Can Psychological Safety Can Make Work More Sane Right Now?
This is part of an ongoing series, to share results from the pandemic research study. This update is from nearly 400 parents, primarily Moms (91%) who responded between March 30 – June 6th about how COVID-19 has affected work and life, including what has been the hardest.
“The instability of both my job and ability to secure safe childcare (many will call out with late notice after finding out I work in healthcare.)”
“… uncertainty about when life can safely return to normal and perhaps more importantly the anxiety that my partner is likely going to be asked to return to work before we feel doing so meets our own personal threshold of risk.”
“I was working remotely then requested to be furloughed as both my husband and I were working remote with our 10-month-old and it was too much without help.”
More Responsibilities at Home Have Come at the Expense of Work
Surveyed Moms and Dads have leaned into their family roles during this time of crisis. 68% felt that they were doing the same, a better job than usual, or really well as parents and, though by a smaller majority, as spouses/partners. However, most (58%) felt that they were doing terribly or not as well as usual in their performance as workers and most (60%) sacrificed self-care routines to make space for the added responsibilities. There are, however, exceptions. One surveyed Mom shared, “My kids are 9 and 10. They do their schoolwork and play/watch TV on their own while I’m working. My partner is now working from home, too, so I feel like I have more help than usual. I’m more productive now than I was when I was going to my workplace.”
Help Is Not On the Way for Most
The work/life juggle after having kids tested even the most optimistic parents. But in this pandemic, childcare, a prerequisite for working parenthood was disrupted for the overwhelming majority (74%) of those surveyed. And people are breaking under the strain of trying to do the absurd – work, parent and often, teach. Simultaneously. When the surveyed audience responded with what they need most for either work productivity or happiness, help – preferably in the form of childcare – was (predictably) the most popular response.
“I wish I had been laid off rather than made to work from home. I’m expected to homeschool the children, keep the house up and work at the same time.
“Help. A babysitter. ANYONE to help keep my kiddo entertained while I work.”
“An interruption-free 3 hours that isn’t after 8pm and an exhausted day.”
“…childcare! I can’t get any work done, so even an hour or two would help!”
“… An extra set of hands and someone to do the chores would help me be able to focus on work instead of getting overwhelmed.
Already Thin Work/Life Boundaries Have Completely Dissolved
Although tying to compartmentalize parenthood and career was an exercise in futility many miss the fragile separation that used to exist. The lack of a commute is a plus for most but for some, working away from home meant less housework, distractions and a rare opportunity for time alone each day.
“I never thought I would say that I missed the commute but not having that time to switch from parent to employee and then back has been a real struggle.”
“More time for myself. I am limited to reading the New York Times while brushing my teeth.”
“…I’m ok. I just want to separate work and home again.”
“I wish I had help! Still working but now (with) all at home, making a mess (it’s) more cooking, more dishes!”
Working Parents Weren’t Too Happy Before Covid-19
Some parents expressed they’ve either taken or plan to take a leave of absence, as a last resort. But long before Covid-19, the Pew Research Center found that parents were concerned about being passed over for growth opportunities or perceived as being not fully committed to their work. These experiences were more pervasive among Mothers than Fathers. And when McKinsey and LeanIn.org surveyed more than 68,500 employees in 2019 about the impact of taking personal time off, “… more than 1 in 4 employees who took leave say it hurt their career or finances—and this is particularly true for women.” What’s more, “20% of women who’ve taken a leave say it negatively impacted their career, compared to 10% of men.”
During a global recession, few families can afford to lose income and several surveyed parents are worried about employment. One shared, “I was laid off, so I need work and the time to find work.” Others have concerns about too little work and its implications for their job security, “…my job is so slow right now that I am worried. Even though I’m working from home, I don’t have any tasks.”
Few Feel Safe Sharing Personal Challenges With Work
“…I stay up really late every night now to fit in the work hours.”
“I need reduced work hours. Reduced goals at work and a true recognition in actions that yes, I am a worker but a mom too and toddlers are needy, I cannot work the same way…”
“…Supervisors without small children do not get what it’s like for us right now.”
Psychological safety is still elusive yet one of the most desired ingredients for work happiness. It’s described as both the ability to have a ‘safe’ environment (free from psychological harm) and one where there’s enough trust to express opinions and ideas openly.
But these fragile pacts are formed with individual allies and rarely permeate the corporate culture. A Circle In research study about the pandemic revealed, “68% of people said that flexibility depends on who their manager is and 56% received underwhelming or limited support from their manager during COVID-19.”
Is There a Silver Lining?
The pandemic, pressing on systems that were already failing most working families, may offer an opportunity for work reinvention. The research surfaced a critical theme, for this to happen, employees need a safe space from which to share and seek help. The current conditions: lack of adequate childcare, an avalanche of unpaid work at home, limited educational infrastructure for kids and ongoing risk for the coronavirus; require new, thoughtful agreements between parents and their employers.
Everyone understands that organizations still have financial goals to meet and surveyed parents expressed their desire to explore mutually acceptable ways to navigate this ‘not-at-all-normal’ at work.
The encouraging news, if we successfully foster this important dialog between caregivers and employers, the types of breakthroughs required to engage and retain parents through the pandemic have the potential to fundamentally improve work for modern families.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.