Working and parenting in the age of coronavirus
Since co-founding Bravely, a platform that connects employees to on demand professional coaching, I have been focused on supporting employees in the key moments of their professional lives. This includes starting a new job, preparing for a performance review, becoming a new manager, setting goals for promotion, learning to communicate effectively,constructive feedback and strengthening relationships. But there is one key life moment that I surprisingly never considered until I experienced it myself: becoming a parent.
Stress about becoming a new parent started before I went on leave and lasted until I returned. I worried about tying up loose ends before my baby was born, and struggled with completely disconnecting while I was on leave. The hardest part was figuring out childcare and how I was ever going to leave this adorable baby. lt was an incredibly challenging time, but nothing could prepare me for working and parenting in the time of COVID-19.
My first few days back to work after my parental leave I shed lots of tears, but by the end of that first week an exciting “I’m back” feeling emerged, which was short lived. During my second week back, coronavirus was quickly spreading in NYC, and we started working remotely. I am now home working full-time, taking care of my infant daughter and helping to home-school my 8-year-old stepdaughter. I’m incredibly grateful to be safe and healthy, but it has given me a new perspective on parenting. It’s critical for companies to be supporting those of us who are navigating caring for children or other family members during this time.
Our stress and anxiety levels are spiking when we didn’t think they could go any higher. We are not meant to be juggling all that we are in this moment and I have so much love and respect for the teachers and caretakers that I typically rely on to make my life feel manageable.
So how do we survive this moment? It might sound dramatic, but I’m sure many out there can relate. As far as my work-life goes, I am lucky to have a supportive co-founder and an understanding team who have embraced my need for flexibility as the new normal. Because of my own circumstances, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how Bravely can support parents and caregivers. I’ve also come up with recommendations for companies and leaders on how they can make this time easier on those with added responsibilities.
- Ask the questions. In this unprecedented moment, it is the job of managers and leaders to understand the unique challenges that each of their employees is facing. This means having candid and open conversations, not just about work, but about what is happening in their daily personal lives. Leaning into vulnerability and revealing your own personal stress is a great way to start the conversation and encourage sharing. From there, be direct and ask specific questions that they may not feel comfortable bringing up themselves to gain more insight. Plan on continuing to check in and have these conversations until things are back to normal.
- Make “unreasonable” accommodations. A month ago, would it have been reasonable for everyone to have their kids show up at meetings? Consider the fact that the people on your team may feel wary about asking for the accommodations they need right now. It is the job of leadership to encourage an open dialogue, identify what blockers may be holding people back, and help find solutions. For parents and caregivers, that may mean starting their days later or blocking time in the afternoon to homeschool. Figure out what type of flexibility works for your organization while also supporting your people.
- Be willing to redefine expectations. As hard as it may be to accept, parents and caregivers may not be able to sustain the same intensity or manage the workload you would normally expect. That’s ok. Our role as leaders is to support the individual needs of our employees during this time and that may require us to redefine expectations around what our people can deliver.
This too shall pass. If you show up for your team now, they will not forget it when this moment is finally behind us.