Over 1,000* surveyed parents, primarily Moms (94%) were open about what they need from work for their productivity, wellbeing and happiness. Most (70%) have had their childcare disrupted by the pandemic and crave understanding. And yes, that includes more flexibility and control over their time so they can care for their children and themselves.
“Less check-in meetings. Just trust the job will get done.”
“…I still have the same 35-hour workload of meetings and manage staff and my husband is having to take over care for our one-year-old on top of his project-based work.”
“…In many ways I feel for my employer and understand that you can’t make exceptions for those with or without kids. However, I do think less meetings would be helpful and give parents flexibility on time. A four-day work week would also be great!”
“Lower expectations with lowered staff (had layoffs but same expectations). Offer more flexibility, (there’s) no need for 9 am to 5 pm in the digital world.”
Most parents can’t maintain the habits of overwork that are common in our culture. And non-stop work, wasn’t healthy or effective for peak performance anyway. But as the recession deepens, many choose to quietly endure untenable schedules, rather than risk losing their jobs.
Because pre-Covid, the rules for success at work were often hidden. And performance expectations can be mysterious preferences we discover, manager by manager. But Covid-19 has changed how work gets done for everyone. And savvy leaders can use this opportunity to set new, transparent norms, that ease the work/life juggle.
How? I asked Alexis Haselberger, productivity expert and consultant, how organizations can address some of the top work concerns shared by parents in the pandemic study.
Decide on Real-Time Availability (And it Should be Less Than Before)
Alexis said, “One thing that employers can do to create some flexibility and stability, is to create core hours. They can decide when people are going to be available to each other for meetings. It doesn’t even have to be organization-wide, it can be by team. And It doesn’t need to be all 8 hours! Maybe, right now, it’s for 2 hours a day (i.e. from 12:00 to 2:00 pm or a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon.) But agree on hours to be available to each other for synchronous communication. And outside of those hours, decide not to give anyone grief if they can’t be there.” Brilliant!
Be Intentional About Channels (That Includes an Emergency Channel)
Alexis, who works with organizations and individuals, explained how common misalignment is. “Think about your internal SLA’s (service level agreements) because it’s really helpful to define within your team or organization. What are your communication channels and how do you use them?” This is rarely discussed and even if it was, it needs a Covid-era upgrade. She shared, “When I bring a team together and ask them, ‘how quickly should email or Slack be answered?’ We go around the room and you’ll get 10 wildly different answers. Some people will say ‘by the end of the day’ whereas others say ‘within 30 seconds.’ Huge discrepancies! So, discuss what to use email and Slack for and decide what the emergency channel will be if there’s a need to reach out urgently. Then people don’t feel like they have to answer right away or have notifications on constantly.” YES!
Allow Deep Work Time During the Day
Alexis explained, “Technology is so wonderful and so interruptive. Often, there’s this fear of not getting to something right away but we know from this study that came out of UC Irvine that it takes us 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. And on average we get interrupted, in a normal office, every 11 minutes. So, think about how often we’re getting interrupted when we’re parenting and working at home!” Sigh. She added, “It’s an effort to get back on track every single time you’ve been interrupted. So, if organizations come together and agree on how quickly responses are required, then people can feel comfortable to shift their work to when it needs to be. And may choose, ‘you know what? I’ve got an hour, because the baby is sleeping, that I don’t need to have notifications on and I can get my report done.’” This clarity is beneficial to organizations and employees because ultimately, work effectiveness, is in everyone’s best interest. And many surveyed parents admit being too exhausted to work late at night anymore.
Be Aware of Pandemic Parenting Constraints
People managers without young kids at home may not understand the type of flexibility that their teams need. Alexis shared a recent example from one of her clients, “She was telling me that her company has been remote since its inception. She said that her boss, who has older teenagers said to everyone in a company-wide meeting, ‘we’re going to be just fine, nothing is going to change because we’ve all been working from home, so this isn’t any different for us. Aren’t we lucky!’ My client raised her Zoom hands and said, ‘I just wanted to point out something that might have been missed, this isn’t going to be the same because many of us now have children at home.’ Her boss said, ‘oh you’re right’ but it didn’t occur to her that her worldview was different because her kids are older.” Bravo! Not every manager has the context for pandemic-style working parent life.
Alexis explained, “Say, ‘I want to be my most productive self at work and at home. That’s what I’m striving for and in order to do that, there are a few things that we might be able to experiment with’ because using the word experiment versus the word change is huge!” Exactly. And each person has their own magic formula, tailored to their style, schedule, job role and childcare situation. Opening up this dialog with managers allows for more thoughtful discussions.
She added, “You can say, ‘I’d like to try out this schedule for a couple of weeks to see if it works for me and for you. And if not, we’ll tweak it or we can go back.’ It’s presents, ‘I’m trying to be the best I can be and would you be open to trying this?’ When we use that language around experimentation and trial, it puts other people into a more collaborative view point. And it makes it really hard for them to say no. Because no boss wants to be the jerk that doesn’t want to try an experiment, right? Who wants to say, no, you cannot try to be better?”
Model & Encourage Breaks
Alexis discussed the power of obligation free time. And every parent with kids at home has less discretionary time than before Covid. Alexis said, “There are so many studies that have shown taking breaks of any length, even 5 minutes, increases our productivity, creativity and accuracy. So, it’s really important to have time where we’re not thinking about work.” Yes! Many surveyed parents expressed that they’re already burned out. Alexis shared, “Even though I run my own business, I don’t look at email on the weekend or in the evenings. I have an out-of-office reply that keeps me honest. It goes on Fridays at whatever time I’m done and says, ’It’s the weekend, I won’t be checking email and I will get back to you next week. If you would like to know why, here’s a link to my blog post about why taking breaks is important for productivity.”
The boundaries between work and home were always tenuous. We are conditioned not to mix them and few employees, during an economic downturn, feel secure enough in their jobs to share challenges. Yet, we’re all living through a massive transformation in work/life. And if we can accept that the old work models don’t fit the pandemic, we can make meaningful changes to promote better health, happiness and professional outcomes.
* This is a partial update with results from 1,026 parents who participated in the pandemic parenting study from March 30 – August 11, 2020.
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.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Thank you to the talented Alexis Haselberger! Check out her Working Parents Coronavirus Quarantine Survival Guide and Online courses. She is currently enrolling for her “Take Control of Your Time” group coaching program, click here for more details. You can also follow her great adventures on her Website, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
Alexis is a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops and online courses. Her pragmatic, yet fun, approach helps people easily integrate practical, realistic strategies into their lives so that they can do more of what they want and less of what they don’t. Alexis has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork and more.