“Back-to-back unproductive meetings. Working without real vision or alignment. Unrealistic expectations and goals in comparison to our market. Not feeling heard or involved in solutions.”
“(My employer is)…pretending to care about employees through fluff newsletter highlights, which now set a clear aggressive political stance and tone, and various frivolous methods and culture changes while they reorganize departments with no clear purpose and make the job worse with nonstop required changes when we can barely keep afloat… Just clueless about what really happens someone’s pulling a chain blindly from the top.”
“I am on from 6am till 10pm at night. I feel I have to pay attention 24/7”
Over 3,000 parents mostly Moms (98%) have shared their work/life needs since March of 2020 in our pandemic study. And we’ve heard a lot about what’s driving the stress and joy. Especially at work. Although flexible arrangements are more mainstream, work/life strain remains high. As we enter year three, between the fragile economy and uncertain climate, employers continue to pivot. Although rapid changes in business strategy are rarely avoidable, overloading your team is.
Long before Covid work, which wasn’t family or female friendly, was overdue for a makeover. But now, most organizations are tweaking everything at once, from perks to in-office policies. And parents feel like they’re swimming in a washing machine. The professional shifts are almost as jarring as overhauling routines at home. So, how much change can people really absorb?
Although Moms are adaptive, time-bending-genies, almost half of women in the workforce are burned out (46%) or tuned out. And almost one third in our most recent survey wave (31%) cite their employers are supporting them ‘well’ or ‘very well.’ But when asked, ‘is your employer doing anything that adds unnecessary stress?’ surveyed Moms were candid about challenges. Most of which aren’t hard to address. So, how might leaders make change more sustainable?
Staff Projects Appropriately
“Understaffing is requiring me to do two peoples jobs
“Cutting staff, slow to replace staff that leave, slow increase compensation, compensation that does not match competition.”
“Working short staffed affects us all. Nurses in general have too much documenting to do which equals less time with patients.”
Moms are being asked to do more with less across their roles. The childcare crisis continues, there is less support for children’s mental health or education. And many surveyed Moms share that their work goals remain aggressive, even when they face cuts in budget or, staff. That doesn’t set anybody up for success.
Provide Onboarding and Extra Time for Recent Hires
“Too many managers, hiring unprofessional untrained staff”
“…Unrealistic expectations and procedural time-frames, high turnover with no quick replacements, taking on additional responsibility and workload in corporate setting with no additional pay. Procedural red tape and complexities that just make the job worse and the customers more angry…”
In the past two years, there’s been a lot of employee turnover. And many are managing and working with new colleagues. It takes months under the best of circumstances to train and integrate new hires. And workloads need to reflect this reality. Because parents can’t continue to make up the shortfall in planning with hours. As one surveyed Mom said, “(Expected) turn around for certain items is 24 hours – even on your off day.”
Create Room for Changes to Processes or Product Offerings
“….(I’ll) be at one meeting and listen to the recordings of the meetings I missed. Accommodate my clients’ requests for meetings outside of business hours (which is totally fine), but be available all the regular business hours (which means 12+ hour days…) Have time for trainings on important matters like diversity, inclusion, being an ally‚ while not missing any of the other meetings/work. Basically, there’s a ton of unnecessary stress coming from the expectation that I can work as many hours a week as needed to get everything done and maintain my sanity and focus.”
“Our paperwork is increasing but our cases are not decreasing. We used to have the flexibility of scheduling clients ourselves but now they’re being scheduled for us without much input from staff.”
New processes, just like new hires, require time for people to learn and internalize. In our survey Moms are consistently asking for relief. If you heap more administrative burden onto your teams, who are already reeling from cognitive overload, decision fatigue and possibly moral fatigue, your organization won’t win. Prioritize only the most meaningful changes and reduce your expectations for overall productivity while you roll them out.
Keep Tabs on People’s Workloads
“Having to work nights and weekends. Others above me not pulling their weight.”
“(It’s) assumed one will attend all meetings, outside of normal working hours to meet other time zones. (And) back-to-back calls without breaks or lunches, put in as many hours or weekends as required to get it done.”
When assigning work, how often do you reprioritize existing projects? Everyone wants to be excellent at everything. So, without explicit guidance on what matters most, your stars will try to deliver it all. And that begins to turn the culture into one of overreach, not achievement. And extractive work cultures undermine mental health.
Factor In the State of Mental Health
Burnout is one thing, and yes, it’s bad. But Moms continue to suffer anxiety and depression, at higher rates than Dads or their childless peers. In addition, they’re often the family medical officers. And navigate the children’s mental health crisis and, in some cases, the dynamic needs of aging parents. More organizations are offering mental health support. Including everything from mindfulness apps to company subsidized therapy. But make sure your team knows what your company offers. Or who to call for help navigating mental health, childcare and eldercare benefits.
Check in. Often
In our study, only 3% of parents feel like they can ask their managers for what they really need. In part, because there isn’t much leadership representation or psychological safety for women in the workplace. And the stats for women of color are worse.
Maintain or start having weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports. Because if anyone on your team has personal challenges, they won’t tell you in a group meeting. So, treat that one-on-one time as sacrosanct. And start each meeting with, ‘how are you doing?’ before diving into the work agenda.
Stop the Meeting Madness
Meeting with people in real time is necessary and if done for the right reasons, fruitful. Like, if you’re covering a sensitive topic or having a performance review. Or if you are, training someone early in their career or visual learners, who may need to see a process in action. And if the focus is on team ideation, social connection or a lengthy training, skip the Zoom and meet in person if possible. But you don’t need meetings for everything. And if you do have people meet, please make sure there’s an agenda, clear purpose, and plan to document the follow up. Otherwise, an email, video or voice note may be sufficient.
Create Capacity for Deep Work
So, the era of working after the kids are asleep for hours is over. No one wants that anymore. Moms are pretty frayed from the hyper vigilance of pandemic life. Not to mention, the impossible task of checking instant messages, social media and email, in their personal and professional lives. As Alexis Haselberger, productivity expert, Coach and Consultant recommends, align with your team on communications expectations. “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.” Then, everyone has the gift of confidently engaging in rest, deep work, or play. Without feeling compelled to check or respond to every interruption.
Prioritize Learning and Development
Moms are beyond busy. But they still want to grow and get inspired to work and live in better ways. If you’re in an environment with workplace bullies, or toxicity, guided reflection, inclusion training and critical skill building, is necessary for positive change. It won’t correct itself magically. And the work of diversity, inclusion and belonging, is ongoing. And vital to the long-term health of your people and organization. So, make the time for it. Which may mean, deprioritizing or eliminating that shiny, new strategy-du-jour from the to-do list.
And Most Importantly, Model and Encourage Self-Care
Mothers are still face workplace bias. So, many hide pregnancies and care responsibilities. Or they keep punishing schedules, with the hope of outsmarting the Motherhood penalty.But working nonstop, whether it’s management for your team or your household, is still exhausting.
As Dr. Charmain Jackman, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of InnoPsych stated, “It starts with your mindset. You really need to understand that self-care is important. It’s not about pampering, like getting a pedicure. Self-care is about giving your mind and body a rest.” As LeanIn and McKinsey’s* women in the workplace report states, “Women at all levels are far more likely than men to be responsible for most or all of their family’s housework and caregiving. But the imbalance is especially stark between men and women in leadership roles.” And the responsibilities at home, are often inflexible.
Children need to be fed, dropped off or picked up, at specific times. So, show your teams what taking time off, really off, looks like. Whether that’s for an afternoon, or a week. If you become an effusive champion for breaks, they’ll allow themselves to take them. Because ultimately, that’s what people need, to be their most effective, clear, and fulfilled professionally.
And Rise to Needs of Today’s Workforce
The great resignation should not have surprised anyone. Workers have felt the dwindling return on their professional time and energy for decades. But now, they’re less likely to suffer through unreasonable conditions. And few are willing to have hard conversations about it with their leadership either. In this era of greater choice and lower resilience, they’ll simply upgrade. And negotiate better boundaries in their next role.
Making work, work for parents and caregivers requires intention but it isn’t difficult. And the type of flexibility that helps a Mother with an infant, is also welcome by a 25 year old who wants to surf and have a dog. Creating a workplace where the expectations are high but flexible and achievable, is good for everybody.
* Please note, although we’ve cited McKinsey’s thoughtful research for years, they’re now a partner.
Many thanks to the talented Alexis Haselberger and Dr. Charmain Jackman for their comments!
⏰ Ready to put yourself back onto your to-do list? Take a TimeCheck.
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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.
Dr. Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.
Tags: diversity equity and inclusion, Inclusive leadership, psychological safety at work, work/life balance for parents, work/life integration