Parents don’t have it easy these days. After boarding the struggle bus that is remote life, it can feel like they’re stuck on a wild ride with no stop in sight.
While we’re all experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic together, working parents have a unique challenge in juggling multiple jobs, many in isolation and without the support they’re used to. Aside from basic self-care, they’re also taking on parenting and teaching their children while trying to maintain productivity for their full-time job. Considering this precarious balancing act, the support of their managers is crucial for working parents.
Most managers have never had to support their teams during a pandemic, so it might be hard identifying ways to adjust your management style to align with what your employees need. This is especially true if you’re managing parents, and even more so if you’re not a parent yourself.
Below, we’ve detailed how being accessible, understanding, flexible, and communicative can help you shift your approach so you’re providing the right support for your employees with children.
One of the biggest things you can do for your parent employees is to make yourself as accessible as possible. Employees look to leadership during times of crisis, so if leadership is failing to communicate plans and expectations, it can cause distress in parent employees who must make plans and decisions for more than just themselves. As much of the workforce is performing their work remotely, it can also be difficult for employees to approach leadership with questions or concerns.
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To make yourself more accessible, consider having an open forum where all employees are welcomed to ask questions. This can be done through a group chat or in a virtual meeting — Justworks has done weekly Ask Me Anything-style forums with our CEO, Isaac, via Slack. You could also hold weekly office hours where parent employees can count on you to be available. Some employees just need someone to talk to, so making yourself available can serve many needs you weren’t previously aware of.
It might also help to establish a network of parents. Similar to an employee resource group (ERG), a network of parents can serve as a great resource for parents to find help, ideas, and support from other parents. While the network won’t necessarily include managers or leadership (but certainly can), the real draw is making a valuable resource accessible to your parent employees.
Even if you don’t have children of your own, make efforts to understand where your parent employees are coming from. Non-parents might take simple tasks for granted, whereas parents may be fighting to accomplish one of those simple tasks. When in meetings, staying present in the moment can seem like an impossible feat. Turning on the video might require a long-overdue shower that there’s no time to take.
Understanding your employee’s situation includes knowing a bit about your employee’s family. Did they have to relocate? Are they new parents who aren’t getting sleep at night? Were they planning for help from distant family who can no longer travel? Let them explain their situation and what they’re finding most challenging. Find out their children’s names. Ask if they have any family or spousal support at home. Taking the time to discuss and learn about their families will help give you a much clearer picture of what your employee is dealing with on a day-to-day basis. It will also make your parent employees feel like you truly care about more than just their work life.
As remote life continues, it's important to be aware that your parent employees’ mental health may suffer. If one of your parent employees finds their mental health impacted by the current situation, do your best to be understanding of this as well, and encourage them to seek the care they need. Mental health issues are rarely in our control, and the pressure working parents are under may compound the general stress people are feeling around COVID-19.
Even non-parents are learning that remote work life isn’t that easy to adjust to. Working parents have added layers that probably won’t be smoothed out by the time things return to “normal.” Children aren’t known for being flexible, and their needs aren’t either. With this in mind, managers should be as flexible as possible while their parent employees are juggling their workload and everything that at-home parenting requires right now.
If your employees’ parenting responsibilities make it difficult for them to keep regular working hours, consider relaxing the hours you require them to keep. Consider allowing your employees to work in the evenings or on weekends as their tasks allow. Doing this may help alleviate some of your employee’s stress and may help build more trust between you. At a time when managers must trust their employees to perform their roles from a distance, it’s important to foster that sense of trust. Give your employees the freedom to be offline in the morning or shut off their video during a meeting. Focusing on the results instead of the process or timeframe can lift unnecessary burdens so that parents can get the work done in a way that works for them.
If your parent employees are having trouble meeting deadlines, look at shifting deadlines wherever possible. Re-prioritizing is something that will help everyone, so consider making this a weekly exercise if you haven’t started doing this already. You can also look at re-assigning critical assignments to other employees who have more bandwidth to deliver by the date the assignment is needed.
We know connection is vital, and even more so now. Despite how our methods have changed over the past few months, communication is still a crucial part of managing your employees. Perhaps you’ve got regularly-scheduled meetings to check in with your employees — if not, this is a great time to start them. For employees with kids, be prepared to, again, be flexible with when you meet. Children aren’t great at keeping schedules, so your parent employees may need to shift meeting times here and there.
When you do manage to grab some of your employee’s time, try finding different ways to ask them for what they need. Providing suggestions can be helpful, too. It can be difficult for any employee to voice their needs, and parents are no different. Some working parents hold themselves to the same standard as employees without children, but this is an impossible expectation given the current circumstances. Let your parent employees know that their best is okay right now and that you’re available to support them. Help them identify how you can best support them with leading, open-ended questions, and ask them often.
Be the Example
We’ve already covered how diligent communication can help, but consider how your own struggles can be valuable to your parent employees. Share a bit about your own challenges during this time, or challenges you have in common. Hearing this from you may help relieve some of the pressure and stress your employees are feeling and shows them they aren’t alone in their struggles.
If you’re a parent yourself who’s managing other parents, lead by example when it comes to your children. Bring them to your Zoom meetings and let your teams see the kid perched on your lap. Laugh about the things your child yells from the other room that your meeting attendees can clearly hear. Normalizing the presence of your children amidst remote work life can help your parent employees feel better about their own.
While your employees need you during the workday, they also need to see you take time for yourself. As we all find ways to deal with the current situation, we need to factor in downtime. Taking a mental health day when you need it is important for everyone right now, and doing so yourself will show your employees that it’s more than okay to follow suit.
Flexibility, understanding, and communication will go a long way in supporting employees who have kids. As they balance multiple roles — parent, teacher, homemaker, employee — it’s important that they’re clear on your expectations but also where there’s room to adjust. If you’re able to manage your parent employees with that in mind, you’ll set them up to better overcome the challenges ahead.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.