Children and family-friendly business policies – a win-win situation

Reimagining the workplace post-COVID-19

Ida Hyllested, Regional Lead Child Rights and Business
family learning
26 June 2020

An unexpected outcome of the pandemic has been a spotlight on both companies’ and governments’ abilities – and willingness – to provide working parents the support needed to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, including family-friendly policies and practices. Working with business and other partners in ensuring that such policies are part of the immediate and longer-term social and economic recovery plans, we can prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for working parents and their children, especially the most vulnerable.  

Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights

Earlier this month, more than 6,000 representatives from business, civil society and government across Asia Pacific joined the first virtual Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights. The three days of both somber and lively exchange took place against a backdrop of unprecedented economic and social disruption caused by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights
Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights

The aim of the Forum was to reflect on and discuss the impact on workers, business and economies and the implications for advancing responsible business and human rights in the region. The premise of the Forum was that there cannot be a return to ‘business as usual’ during the post-COVID 19 recovery.

‘Business as usual,’ is the focus on short-term profit maximization and the prioritization of profit over people. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that half of people believe business is doing poorly, mediocre or completely failing at putting people before profits; only 43 per cent believe that companies are protecting their employees sufficiently from COVID-19. On a positive note, more than two-thirds of respondents say they believe the pandemic will result in valuable innovations and improvements in how we work, live, and treat each other.

Family-friendly policies

At UNICEF, we have long been concerned with how we work and the way conditions of employment impact on the well-being of workers, their children and families. From our pilot work in factories and plantations, we know that the most vulnerable families lack affordable childcare, limited protections for mothers or opportunities to breastfeed their infants, low wages and long hours.

Also, many children are being left behind as their parents migrate to follow jobs. Through our work in the region and beyond, we are aware that even in mid-to-high-income settings, there are significant gaps in providing the full range of family-friendly policies.

The pandemic has disrupted education and childcare, put health at risk and led to severe losses of household income. In this situation, family friendly policies, including employment and income protection, paid leave to care for family members, flexible working arrangements and access to quality, emergency childcare have emerged as critical measures to enable workers to protect and care for themselves, their children and their relatives.

These family-oriented policies and practices are important and relevant not just in a time of crisis, but as a way for companies to build business resilience by putting in place structures that can be adapted to rapidly changing contexts and unexpected business disruptions.

In Mongolia, against a backdrop of widespread school and day-care closures at the early onset of the pandemic in the region, both line ministries and many companies started to implement family-friendly policies. In practice, this included paid leave, shortened work hours and the option for parents and caregivers with young children as well as pregnant employees to work from home.

UNICEF Mongolia

For example, a company implemented flexible work arrangements during the COVID-19 crisis. With many employees working from home daily, the company reported a noticeable increase in employee responsiveness as well as positive feedback from the workforce. 

UNICEF handbook on family-friendly policies and practices  

To support businesses in building a family-oriented business culture focused on enhancing both workforce productivity and well-being, UNICEF has developed a new handbook on family-friendly policies and practices.

The handbook offers guidance, ideas and suggestions on delivering family-friendly solutions in the workplace. The starting point is an understanding of family-friendly policies as a long-term commitment that requires meaningful and ongoing engagement with workers.  It requires management to understand needs and potential gaps, which involves ongoing adjustments and amendments.


Win-win situation

A commitment to family-friendly policies is part of a shift towards putting workers and their families’ wellbeing first. UNICEF’s work demonstrates that well-planned and implemented family-friendly

policies represent a win-win situation: good for business, good for parents and children, and good for communities and society. There is amble evidence in support of this argument, but at the very heart of it - is the opportunity for a company to explicitly commit to human rights as part of its core business model.