In December 2019, I was finalizing my plan for a short, little 6-week maternity leave. I had crossed all my “T’s” and dotted all my “I’s”. My team members were all trained in on their miscellaneous tasks and we were set. Even when my daughter came earlier than expected, the plan was solid enough that there were little to no hiccups.
Enter March 2020. I had enjoyed a few, quiet weeks at home with my new baby and suddenly, every member of my family was home. All the time. My kids’ school and daycare closed. My husband’s work travel was put on hold and he now had to figure out how to work from home with four other people in his space. It was loud and crazy and stressful but we thought it would only last a few weeks and things would go back to normal.
Seven months later, we now know that didn’t happen. We still can’t be sure when, if ever, things will go back to “normal”.
865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September when their kids went back to school or began online learning from home (Source: National Women’s Law Center). And, one in four women are contemplating downshifting their career or leaving the workforce, according to this year’s McKinsey and LeanIn.org annual Women in the Workplace study. With these latest statistics, it’s safe to say these issues are felt throughout the nation.
So, what can we do in the meantime to help minimize some of the stress and anxiety that rattles our working parents?
Allow for flexibility
If the nature of your business demands a 9-5 schedule, this one is a little tricky. But, if your employees don’t need to be “logged in” during specific hours, allow for flexibility in the hours they’re working. If the most important thing is that the work gets done, does it matter what time of the day it’s being done? There have been days when my kids have made it impossible to get things done during normal working hours. Once they went to bed, I was able to focus and complete the tasks. Sometimes that means my co-workers are receiving emails at 11:30 pm and 5:00 am but at least they are getting what they need.
It is tough for parents to talk openly about balancing home life with work production because of the fear that it might affect how managers view them in terms of advancing their careers. What is needed now, more than ever, are managers who can have open and honest conversations with their direct reports about how, together, we can make the schedule work.
Give them grace
Remember the old saying, “keep your personal life separate from your work life”? That is NOT our reality today. We are all battling stress and sick of this pandemic. But parents are experiencing that on a different level. Not only are we concerned about the health and safety of our families, we have to very carefully juggle so many things. It’s hard to know where to start. Help ease some of this stress by providing grace to the issues that arise when you have young children. Something I’ve been reminded of a few times in the last few months is just as soon as you have a “schedule” down, the baby will get sick. Or, your teenager will need to quarantine in his room because of close contact with a positive case.
Without a level of understanding, leaders and work teams can easily jump to assuming everything is “just fine” behind that Zoom screen. Balancing work with home challenges requires extra time to re-prioritize and re-focus while adapting to those unexpected “you’ll-never-guess-what-just-happened” issues.
Be okay with a baby on the screen
Again, this very much depends on the nature of your business. Having your children disrupt a customer call may be a big no-no. However, if your team engages in regular internal meetings and prefers all attendees have their cameras on, you may need to be open to seeing additional faces from time to time. Though it may seem counterproductive to those not used to having their hands full with little people, most parents are used to carrying on conversations while holding squirmy kids or grabbing snacks. It also allows your co-workers to see us on a more personal level which can lead to some extra understanding and patience. Just make sure that mute button is easily accessible!
I saved the most important for last. We stress with our clients the importance of having the right people in the right seats throughout your organization. If you do, trusting your employees isn’t an issue. You don’t need to be concerned that they are doing what they say they’re doing when they say they’re doing it. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of work. But once you achieve a level of trust, wondering if your people are being honest goes away. That is one less thing for you to worry about and one more reason for your employees to remain loyal to the company!
According to a recent SHRM article, managers are in the best position to have meaningful conversations with their employees about how to work in these challenging times. Simply asking, “how are you doing?” is not enough because the majority will respond with “fine”. If you want to make a difference in lives of working parents, try some of these:
What is working and not working with your virtual office? With your schedule?
What can we adjust to help maintain your work productivity?
What is the most frustrating barrier you are facing today? How can I help remove that barrier?
What tools do you need to make things easier for you to do your work?
Especially now, employers can’t afford to lose valuable people. By taking a few of these suggestions into account, you can help ease some of the stressors working parents are dealing with and hopefully gain even more loyal employees in the process.
Author, Katie Pierce, is Marketing Manager and a Client Account Manager with The Resultants™. To learn more about Katie, visit our Team Page or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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