Skip to main content

16 September 2020

The career costs of the Covid crisis for parents and carers

Redundancy decisions may not take into account the extra pressures people have been under

career costs

Read the report

Future-focus: How can workplaces evolve for parents / carers in a post-Covid world?

Employers may not be giving fair treatment to parents and carers whose work has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, according to new research.

Many organisations say that when it comes to redundancy decisions or performance reviews, they do not have clear policies which take into account the extra pressures faced by those with caring responsibilities during the crisis.

The study, by employee research agency Karian and Box and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, surveyed 228 global organisations between 23 June and 20 July.

British employers planned more than 300,000 redundancies during these months, it was reported last week.

The findings reveal the lengths parents and carers have had to go to carry out their jobs during the pandemic and the potential career penalty they may face as a result.

Performance reviews and redundancies

  • A third (34%) of the organisations surveyed say they do not have a clear policy on how line managers should handle performance conversations with an individual whose work has been impacted by the need to care for children.
  • A quarter (25%) say they do not have a clear policy in place to mitigate against making redundant employees who have had time off work due to caring responsibilities or illness during the pandemic.

Balancing work and caring responsibilities

  • 57% of the organisations surveyed believe more than a fifth of their employees have had to use annual leave to manage work and caring responsibilities during the pandemic.
  • 31% believe the same proportion of their workers have had to reduce their working hours (and be paid pro rata) to balance these responsibilities.
  • 22% of organisations say more than a fifth of employees have had to take unpaid leave in order to manage work and care responsibilities, and 14% say their workers have asked for voluntary furlough to do so.

Policies to support parents and carers

  • A third (32%) of the organisations surveyed say they do not have formal policies in place to support parents and carers balancing work with caring responsibilities at the moment.
  • 79% of organisations with such policies say their employees are speaking up if they’re struggling to manage, compared with 58% among organisations without such policies.
  • While 79% of organisations surveyed say they’ve increased support for flexible working, more than a third (36%) say they do not have specific policies to consistently deal with short-term flexible working requirements from parents during the pandemic.
  • More than a quarter (29%) of organisations say they are not actively planning for a situation where employees with children choose not to send them back to school due to anxiety about a lack of social distancing.
  • Even among those who are planning for this, more than a quarter (28%) say they don’t have policies in place to deal fairly and consistently with parents or carers who refuse to send their children back.

The organisations surveyed represent many different sectors, including accountancy, banking and finance; law; business, consulting and management; media and internet; and retail. The organisations also range in size, from 100 or fewer employees to over 50,000.

James Tarbit, Managing Director of Client Advisory at Karian and Box, said:

“We are delighted to be able to partner with GIWL on this research, to add to the knowledge base for business leaders and policymakers at a time when they have to make important and far-reaching decisions.

“Worryingly, our research shows that the pandemic is undoing some of the progress made towards equality in the workplace. A third of organisations in our research say that they do not have policies to support employees balancing work with parent or caring responsibilities. What’s more, the data suggests organisations are not preparing for the future sufficiently, with, for example, only half actively planning for challenges arising from likely disruptions in the return to school.

“The longer-term impact of Covid-19 is a catalyst for widespread change. It is critical for businesses to meet this change now with positive steps and progressive policymaking.”

Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said:

“Many employers currently find themselves facing extraordinarily difficult decisions which will lead to significant numbers of people losing their jobs – but what’s worse is that many are making these decisions in the dark. This data shows an alarming one in four companies surveyed do not have policies in place to mitigate against the brunt of redundancies being borne by people whose performance has been affected by the closure of schools and childcare providers.

“Women continue to undertake the greatest share of unpaid caring work in the UK and they have already been disproportionately represented among those laid off during the crisis. If more isn’t done to ensure that those who took on the bulk of the caring during the lockdown aren’t the first to be out of work, we risk losing a massive pool of talent from the workforce and reversing progress on gender equality, neither of which will help achieve the economic recovery we all hope for.”

The findings of the research will be discussed at an online event on Wednesday 16 September featuring Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership.


Research methodology
Primary data for this research was collected using an online survey, with responses collected between 23 June and 20 July 2020. Snowball sampling via direct invite emails and social media was used to target private sector executives and HR and communications professionals. A total of 228 organisations took part in the research, with responses representing a broad range of company size and sector.

Due to the targeted nature of this sampling process, responses are not generalisable to the UK average industry composition. Instead, the results provide a good indication of the current concerns and planning being undertaken by companies to deal with the economic and logistical impacts of Covid-19.

Secondary data from other workforce studies that contextualise the impact of Covid-19 has been incorporated into this report. These studies have been cited in our reference page (see p.24).

Karian and Box
Established in 2006, Karian and Box is now one of the leading employee research and analytics businesses in the UK. Karian and Box conducts research for more than a third of the FTSE 100 and other leading UK-domiciled businesses – together with multinationals based in Europe, Africa and Asia – across a range of sectors – especially in the financial services, retail, energy and travel sectors

It has obtained participation in research and feedback from over 2.5 million employees in the last 18 months, providing extensive UK and sector insight into the experiences and outlook of different workforces.

The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership
The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London works towards a world in which women of all backgrounds have fair and equal access to leadership. 

Chaired by Julia Gillard, the only woman to have served as Prime Minister of Australia, the institute brings together rigorous research, practice and advocacy to break down the barriers to women becoming leaders, while challenging ideas of what leadership looks like.