We want to follow-up on the survey we sent out to HUCTW parents and caregivers on August 19. Thank you to the 600+ members with dependents who took part! The data and stories you provided have been extremely helpful in our ongoing discussions with Harvard, helping to illustrate some of the many challenges facing HUCTW members during the COVID-19 pandemic for the University. To this end, we want to make sure that you saw the message sent out by Harvard Human Resources yesterday (9/21) announcing the creation of a new, temporary paid time off benefit for Harvard staff with dependents.
Paid Time Off for HUCTW Parents & Caregivers
Between September 20 and December 31, staff can use up to 10 days of paid time off (prorated for those who work less than full-time) if needed to care for “well dependents” whose schooling or care arrangements have been disrupted by COVID-19. These new days are meant to be used for the care of dependents who are healthy but, due to COVID-related disruptions (such as remote schooling or the lack of dependent care), need additional care from their parents or caregivers during the next few months.
From Harvard’s 9/21 messages: “For the purpose of this policy, dependents include immediate family and household members — children, adults and elders. Use of this paid time off should be requested online in PeopleSoft as Emergency Excused Absence, with a “reason” of dependent well care. Dependent care sick time should no longer be used for this purpose but can continue to be used to care for dependents who are ill or who must isolate our quarantine.”
See the University’s full message here for additional details about the new benefit: https://huctw.org/harvard-letter-new-paid-time-off-benefit
Details about this benefit can also be found on the Harvard HR website: https://hr.harvard.edu/corona-virus-workplace-policies/sick-time-dependent-care-sick-time
We recognize that this additional benefit will not help everyone or address all of the challenges faced by caregivers, but we hope it will help to ease some of the stress and give some additional flexibility to caregivers. Time off and flexibility for caregivers and for all members during the pandemic are important issues we will continue to discuss and work on with Harvard. If you need assistance with any of these issues, please email us at email@example.com and we will put you in touch with an HUCTW organizer who works with your department. All discussions are confidential.
HUCTW Caregiver Survey Highlights
Of the 600+ members who responded to the HUCTW survey, 88% indicated that they care for at least one child under the age of 10, and 20% of respondents indicate that they care for at least one dependent adult:
- 61%* have children between the ages of 0 and 6
- 28%* of respondents have children between 7 and 10
- 31%* of respondents have children between 11 and 14
- 10%* of respondents have children between 15 and 18
- 20%* of respondents are caring for adults with significant needs
*Respondents may have chosen multiple age groups
Importance of Flexible Work Arrangements
Overall, those who took the survey indicated that flexible work arrangements are the key to effective outcomes at work and at home during the pandemic. 76% of survey respondents indicated that, despite challenges, overall their managers have been supportive of flexible work schedules. Unfortunately, a portion of respondents reported that they are struggling with flexible schedules or have little or no access to flexible arrangements. Most of these members indicated that this was due to the nature of their work, inflexible supervisors, the lack of viable childcare options, or unique family circumstances.
With fall approaching, members who took the survey expressed anxiety about balancing work and family needs. The remote spring semester was an unexpected shock, and staff, faculty and students did their best to make it successful. Members with dependents at home are concerned that flexible work arrangements may be less attainable as a more robust fall semester at Harvard is expected while members’ home lives simultaneously demand more attention and investment than in previous months.
Some member comments about concerns for the coming months:
- “In this climate, managers need to remain flexible due to the rapid way caregiving situations can change due to state regulations and ailments. I am lucky to have an understanding manager, but others may not be so lucky.”
- “The stress of trying to keep up at work and provide care for my child is overwhelming. I am scared for the semester. Once school starts (it is remote in my town) it will get worse, not better. No one at work is talking about this, just about how we will deal with the [Harvard] semester and the students.”
- “We were sent an email that said we have to understand the faculty are under a lot of pressure and we have to support them the best we can. I understand that. But I also wish the faculty and managers also got a message that employees might be under a lot of pressure and they should be understanding of our family obligations and be more flexible.”
Sick Time Balances & Health Concerns
Second to flexibility, a significant number of survey respondents (about 50%) indicated that they are concerned about their sick time balances. These concerns are more intense for people who needed to use sick time to care for dependents in the spring and summer, as well as for members who have been recalled to campus. Some respondents noted that as we move into flu season and adults and children are forced to spend more time indoors, illness will likely spread. Additionally, in light of COVID-19, stay at home policies will likely be enforced at higher levels than usual. Therefore, sick time availability will become even more critical.
Some member comments about sick time usage and future health concerns:
- “Sick time is for when you are sick… using these hours for times when you are not sick makes me feel like I am taking risks with time that I have allocated for a specific purpose, one that is
not simply taking care of children.”
- “Even if I could afford daycare, I would be very hesitant due to the exposure and health concerns with a newborn.”
- “With the spring you still had optimism that this might not be so long lasting, nicer weather approaching, and an end in sight for homeschooling. Fall brings on new challenges with colds/flu, weather prohibiting time outdoors, and no breaks or end in sight for homeschooling. I fear all of this might be too much for me and my family even while trying hard to stay optimistic.”
Primary Themes from the Survey
The University must promote flexible work arrangements, including those which take place outside of normal work hours.
There is a deep need for creative time off policies which allow for parents/caregivers to transition between being an employee and facilitating education for dependents.
There is a strong wish for acknowledgement from University leadership, recognizing the deep pressure on employees who are also caregivers.
For many caregivers, there is a significant lack of safe, affordable dependent care options at this time.
A significant portion of caregiving employees are concerned about their sick time balances for the future. Having a robust sick time balance is more important than ever, and union members have anxiety about depleting sick time/creating a deficit, especially during a global pandemic.
Sampling of Comments from Survey Respondents
“I fear that as this pandemic continues, the attitudes and flexibility around parents will wane, and though we (as parents) are still going to have to try to work full-time and teach our multiple kids from home, there will be less concern over our wellbeing and more concern over getting back to working regular hours/workloads.”
“Care giving is not just kids. Pregnant spouses, elder care, folks that are temporarily injured (broken leg), special needs care, etc. Pair this with no real long term understanding of how Covid-19 will continue to impact our family and society, which creates too much uncertainty to really plan for the future.”
“My manager is flexible, but my job is still deadline-driven, and I am expected to be responsive to faculty and other departments. Departmental policy does not always line up with the reality of the job. We will be paying for childcare on some the days that my son is not in and this was an unexpected expense for our family.”
“With a special needs child, the amount of time and energy seems double and so I hope managers are able to look at each employee on a case by case basis. Not everyone has a partner or partner that will help out with childcare and so much assistance is needed for childcare arrangements.”
“I care for my mother who is terminally ill. While there are eldercare resources offered, I haven’t seen many programs or benefits geared towards or that acknowledge those caregivers who are taking care of sick family members and the special demands that it comes with.”
“I opted for a nanny share, which is more expensive than daycare, but which I think has less risk than daycare. I can only afford to do it 3x a week, as opposed to the 5 days of care I need. Therefore I will have two days a week in which I must juggle work and care myself. I’ve been working until midnight and on weekends since March.”
“A greater focus should be put on remote work as a norm, rather than a fall back in extreme circumstances. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the location of the employee doesn’t matter, so long as the employee can be trusted to complete their role.”
“Due to the age of my child I am not able to leave him unattended in a room for any period of time to attend Zoom meetings or concentrate on important tasks should another daycare closure occur or if they further reduce their hours of operation. My husband is an essential worker who has no paid leave beyond 5 sick days per calendar year. So, if he takes time off for work, it’s lost income to our household during an already expensive and uncertain time. Thank you for working to help HUCTW members on this most important issue.”
Again, we recognize that there is still much more work to be done on these issues, and that new problems will arise as the pandemic continues. If you have ideas, questions, or concerns, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-661-8289. HUCTW organizers are also always happy to consult with you one-on-one confidentially to discuss your individual workplace concerns and situations.
If you did not get a chance to take the survey, you can still take it now: [ADD LINK]. We will continue to use these stories and data in future discussions with Harvard.