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Operating Shifts that Keep Parents in the Workforce Improve Work Life for All

For millions of children, remote learning is a part of the back to school lesson plan.  That means a third of the U.S. workforce faces a historic work and life reckoning. How can parents continue to work, either remotely or on site without a foundation of consistent, reliable childcare and in-school learning? Unless they receive an extra level of support and flexibility, for many, the answer may be, they can’t.

According to a recent online survey of 1,000 parents with children under the age of 15, nearly three quarters of parents say they plan to make major changes to their professional lives to accommodate the lack of childcare. About 15 percent of them are considering leaving the workforce altogether.

Yet employers seem to be complacent about how to address this looming disaster with most planning to tackle the particular challenges facing working parents on a case by case basis.  According to a study, only 32 percent of U.S. employers with a return to office date have a plan in place for parents with childcare responsibilities. That means 68 percent don’t.

Unfortunately, this unprecedented challenge for workers and employers comes as businesses are under extreme operating pressure. Even if an organization needs to reduce its workforce, it will, by default, chose to downsize with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel as parents without childcare options drop out. Companies will unnecessarily lose some of their best employees. As mothers report the highest levels of conflict, talent and leadership pipeline diversity will suffer at exactly the point employers have realized it is mission-critical to commit to inclusive workplaces.

With more than 40 million working parents in the U.S., this is a challenge that can only be addressed effectively with thoughtful planning and systemic flexibility, both on the part of parents and their employers.

No doubt this school year is full of angst and uncertainty for all involved, but with some flexibility and creative problem solving, organizations can:

  • Support parents who are stretched thin,
  • Minimize the risk of losing valuable talent, and
  • Partner with all employees to get through this difficult period together.

The good news is the same planning, coordination, and support to help parents navigate this difficult period can also stabilize business operations and help all employees find a better fit between their jobs and the other parts of their lives in the near term while informing the way work looks long term.

First, broadly stabilize what employees, all employees, need to do now, and how, when, and where they can do it best. This can be accomplished with some immediate tactical improvements in prioritization, communication, and boundary-setting.

Second, pilot more formal flexible work plans for parents as well as anyone else who feels they need to officially reset how, when and where they work short term.

Lastly, leverage lessons learned reimagining and improving work now to inform your future way of operating.

Read more about these three strategies in my latest Medium column.

A Reminder about Boundary Setting
The last of our artificial boundaries between work and life was destroyed with the abrupt shift to flexible and remote work earlier this year. So now it’s up to us, in partnership with our teammates and managers, as well as significant others and families to set our work+life fit boundaries thoughtfully and intentionally. I spoke more about “How do you set work life boundaries in a world of remote work” with economist Linda Nazareth on her 30-minute Work and the Future podcast.

Looking ahead, Maggie Mistal, one of the country’s leading career coaches, and I discussed, “How Do We Fit Work and Life Together in a Way that’s Sustainable through Covid and Beyond” recently on her podcast.

What’s promising, and one of the upsides from our overnight transition to flexible and remote work, is the boundary setting conversation has moved front and center as part of a more responsive, dynamic approach to work and life. Together we can figure out what we need to get done and how, when and where can we do it best.