What Parents Desperately Need at Work Right Now
“Merit increases are somewhat flat while costs of living are rising (particularly the massive childcare costs we’ve undertaken this year…”
“(They’re) not allowing me to work from home when my job is doable from home.”
“(Work is) expecting me to be constantly logged on, still expecting quick turnaround, competing with male team members who have MORE time and push ahead with projects even faster than before and allowing that only to leave mom’s behind.”
Over 1,700 parents, mostly Mothers (98%) have shared their pandemic experiences since March of last year. In the most recent survey wave, parents cite that employer support is better. But most still struggle to manage work and uneven childcare. Over one million Moms fled the workforce despite how family friendly employers said they were. Like a litmus test, Covid has revealed the imposters. So, how can organizations plan for an inclusive post-pandemic return?
Family benefits don’t matter if you’re answering emails until midnight. It’s often the hidden rules, not stated policies, that lead to burnout. And there’s nothing family friendly about that. Donielle Buie, HR leader and Work/Life expert said, “Organizations have really had to look in the mirror and say, ‘we said these things about who we thought we were. And now we have to do some things to make that true.’ There are very few silver linings of Covid but this has been one.”
Many Employers Have Stepped Up
“They never stopped paying me through a 3-week shutdown.”
“I work from home permanently. Flex hours are great. They give me the option to say no to things I can’t do and the opportunity to be a team player and say yes!”
“(They) gave a $500 allowance for office supplies, desks, monitors etc. They have offered Tutor.com to employees and a lot of support. They have been fantastic with support and have encouraged work/life balance. They don’t expect us to be tethered to our computer and understand that we are home with our families and trying to handle virtual learning.”
More than a third of parents surveyed November through February, cite adequate (39%) support. And almost one third (31%) feel either ‘well’ or ‘very well’ supported. This a positive shift from earlier waves of the study. When asked what has been particularly helpful, it’s everything from employers paying for vaccinations and childcare, to adjusting schedules and expectations.
But Work Still Isn’t Working for Most
“Increased expectations when there is decreased time to work due to virtual learning.”
“Making me jump through hoops to prove lack of childcare, had my elderly father get a doctor’s note that he couldn’t babysit, will not allow me to use sick time for times when school is closed.”
Despite the positive changes from some employers, most (58%) surveyed parents feel less confident in their work performance. A slight increase (5%) compared with the prior survey wave. And almost a third (29%) described poor support at work. Often in the form of inflexibility or increased demands, when critical resources like staff and budgets, have decreased.
Parents Need Flexible Everything. Yes, Expectations Too
“(They’re) not criticizing my decline in productivity.”
“(My boss) allowed babies and kids in the office for years BEFORE the pandemic. I was well adjusted at having kids with me while working which helped me be more prepared for working with kids.”
“(They’re) allowing me to work from home with flexible deadlines and limited in office hours
“They’re giving us adequate PPE, offering psychological help.”
Parents continue to need flexibility in all the ways. So, when asked about the benefits that would improve their happiness, flexible performance expectations, paid leave and the ability to work fewer hours, outperformed receiving a raise! And 29% of those surveyed would welcome subsidies or reimbursement for childcare costs as well.
It’s Time for Organizations to Show (not Just Say) They’re Flexible
Donielle said, “Most organizations have not been doing this well. But everyone had a lot of rhetoric. They said, ‘we believe in work life balance and in supporting families.’ And the reckoning of 2020 was, show me. ‘Okay, show me that it’s OK for me to have my cat in the background of my Zoom video or that it’s okay I logged off at three.” Amen!
She added, “So, it almost doesn’t matter what they were doing before. Because now we have this moment, where they have to decide ‘are we going to be a workplace that enables flexible work arrangements?’ Because that benefits a lot of people. It doesn’t just benefit caregivers. It benefits humans who have relationships, responsibilities and commitments outside of their work. Which is all of us!”
And Create Flexibility that Works for Each Role
Not everyone shares the same definition of flexibility. And pre-pandemic, it often meant being able to work-from-home. And the majority of surveyed parents are doing so, but without full access to childcare or onsite schools. Donielle said, “As somebody in administration, I can do my job from home and don’t have to go back into the office. But I like the people I work with and building those relationships. I work in an organization where we also have research labs and scientists. And so, it’s hard to talk about flexibility when being in the lab or the manufacturing plant or the retail space, is expected to actually get the work done.” What are the options?
She added, “So then, it’s also defining what flexibility looks like for someone who has an expectation to be on site. What are the other needs that they have? We’re now having to deal with this in real time and create policy around it. And even that policy might need to flex.” It’s new territory for many organizations.
Who Gets to Decide? It Needs to Be Equitable
Organizations need to keep the dialog open as parents continue to work and care for kids simultaneously. More surveyed parents (87%) cited disruption to onsite school or childcare during the most recent survey wave, yet more are also working onsite. Donielle suggests broader ways to view flexibility for on-site roles. She said, “So, it could be to shift hours, to start earlier or later or work from home a few days a week. I think most organizations are going to have to have multiple models. The challenge is, how do you address equity issues? And determine who has the power to say someone can have flexible work? Is that now a right or is it a privilege? That’s the decision many organizations are going have to think about.”
Is Flexibility is a Right or a Privilege?
Critical questions. Donielle said, “And then the privilege piece, is where the manager tends to be the gatekeeper. They may have different definitions or expectations. I had someone on my team ask, ‘can I move to another city?’ And I was like, why not? I mean we’re working remotely. And I’ve worked remotely before. So, there’s no way that I’m going to tell a team member who is performing well, ‘no you can’t move.’ It was a 5-minute conversation. And after I said, actually let me talk to my boss just to make sure that I understand what’s being communicated to our broader team. But I didn’t I didn’t flip it and knew that my manager was going to say, it’s fine. But we want to be consistent and equitable.” How can leaders move from thinking of it as ‘perk’ to ‘policy?’
Start with Organizational Values
Donielle suggests leaders begin with values, “Be really clear on your cultural values as an organization.” It’s like that inner work we do as individuals but at the company level! She said, “I work in an organization where we value collaboration. It’s core to who we are and how we’ve done things. So, the conversation around flexibility includes no longer bumping into that person in the hallway and suddenly coming up with a new idea. That doesn’t happen on Zoom because you log in and log out.” So true.
She said, “So, unless you build in this sort of chit chat time, that might not happen. And then anybody who wasn’t invited to the meeting, isn’t there to do it.” She wisely points out, “Understand some of your cultural values and then, discuss how to adapt your culture to a hybrid environment.”
And Inclusion by Design
Flexibility was a missing ingredient to the work/life puzzle long before Covid. And as we wait, to reconvene with friends and colleagues, let’s acknowledge that in most organizations, work hasn’t ‘worked’ for everyone. Evidenced by the stubborn wage, wealth and leadership gaps for women and people of color.
While we’re paused, let’s have intentional conversations about work that’s inclusive by design. Where the underlying values and mechanics of how things get done, factor in the caregiving experience. So that post-pandemic, parents flourish instead of wither in the workplace.
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 & Employee Resource Group Leaders, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Donielle Buie for her sage advice!
Donielle Buie is Director, Broadie Experience and Total Rewards at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She also runs WifeMotherLeader where she supports families solving real, everyday programs from her podcast, blog and coaching programs. Donielle is an experienced educator, project manager, sales director, and mother. Her experience as a parent and background in market research led her to identify the need for WifeMotherLeader. Donielle has a BS in biomechanical engineering and a Masters in Education, both from Stanford University.