Last spring, as the COVID-19 vaccine became available, it appeared we were at last putting the challenges of the pandemic behind us. In no quarter was the anticipation more palpable than among parents who had endured home schooling, child-care emergencies, and conflicting policies – all while trying to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, this fall’s return to school put a damper on the excitement. Between mask mandates, vaccination requirements, the Delta variant, and political infighting, parents once again faced the stark prospect of playing an oversized role in their child’s schooling.
And then, just as companies were hoping to return to some semblance of “business as usual,” along came the Great Resignation – an unprecedented exodus of workers, the likes of which we have never seen before. An October 2021 Workhuman® survey report, “How the Great Resignation Will Shape HR and the Future of Work,” found that nearly 4 in 10 (38%) said they plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. Compare those figures to the findings of Workhuman’s December 2019 survey when just 21% – almost half as many workers – were looking for a new job. And as recently as September, quit rates continued to increase in 15 states, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Parents feeling the pinch
As parents juggle the needs of their children while meeting the demands of their job, how can organizations prevent these valued workers from leaving out of need, frustration, or desperation? According to the Workhuman report – which surveyed more than 3,500 workers in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and Canada – 64% of respondents experienced burnout; 41% said it happened in just the past few months. And here’s the kicker … of all respondents looking for a new job, 65% are working parents seeking ways to better manage family and work responsibilities.
Oh, and if you think it’s just mothers that are feeling the stress, think again. According to the survey, stress levels between mothers and fathers were the same – showing that working fathers need just as much support as mothers in this new working dynamic.
With this as a backdrop, how can managers decide who works in the office, who works at home, and when? In his post, journalist John Rossheim explores three steps managers can take to optimize both employee satisfaction and business results in the ever-evolving new world of work. Given the dizzying pace of change in today’s workplace dynamics, it’s a good time to revisit his roadmap for helping working parents – and the organizations they work for – succeed.
Step 1: Recognize parents' steep and varied work and family challenges.
As Rossheim notes, working parents have always been among the most overburdened employees in the workforce. And with COVID-19, the challenges they’ve faced have only intensified. He cites the case of working mother Erika Grotto, who has managed her job with meticulous short-term planning while caring for her children – ages 6, 4, and 2 – at home. “My husband and I have carefully scheduled our workdays around each other’s work,” said Grotto, content manager with the Healthcare Financial Management Association. “We’re taking it day-by-day, scheduling every minute.”
But as Rossheim points out, it's not just the school day that presents a challenge for working parents. Yvette Lee, an HR knowledge adviser for SHRM noted, “Even if parents have kids actually in school, there are still before- and after-school times to cover.” She added that some employers modify work schedules to accommodate these families.
Empathetic managers should recognize the achievement of working parents as they navigated these past 20 months. “The fact that parents have made things work as well as they have is kind of miraculous,” said Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide.”
Step 2: Get input from employees about their work-family situations.
Meisha-ann Martin, Ph.D., director, people analytics at Workhuman believes: “The challenges of the past 20 months have revealed the true character of an organization’s culture and its leadership. Some leaders and their organizations rose to the challenge – and some fell short. Now that the world of work has started to loosen up, employees are more comfortable exploring their options and making the move to new opportunities.”
In that context, managers who strive to adapt to their employees’ needs will be long remembered and rewarded for their generosity. Rossheim shares the following advice from SHRM’s Lee: “Employers need to have private conversations with workers to gather information on their personal situations and make assessments.” Lee advised managers to tell employees, “If you have scheduling concerns, let’s have a conversation.” After all, as Rossheim reminds us, people with school-age kids aren’t the only ones who find themselves in stressful straits; many workers have elder-care issues or concerns about their own health.
According to Lee, “Employers have to be consistent and fair. You can’t simply give preference to working parents with small children over employees with other challenging family or personal situations.” Employers should try to do the best they can to accommodate everyone in the organization.
In findings from a Workhuman/RedThread Research report, working women with children are typically more hard-pressed than men. Echoing that same view, Workhuman’s Sarah Bloznalis observes in her recent post, “Women who stayed in their roles have felt higher levels of pressure, burnout, and exhaustion than their male counterparts. This is likely due in part to ‘the third shift.’ When you consider the addition of supervising remote education, taking care of sick children or family members, and the insurmountable uncertainty of the pandemic, it's no wonder women are suffering.”
Meanwhile, Rossheim cites a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis, which found that in two-earner households with opposite-sex parents – where one parent spends more time managing children’s schedules and activities – the greater responsibility fell overwhelmingly to the woman, 54% to 6%. But, as Behson warned, employers should beware of a lingering sexist assumption: that men are always the breadwinners. This generalization, no matter how flawed, can bias employers against accommodating their male employees’ family needs.
Step 3: Map out where you can be flexible and where you can’t.
According to Rossheim, one of the most important ways an organization can support its employees – including working parents – is perhaps the most obvious: keep the business successful. You do that, he says, by telling employees that “you’ll be managing for results, rather than counting keystrokes or time spent in the office. Be flexible wherever you can and unbending where you must.”
He warns that trying to map work arrangements to all the contingencies of work and school – in-person, all online or hybrid – is just too complicated to be practical. “You may have to make decisions about schedules and place of work on a case-by-case basis,” he notes, “considering workers’ inclinations – as well as their situations – whenever you can.”
“Some employees really want to get back to the office most of the time, others have the opposite preference,” said Behson. “Companies that can accommodate all the different styles will end up ahead.”
In conclusion, Lee noted that there will be difficult situations where managers cannot accommodate all requests. But, she added, “Just be clear in communications to all employees that their needs will be heard.”
About the AuthorMore Content by Aaron Kinne