perception of HR will change for the better due to the Covid-19 crisis and the unprecedented and complex of the challenges it has laid at the doors of HR.
✔ This is also reflected in research by Sage People, which revealed that in their survey ‘almost three-quarters of HR professionals say the pandemic has increased their value in the eyes of the business’.
✔ Also in the Sage People report; 72% percent of HR leaders said others’ understanding of the role had increased in the past 11 months, and 59% said they now played a more influential role in the company.
If the momentum of increased profile, improved perception and the complex demands for HR keep up, this could offer even more opportunity for the women in this profession.Back to the lastest news