Working parents have never had it easy.
Although remote work means they can spend more time with their families, it’s also given new meaning to the term "burnout" as parents struggle to manage the many demands of work, personal life, and childcare.
Working mothers feel the stress especially acutely. According to the 2020 State of Motherhood survey, 74 percent of working mothers reported feeling mentally worse since the COVID-19 crisis began. It’s easy to see why: Many are juggling full-time workloads, household planning, childcare duties, and remote learning — often on their own.
Worse, all parents who are working and caring for children in the same environment are in a constant state of "context switching" – and every time they toggle between tasks, they expend mental energy, which leaves them exhausted and less productive.
How employers can help
Too often, working parents don’t ask their employers for the support they need for fear of appearing unable to manage both their careers and their families. But improving the employee experience is beneficial for everyone involved: Happier employees are more productive, and more engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their job.
Consider the following tactics to give the working parents in your organization the support they need:
1. Upgrade benefits. In addition to offering maternity and paternity leave options, include childcare flexible spending accounts, which provide tax benefits for working parents. Additionally, give employees the option to stagger their parental leave to enable better coordination with their partners.
2. Rethink meetings. Back-to-back video calls are taking a toll on employees. According to workplace experts, video calls actually require more effort than in-person chats because our brains need to work harder to process non-verbal cues. A surplus of meetings also cuts into time for focused work.
Business leaders can help reduce Zoom fatigue and maximize productive work time by rethinking meetings: Could some be voice calls instead of video, allowing parents to simultaneously supervise their kids? Could some meetings be replaced with an email or a Slack chat?
[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also: Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]
3. Create a (virtual) space for parents. Establish resource groups for working parents with dedicated communication spaces for them to share resources and tips or simply talk about their experiences. At my organization, we’ve used our working parents chat room for things like babysitter recommendations (pre-pandemic, of course) and other helpful tips. As the pandemic stretches on, this resource can build shared understanding and empathy across company culture.
4. Establish do-not-disturb blocks and flexible hours. Connect with working parents individually to discuss how you can help accommodate their schedules. Many parents need blocks during the traditional workday to prepare meals or help with e-learning, so early morning or late evening hours may be better for them to tackle work projects. Flexible schedules enable working parents to better focus on individual tasks rather than context-switching all day.
5. Reward working parents. Most working parents feel like they’re falling short at both work and parenting at least some of the time. The reality is these employees are often some of the hardest workers. Reward their great work with meaningful perks that ease their household responsibilities, like gift cards for grocery store delivery or house-cleaning services.
6. Shift the company culture. Historically, workplace culture has done little to accommodate working parents, but today’s remote environment is a perfect time to change that. Let employees know it’s absolutely OK for their kids to pop up in video calls. Advise colleagues to check in with parents to find out what times work best for them before scheduling meetings. And while many employees are not using vacation time these days because of travel restrictions, encourage parents to use their PTO for staycations and much-needed time to relax and recharge.
With a little empathy and flexibility, leaders can help alleviate the stress felt by working parents these days — and improving their well-being will in turn foster a happier, more engaged and productive work environment.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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