Tension is brewing between working parents and non-parent employees — leaders need to step up
- Romy Newman is cofounder and president of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere.
- During the pandemic, working parents have found themselves balancing home schooling, remote learning, and their full time jobs.
- And that's also caused tensions with workers who are not parents, since their colleagues may suddenly be less available or they have to take on new responsibilities.
- Newman writes that companies need to step and create clear policies that support working parents, and don't create burdens for non-parents.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Since the start of the pandemic, working parents – and especially working mothers – have been grappling with how to do (at least) three things at once: support their child through virtual learning, manage additional household responsibilities and do their day jobs. In 30+ conversations I've had with corporate women's resource groups, I hear that working mothers are feeling inundated, overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted.
But I'm also hearing something else – that this new challenge is actually contributing to increased tensions between working parents and non-parents. When working parents ask for concessions on workload or schedule, there are uncomfortable questions left hanging in the air: Will workers without childcare responsibilities have to take on more to fill the void? Is it fair to hold them to a different standard? And, most inauspiciously, if a worker has to cut back their working hours, shouldn't their compensation be cut as well?
We turned to the Fairygodboss Community for their thoughts where a few individuals echoed the statement and replied with their own frustrations. In fact, 25% of women we surveyed think working parents who require adjusted accommodations during this time should receive a pay decrease.
Since the beginning of the modern American workforce, working parents have struggled to balance childcare with their jobs.
But even before the pandemic, we reached an expectation level that is essentially impossible for anyone to achieve. With news that many schools aren't reopening and companies like Google plan to keep employees remote until at least July 2021, it's clear that this balancing act can no longer only be an act — we need a long-term, sustainable plan in place to help working parents thrive (and in some instances, just survive).
What happens now when schools cannot provide the infrastructure that the construct of working mothers is built on? Should working mothers and their families be penalized because they are unable to complete their duties, or be as productive as they once were? Who carries the burden of this responsibility?
"The consequences of the US's refusal to create national policies and programs that support caregivers is coming to roost and the burden continues to be placed primarily on the shoulders of mothers," Lisen Stromberg, author of "Work, Pause, Thrive," said. "The result? Unlike nearly every other industrialized nation over the past 25 years, we have seen a decline in female workforce participation which is hurting families, businesses and our economy."
I've always believed that the number of hours an employee works does not equate to the quality of work they produce, and I've tried, as a working mother, to demonstrate that I could do more in less time. But that ideal has become downright impossible to uphold right now.
For me — and many women like me — our lack of availability to work isn't due to lack of commitment.
There are just not enough hours in the day to manage full time childcare and work responsibilities. And yet, our work doesn't go away, nor does the work required for a company to be profitable and successful.
So what is the solution when caregiving workers cannot complete our full workload? Should we give up sleep? Should other co-workers pick up the slack? Should the work go un-done? For many workers today, there still has been no formalized policy or direction from the top of the company on how to handle this situation. And that lack of clarity leaves space to create tension and anxiety.
More than ever, we need leadership to formally acknowledge the impossible situation that parents with children at home are facing, and present a clear set of rules on how it will be addressed.
Some companies have taken steps to provide a clearer framework for this unprecedented time.
PwC has acknowledged that scheduled meetings are one of the biggest challenges for working parents (try joining a meeting while you're in the middle of a math assignment). The firm has vowed to shorten meetings by 25% and implemented firmwide "no video" Fridays — changes that should reduce workload and scheduled commitments for both parents and non-parents.
PwC has also rolled out a new benefits package for working parents that includes the ability to work a reduced schedule, take a sabbatical, or potentially engage in job sharing where individuals split job responsibilities and work part-time to fulfill a role typically done by one person.
"No one should have to choose between their children and the financial stability they earn and deserve through their work," Kimberly Jones, leader of people experience and markets center of expertise at PwC, wrote in a recent blog post. "Both should be able to co-exist, even when that means stakeholders may need to give and take with empathy and flexibility. And, to be clear, it's to an organization's benefit when work and life co-exist for employees."
Other companies, including Ampersand, an NYC-based TV advertising sales and technology company, have implemented initiatives that account for the personal responsibilities of their employees.
"We recognize that although we are all in the same storm, everyone's boat is different," said Deb Josephs, chief people officer at Ampersand. "We start by communicating with empathy and transparency. We aggregated and published relevant content with best practices, and created Slack channels to share resources with employees — whether they are parents or those sheltering in place alone (#home-alone). More than anything, our primary goal is to ensure that employees know they can and should show up just as they are — kids, stresses, and all."
In addition to creating a sense of order and fairness, companies that invest in clear policies and enhanced benefits reap the reward of greater engagement, loyalty, and productivity from their employees.
Camille Richardson, head of the global employer brand creative team at Facebook, told Fairygodboss: "From the bonus all employees received to set-up our home offices to eliminating the H1 performance rating, Facebook leadership has actively looked for ways to relieve the pressure on its workforce. As a parent, I've been particularly grateful for the paid administrative leave program Facebook established for caregivers. It has given me much needed time to spend with my two young boys and also helped me maintain a healthy mental state during this incredibly difficult time."
What this moment calls for is clear, direct communication, and policies from corporate leaders. The world of virtual work is unprecedented and isolated, and with the world in a state of chaos, workers are on edge.
Increased tension between working parents and non-parents only creates a more unstable and unproductive environment for everyone. Employers need to recognize the burdens that everyone has adopted throughout the pandemic and turn more of their attention to their employees, not to their bottom lines.
Companies that bury their head in the sand or refuse to acknowledge the challenges that their workers are facing – in many different iterations – will simply not be able to maximize their performance. They will lose their best talent, either to home responsibilities or to companies who steered these waters more deftly.
Romy Newman is co-founder and president of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere. Before venturing into the crazy world of entrepreneurship, Romy ran digital advertising sales and operations at The Wall Street Journal, and also worked in marketing at Google and Estee Lauder. Romy studied American studies, literature and art at Yale and many more practical things at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Romy is a frequent speaker and contributor to Fortune, Huffington Post, and Inc.
She is a proud mother of two, wife to a very supportive husband, devoted yogi and crossword puzzle lover. Romy is highly motivated to bring better performance and productivity to our companies and our country by making the workplace work better for women.
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