How leaders can help parents better manage working from home with children
In this article, Geraldine Gallacher outlines how the needs of working parents have changed during the current crisis and urges employers to ensure they are supporting their staff in the best way possible.
Dual-career, parents, I salute you. You are working from home with children with the additional responsibility for their education thrown into the mix like a Molotov cocktail. Evidence gathered by the CIPD suggests parents across the nation are struggling to keep work, home, and school happy. That was two weeks into the experiment. Fast forward to now and I suspect the situation in many households has further deteriorated. The novelty of home schooling worn thin and pre-schoolers being demanding clients.
Methods to manage
Most parents, particularly those with small children, are taking a pragmatic approach, dividing the day into timeslots, with one parent on care duty while the other works. After several weeks of stress testing this approach, you’ll have a better idea of what’s working and what’s not. Now is a good time to take a step back and work out how you might better share work and care together.
A tag-team approach only works to a certain extent. Inevitably clashes arise when both parents need to be on a call or meet a deadline. At this point, a deeper issue will surface that needs to be addressed, whose career takes precedent. Should it always be the partner who earns the most?
This is a conversation best had under calm conditions rather than an epilogue to a row. Forewarn your partner the day before that you’d like to discuss the issue and set time aside to talk when the children are in bed or distracted.
Conflict between couples often stems from assumptions they make about each other and different priorities. Start by finding common ground. Ask each other, what do we want to get out of this period for our children, their learning, our jobs and relationship. Come up with a list of priorities you agree on and use these as guiding principles to decide how you divvy up the day. You’ll find it easier to navigate clashes if you are both working toward the same goals.
Manage expectations, your own and others. Life is not normal. You cannot call on the help of childcare, school or a cleaner to ease the load. Accept that something has to give. You are not Mr Chips or Jean Brodie. Your child’s education will not suffer over the longer term. Clients and line managers cannot expect pre-lockdown levels of productivity. It is perfectly reasonable to set boundaries around what they can expect from you.
Ask for help
This brings me onto the biggest barrier that parents currently face. A fear of asking their employer for help. Less so women, that’s a conversation they’ve been having for decades. Men feel afraid to ask, partly because their organisation’s culture doesn’t encourage it, and hearing mixed messages from those in power. “It’s business as usual”, “do your best”, without clarifying what this means for billable hours, timesheets, or targets set in a pre-coronavirus world. Clarity that’s required as a matter of urgency.
My plea to CEO’s and senior leaders, many of whom are men with more traditional domestic arrangements, is this. Put yourself in the shoes of working parents for whom business is anything but usual at the moment. Acknowledge this in your communication and lead on providing support. Life will return to a new normal and your people will remember how you supported them through this period.
Geraldine Gallacher, Founder and MD of the Executive Coaching Consultancy
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