Three Steps to Manage Work, Life, and School–CNN HLN Segment VIDEO

Two things have become increasingly clear:

  1. School in the fall will be some form of onsite/remote learning model.  Complicating matters is the fact that different school districts and even different grade levels will have different schedules.
  2. As a result, parents will not be able to return to anything close to a “normal” work schedule. Whether they work in a corporate office, manufacturing facility, or as an hourly paid employee in an essential service industry, parents will require flexibility in how, when, and where they do their jobs until either a COVID-19 vaccine or an effective therapeutic allow schools to completely reopen safely.

My concern is that employers won’t encourage a creative, problem-solving dialogue with their working parent employees 

As a result, many parents and caregivers will continue to suffer in silence, feel overwhelmed, and not be as productive as they could be with more flexibility.  Or they could feel they have no choice but to quit their jobs which means unnecessary financial hardship, and a loss of valuable employee talent that could have been avoided in many cases.

Last week, I appeared on CNN’s Headline News Morning Express (below) to share how working parents and employers can meet in the middle.

The goal is to find flexible, workable solutions to address the unprecedented disappearance of the traditional educational and childcare supports that employees have relied upon to parent and go to work.

Key steps for working parents include:

1. Partner with your manager.

  • Good managers want to keep good people and are open to problem-solving especially if you come to the table with an initial plan.  Parents can’t delegate this challenge to their employers. It’s got to be a partnership.
  • As soon as possible, start the conversation and approach your boss with a plan for how you expect to do your job and take care of your personal responsibilities. For example, if your child’s school reopens with students onsite alternating weeks, then explain how and when you’ll get your work done during the weeks that kids are at school and at home, remote learning.
  • Then keep talking.  Keep problem-solving.  If there’s one thing we know for sure about the pandemic, circumstances will change, as will your caregiving realities.  Keep recalibrating how, when, and where you are able to work and manage those realities accordingly.

 2. Be as intentional as possible about your work and personal priorities.

  • Plan as much as you can and coordinate responsibilities with others. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
  • Keep a combined calendar that includes both work and personal priorities scheduled.  Be as granular as you need to be to ensure a scheduled priority happens.  Include work, child care, family and, especially self-care. Even if it’s a scheduled 15-minute walk around the block, it makes a difference.  When you write it down, it’s more likely to happen,
  • Then think about with whom you need to coordinate at work and home. If you have a partner, commit to the responsibilities you will share. Who’s in charge of remote learning and when? Who’s using the computer and quieter home office space at what time? Who’s working what shift? If you are part of a team, let them know how and when you will be working, and try to understand their preferred schedule. Are there other working parents whom you trust and feel are acting responsibly that you could coordinate hiring a high school or college student to provide remote learning support or afterschool care?
  • Don’t beat yourself up and DO give yourself a break if everything doesn’t happen exactly as planned because it won’t.  Remember, accomplishing 70 or even 60 percent of what you planned is better than zero especially right now.

3. Seek a realistic work+life “fit”, not “balance.”

  • Let’s be clear. I’ve said this for more than 15 years. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Instead, focus on finding your unique work+life fit – determine how your work and life fit together in a way that works for you, your family, and your job. There is no one right answer. And, as we’ve learned the last few months, that fit will always change. Work+life fit is a more realistic approach to managing our work and lives because we can continually adjust and recalibrate.

So, when should you go to HR? Again, my experience has been that good managers want to keep good people if they can, even in difficult economic times, and will be open to problem-solving.  But sometimes the situation reaches an impasse and requires a third-party perspective.  That’s when you can go to HR, because if it doesn’t work in your current position maybe there’s another option to consider.  But you will have shown good faith trying to figure it out first with your manager.

Plan, partner, communicate and recalibrate with your boss, your team, and your family.  And be good to yourself. We will all get through this unprecedented, difficult period together.

How is your organization creatively partnering with working parents specifically and working caregivers more broadly?