West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is supporting its staff by facilitating truly flexible working.
The pandemic has placed additional pressures on parents and carers.
Parents are having to juggle work and home-schooling and, for many carers, working from home has removed the respite that office-life provided.
Employers across the country claim to have adopted a flexible approach to working hours, but this is often limited to starting or finishing an hour early with very little flexibility throughout the day.
However, staff at WMCA say the authority’s truly flexible approach allows those with children or other caring commitments to plan their hours around their responsibilities.
WMCA employee Hannah says her team has embraced the approach and are very understanding if she has to step away from her work to care for her son.
‘Back in March, when the schools closed, I felt really worried about how I would balance my full-time job as well as schooling at home.
‘I am really grateful that I work for an organisation that embraces and encourages flexible working.
‘My team was really understanding if I had to step away from my laptop to help my son with a lesson or make him a lunch.
‘I really appreciate that there weren’t hours I was required to be online, that my work hours were the ones that I was able to set during that time.’
While Lois says the authority’s flexible approach means she can be there for her mum throughout the day. She said: ‘Caring for loved ones pre-Covid was challenging and I felt my days were long and stressful.
‘When I used to finish work in the office, I could concentrate on supporting my mom and her needs often until late in the evening.
‘Caring for loved ones post-Covid with an understanding and accommodating employer has meant that I can manage to do some of my caring responsibilities in a more flexible and agile way.
‘I can make time for my mom in the middle of the day, I can contact any support she needs when services are open and, most of all, I can be there when she needs me whatever the time and still deliver my expectations at work.’
WMCA employee Paula said the authority has also ramped up its mental health support as the Covid-19 crisis continues.
This comes after a report by the Centre for Mental Health reveals 8.5m adults in England are likely to need mental health support following the pandemic.
Paula said the council run mental health courses, offers exercise classes and even hosts a virtual kitchen where those who are missing the social aspect of office life can meet for an online chat.
She said: ‘For many, the requirements of the job have actually increased considerably during Covid, for instance having to respond to events specifically created by the pandemic while continuing with the day-job.
‘Many of us struggle to accept that we can’t perform at the same level as we did despite the overwhelming change in circumstance. Unfortunately, employers can’t remove these pressures.
‘The organisation has acknowledged the extra toll on people’s mental health.
‘Managers have addressed this in meetings with the whole organisation and in courses which have been run during the pandemic.
‘They have also offered regular exercise classes and the teams that I am a member of regularly meet, to have a chat and to try to ensure continuing human contact, albeit remotely.’
WMCA also actively promotes the Every Mind Matters programme which signposts staff and residents to a free NHS-approved online guide to help them identify, manage and get help for mental health problems.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, WMCA portfolio lead for Wellbeing said: ‘The pandemic has affected us all and the message ‘it’s ok to not be ok’ is more relevant than it has ever been.
‘The statistics for the new report on mental health are worrying however the WMCA is already taking steps to address poor mental health across the region.’
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