The double whammy of RTO mandates and childcare challenges – a lose/lose for families?

This weekend, as the COVID funding for childcare expired, the conversation around RTO mandates turned back again to a core issue facing working families for decades: is going to work “worth it” when it’s such a significant challenge to find reliable, affordable childcare?

Lately, I’ve written a lot about what leaders are getting wrong with blanket RTO mandates. They’re assigning a rigid number of days instead of looking qualitatively at what we do better together and what we can do just as effectively when were are not. They’re saying badges need to be swiped a certain number of times without answering questions about purpose and how we meet our mission.

Last week, I spoke with Kerry Hannon of Yahoo Finance for her article “Return to office mandates could be detrimental to working mothers.” The silver lining of the pandemic was that employees met the moment – they shifted how, where, and when they worked in a crisis, and to a great degree, they were successful. The number of women in the workforce rose to an all-time high, partly due to their ability to adapt and leverage that flexibility.

But, as I told Kerry, “We do need to evolve beyond what was a crisis-driven execution of flexibility. But there’s a way to do it beyond a mandate. Teams need to be able to look at the work that is being done, figure out what aspects of that work would benefit from some more in-person interaction, what can be done remotely, and establish those parameters.”

Earlier this week on LinkedIn, I provided commentary to the excellent recent Bloomberg Opinion piece by Sarah Green Carmichael about the “Childcare Cliff,” In it, I shared this illuminating example of what can happen when employers offer childcare solutions:

“A few years ago, I contributed to an ROI analysis of an onsite childcare center as part of a broader flexible work strategy execution. Instead of just surveying the parents, we surveyed the entire workforce. Here’s what we found: colleagues of the parents who used the onsite care reported THEIR productivity improved because the center allowed their coworkers to not call in sick as often and to focus undistracted on their jobs. Overall, we estimated the annual ROI was 200%! In other words, if the annual cost to run and subsidize the center was $1MM per year, the estimated savings in less turnover, lower absenteeism, and increased productivity was $2MM per year. Pretty solid investment.”

As I’ve said many times before, we have a historic opportunity to be strategic and intentional in reimagining and recalibrating work to meet the needs of the business and people. And when it comes to working parents, it’s way past time for us to embrace childcare as essential infrastructure.

How do you see RTO mandates and the lack of childcare impacting parents?

The Next Wave of Business Travel

While economic considerations have eclipsed pandemic concerns, new data from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) finds business travel is on the rise. Over three-fourths of travel managers surveyed for GBTA’s latest industry poll expect the number of business trips taken by employees at their company will be higher or much higher in 2023 versus 2022.

But, as I discussed with Tariro Mzezewa for her recent Conde Nast Traveler story, “Both employers and employees need to understand that business travel today is not like it was before the pandemic—and there is no going back.

“A lot of things can be done perhaps remotely still, but there are certain things that we do enjoy and that have more impact when we’re together, so we have to remember that there’s a purpose now to why you’re on the road, but we also have to accept that travel is different.”

Like all things work-related, it starts with the what – what do we need to get done and how, when and where we do it best. And that includes deciding when and why to travel for business.

“There’s going to be a transition period and it’s just going to be weird the first couple of times you do it and it’s important that we let each other be in the weird. Recognizing some of the less positive aspects of all this right now and doing what you can as an employer to help support that transition, recognizing there’s good stuff that’s going to come from this, but there are some real things that need to be facilitated and supported as we transition through to what’s going to be next.”

Currently, those surveyed by GBTA don’t expect flexible work to significantly change business travel plans. Nearly 90% of respondents are offering some form of hybrid/remote work. But among them, 72% do not expect that flexibility will impact the number of business trips taken by their employees. And, while 14% expect it will lead to more business travel, an identical percent expect it will lead to less.  We will see.

In the meantime, have you traveled for business recently?  If yes, what was it like?  For me, travel is starting to pick up again, and I do love it.  But there is a definite purpose to it and more time, on either end, to allow for airline delays or cancellations. I continue to adapt and ease my way back in, enjoying what’s familiar and letting go of what’s less than optimal.

NYTimes: Remote Work is Here to Stay, Employers Lean In

NYT opinion writer Jessica Grose penned an outstanding piece, “Remote Work is Here to Stay. Lean In, Employers.” this past weekend following the release of a new working paper — The Covid-19 Baby Bump – from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper suggested remote work was among the factors that resulted in the first major reversal in U.S. fertility rates in more than a decade because it reduced the opportunity costs (or “what’s given up”) of childbearing for some employees.

Jessica, who also writes the NYT’s On Parenting newsletter, noted some of my thoughts in her piece including one factor not mentioned in the NBER paper that I believe had an impact as well. “The partners of prospective mothers also, in many cases, had the same access to remote work and flexibility, which is further opportunity cost reduction on mothers because they don’t have to shoulder the burden alone.”

As Jessica wrote, “When you can work remotely or more flexibly, the frantic (working parent) dash disappears” and “a million other little pressures (are) relieved.” She cited Future Forum’s latest Pulse Survey which that found 83% of working moms now want location flexibility” and half of the working dads asked “want to work remotely 3 to 5 days a week.”
Yet, the demands to return to office in the name of face time persist. My response, “The complaints that remote work destroys company culture and prevents mentorship directly relate to the fact that the pandemic shift to remote work was crisis-driven and not a thoughtful, intentional implementation.

“A well-executed flexible work strategy addresses upfront, ‘what do we need to do to build culture and mentor talent?’ then determines ‘how, when and where do we do that best based on the realities of our jobs and lives?’ That’s not left to chance.”

It becomes part of a culture where flexibility is “the way we operate.” This is the next evolution of work that all organizations need undertake to attract and retain talent at every age and stage of life, including parents. Define your what. Your why. Your purpose.

As I wrote in a piece for Medium two years ago, “Operating shifts that keep parents in the workforce improve work life for all. The same planning, coordination and support to help parents can 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.”

Until next time, keep reimagining work… and life.

We need to take action to give Moms support

Yesterday, we honored moms…today, we need to take action to give moms the supports that help them, their children (our future!) and all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves:

–Consistent, affordable, quality child care
–Paid family leave
–Equal pay, AND
–Flexibility for moms, dads, and grandparents to fit work and life together as a help each other do their jobs and raise the children they love.

What do I mean by “all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves”?

First, it’s the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.

–A mom with consistent child care, paid leave and flexibility for herself and others caring for her children is someone who can participate in the workforce which helps the broader economy that is in desperate need of workers.

–She is a colleague who isn’t forced to quit leaving everyone else to do the job she was good at but can no longer do because she doesn’t have the support she needs.

How to Work and Take Care of 32 Million Children

Parents across the U.S. and their employers woke up this morning with a new and daunting reality — how to work, care for and educate the estimated 32 million children who may be home from school for the foreseeable future. Here are a few tips to help leaders and parents partner to flexibly fit work, life, school, and family together:

Shift Your Productivity Mindset:  The goal is not to maintain pre-coronavirus levels of productivity. It’s about keeping everyone safe and healthy while maintaining as much productivity as possible as we all adapt to this new, ever-changing normal. The key is to be as creative and supportive as possible. If there was ever a moment to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, now is that time. Keep repeating: SOME productivity is better than NO productivity.

Talk Honestly and Be Patient:  Typically, bosses and employees don’t want or need to get into the nitty-gritty of how someone is going to work and take care of their kids. But these are not typical times. Keep the lines of communication open especially as parents settle into some sort of new routine with caregiving and home instruction. Managers, a little bit of extra support and understanding may be the difference between a worker who finds a way to keep contributing and one who throws up their hands and says, “I can’t do this.”

Expect and Embrace Imperfect Remote Workspaces: Effective remote working usually requires a separate workspace with limited disruptions from children, pets, and partners. That is an unrealistic and unnecessary expectation during this period when employees and kids were sent home to remote work and learn with little time to plan. The goal now is for people to feel they can be as responsive and accessible as possible, even if the environment is not absolutely perfect. If everyone—bosses, coworkers, and customers–can forgive a screaming child, barking dog, or the hum of a video game in the background, it will allow everyone to sustain a higher level of communication that would otherwise stop.

Spread Parents Across “A and B” Teams and Be Creative with Schedules:  For jobs that have certain tasks that cannot be done remotely, companies have started to use an “A and B Team” system to limit the number of people together in the same physical space. For those that have or are planning to do so, consider the following:

  • Assign employees who are parents evenly on both teams
  • Allow parents to stagger their start and stop times to coordinate care with partners and other support resources. Allow them to arrive and leave earlier or arrive and leave later as needed.

Hire College Students Available to Help: With two daughters sent home from college for online classes, I know there are millions of higher ed students that will have plenty of time in between classes for activities requiring limited social interaction. Now, there are public safety caveats given current CDC guidelines regarding social distancing. That’s why I say “will have” time. Many college students will not go back to school until fall. Use your judgment and listen to the public health authorities; however, after the period of strict social distancing and personal quarantine periods have passed, we will have millions of smart, motivated young people who could not only help care for kids while parents work but could also lead home instruction.

We have entered an unprecedented work and life reality. By shifting mindsets, changing expectations and re-imagining how, when and where work is done, we can mitigate the coronavirus, care for and educate our kids and stay open for business.

If you are a leader, how are you partnering with your working parent employees? If you are a working parent, what has been your experience so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What would help you?

Think You Don’t Benefit Directly from Childcare? 3 “What’s In It for Me” That Will Change Your Mind

In her recent article “Occupy (Working) Motherhood,” Deborah Siegel makes the compelling case that our society still has a long way to go to support mothers who work, especially when it comes to affordable, quality childcare.

To understand the roadblocks that stand in the way of improving the state of childcare, you have to look no further than a comment left by a reader in response to Siegel’s article. The commenter explained,

By “affordable,” I assume you mean “subsidized by others outside my family.” Thanks, I’m spending enough on my own kids (and my wife chooses not to work outside the home) without having to subsidize your parenting choices.

In other words, if you have a child and you work, then you need to shoulder the entire expense of that child’s caregiving. And if you can’t, it’s not my problem because I don’t directly benefit from a system of affordable, high-quality childcare.

While it’s understandable how someone could reach that conclusion, the truth is that people who don’t have children or don’t use high quality, affordable childcare do in fact directly benefit in ways that aren’t necessarily apparent.

We need to do a much better job of explaining these “WIIFMs” or the “what’s in it for me” impacts if we wanted to make progress in this area.

So here are the “WIIFMs” I’ve observed over my 15 years in the trenches helping hundreds of organizations develop strategies to address work+life fit challenges. Hopefully they will encourage support because everyone will understand that they do benefit in the following ways:

WIIFM #1: Your colleagues with children aren’t distracted by breakdowns in care which benefits you. A few years ago, as part of a broader work-life strategy review and update for a Fortune 500 company, we conducted an ROI study of the organization’s childcare center system. The truth was that management was getting pressure to cut this benefit that was seen as unfairly favoring parents over other employees.

As I analyzed the data from our surveys, I wasn’t surprised by how much parents said their productivity and engagement increased from having the consistent, high quality care the center offered. What shocked me was how much their coworkers said they benefited by having more focused, less distracted colleagues.

Once all of the calculations were finished, we estimated that the ROI for the center annually was approximately 125%. Not bad.  Needless to say, the centers stayed. The bottom line is that you benefit when the parents you work with have support.

This doesn’t mean that the alternative answer to try to minimize the number of parents in the workplace through discriminating hiring practices. First, people are going to keep having kids. Second, you will lose many of your best and brightest employees and coworkers.  The better option is to support the creation of high quality, affordable care options either in house or in the community.  It’s the gift that will keep on giving to everyone.

WIIFM#2: The parents who provide important services that you count on will be able to show up and do their jobs. You can’t get a stronger “WIIFM” than that.  I was at a conference a couple of years ago where a team of researchers from Cornell presented their study of the impact of a grant in New York City that created a system of high-quality, in-home childcare providers. The grant also subsidized the cost of care for parents who were home health aides and guards in the New York City school system.

I wish I had a link to the study itself but here are a couple of the findings that stuck with me:

  • By training and licensing the in-home care providers, they created well-paying jobs that in many cases allowed the providers to expand and improve the services they offered.
  • The parents who had access to the affordable, high-quality care reported major improvements in a number of job performance metrics including fewer absences, less tardiness, more engagement on the job, fewer incident reports, etc.

In other words, because they had consistent, reliable care for their children, the guards in the schools were to show up more regularly and do their jobs better. This directly benefits you if your child goes to that school.  He or she is safer. Home health aides were able to show up to care for you aging parents or your ailing spouse. This directly benefits you because you are able to go to work.

WIIFM #3: A high quality, affordable system of support will be there if you need it (and there’s a good chance that you or someone you love will need it.) Building a system of high-quality, affordable childcare doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes years. Thankfully organizations like the United Way through its Success by Six initiative, as well as community advocacy groups like Long Island’s Early Years Institute are leading the charge even in the face of ongoing government cuts to funding. But as Siegel points out in her article, their efforts haven’t been able to make a difference for many parents.

Maybe you don’t need high quality, reliable child care today. And perhaps you never will. But that can change overnight. Over the years, I’ve met parents who, through an unexpected shift in circumstance like illness, death or divorce, find themselves needing care only to realize how hard it is to find. I’ve met grandparents who never had to access child care themselves, but now have a daughter struggling to provide for her family as a single mother without consistent, reliable support for her children.

Maybe the lack of affordable, quality care childcare doesn’t mean anything to you today, but you and those you love directly benefit from the insurance of knowing it’s there should you ever need it.

Many priorities are vying for limited resources on the local, state and federal level. However, in the debate regarding the need to create a system of high-quality, affordable childcare, the position that, “I don’t need to support it because I won’t use childcare and I won’t benefit” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You do benefit. We all benefit. Now, the question becomes, what are we going to to to make it better…finally?  What do you think?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

“Mind in the Making” by Ellen Galinsky–Giving Your Child the Skills to Succeed in Any Era

It’s no accident that I wrote about Ellen Galinsky’s excellent new book, Mind in The Making (HarperStudio, 2010) on the same day that I blogged about the skills needed to succeed professionally in the new economic era.

They directly relate, and that’s what makes Galinsky’s book so important. This is especially true for busy parents who may wonder, “Where should I put my limited resources to prepare my child for life in a world I’m still trying to understand?”  Mind in the Making will tell you where and how.

The book opens with a great quote about how the world has changed profoundly since many parents were children:

“Think about some words that describe what life is like today.  What words come to mind?

Did your words reflect the challenges of living in a complicated, distracting world?  Did you think of words that describe feelings of being rushed, time starved, of having too much to do and not enough time to do it?…

Life today is all of these things—complex, distracting, multitasking, 24/7, stressful and focused on immediate gratification and test scores.  It is also joyful and full of exciting possibilities.  We know that if it is this way for us, it is only going to be more so for our children.  We all want the best for our children, but how do we help them not only survive but thrive, today and in the future?”

The book clearly outlines “The Seven Essential Skills Every Child Needs.”  And, most importantly, Galinsky shares numerous concrete steps to build each of those skills from which busy parents, teachers and caregivers can choose.  The “Seven Skills” include:

  1. Focus and Self Control—achieving goals in a world full of distractions.
  2. Perspective Taking—figuring out how others think and feel.
  3. Communicating—determining what to communicate and being understood.
  4. Making Connections—figuring out what’s the same, what’s different and sorting things into categories.
  5. Critical Thinking—searching for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.
  6. Taking on Challenges—taking on rather than simply avoiding or coping with challenges.
  7. Self-directed, Engaged Learning—realizing our potential through ongoing learning.

To understand how important the information in Mind in the Making is to laying the foundation for a child’s future success, consider what CEOs said were their top concerns in the coming year.  According to the Conference Board’s 2010 CEO Challenge Survey, senior leaders will be focused on growth, innovation, creativity, quality reputation, and customer service.  A child who has the “Seven Skills” would be ready to execute that vision, and succeed.

Contrast that readiness to the way current employees, their parents, are feeling in this new post-Recession era.  According to the 2010 Towers Watson Global Employment Survey of 20,000 workers across the global, they are afraid, insecure, and distrustful.  They are lacking the resilience to rise to the challenges of a global, 24/7 economy in which rapid change is the norm and self-direction of your work, life and career is required.

By following the steps outlined in Mind in the Making, children will have the skills they need to succeed.  And maybe their parents will learn something in the process as well!

To learn more about and follow Mind in the Making and author, Ellen Galinsky, here are some important links:

Tame the Tween Texting Beast with a Great Parent/Child Contract

This past June, after achieving certain academic goals, our 11 year old daughter got the privilege to text.  It’s limited texting–only 10 outgoing texts a day–but it is texting nonetheless.  I’d heard the horror stories of texting from other parents. The distraction, the inappropriate forwarding, the lack of verbal communication, and even bullying.  So prior to bestowing this honor, I discussed my concerns with parent and work/family Ph.D., Dr. Christine Murray.  She graciously shared the “Texting and Cell Phone” contract she developed and had her daughter sign.  Four months into our texting tenure, it’s been a godsend:Fotolia_17285308_XS

  • Upfront, we were all on the same page–my daughter, her dad and I.
  • Expectations and ramifications were clarified and understood.
  • When an infraction occurs (they inevitably do!) we go back to the contract which is publicly posted in our kitchen.  Consequences are executed with a low drama level, which as any parent of a tween daughter knows is not always easy.

Now, Dr. Murray has generously agreed to share her contract with you!   Enjoy.  Hope it helps you tame the tween texting beast.  Let us know how it goes.

Texting and Cell Phone Rules

1.    Do not text in the following circumstances:

  • at the table – at home or in a restaurant.
  • while in a car with other people (unless it is a long car trip, or an emergency – in which case you should excuse yourself before sending the text…”sorry, I just need to send a quick text to my mom.”)
  • at church, on a family outing, in the movies
  • in other circumstances, use your common sense to decide if it is an appropriate time to text – is it rude to the people around you?

2.    You should not text one friend while you are with another friend.  It is rude and indicates that you don’t care enough about the person or people you are with.

3.    Text messaging should not take the place of interacting with your friends – getting together or calling.

4.    Be careful about what you text – do not spread gossip or say mean things via text.  It is too easily passed around and can cause hurt feelings.  It is also a permanent record. You are responsible for what you text

5.    Do not give bad news by text – don’t break up with someone by text or give other bad news.  Do it in person, ideally, or on the phone if you can’t do it in person.

6.    It is easy for a text message to be misunderstood because the recipient of the message can’t see the sender’s facial expressions or hear her tone of voice. Jokes and sarcastic comments may cause hard feelings if they’re passed along in a text message.

7.    Be very careful about sending pictures or videos.  Never send any inappropriate photos or videos.  Try to avoid sending photos or videos of yourself or other people at all.

8.    Your phone should be in the kitchen charging by 9:00pm on a school night and by 10:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.  Your phone may not be in your room overnight.

9.    Never-ever text while you are driving a car.  Never-ever read a text while you are driving a car.  Pull over to the side of the road.

10. Texting is a privilege and can be revoked for poor behavior.

11.  Parents reserve the right to check text messages at any time.

I have read and understand these rules.  I agree to follow these rules and realize that if I do not, my texting and/or cell phone privileges may be suspended or revoked.

Name                    Date

“Whoever said this would be easy?” My FlexPaths Blog

Every other week, I will be guest blogging at…Check out my most recent post below:

Last week I asked a friend who doesn’t have children her thoughts on Lisa Belkin’s article in The New York Times about equal parenting. She responded, “It made it look so hard, I can see why women choose to stay home. It seems easier” Then she asked what I thought, and I was somewhat surprised by my response, “I guess I wonder whoever told us this would be easy. The couples in the article are trying.”

A week later I found myself in a similar situation. This time an individual was asking me what she should do because her company’s CEO had outlawed all types of flexibility (short-sighted CEOs is a subject for a whole other blog) and her manager could no longer accommodate her need to work from home. I suggested she should try to work something out with her manager, because she’d be surprised how much flexibility continues to happen under the official corporate radar-screen. And then, I explained, if that didn’t work out she may have to make another decision. I found out later she was disappointed with my advice because she wanted to know “What I should do?” I found myself thinking, “There’s no easy answer, and you may have to quit. But at least you should try to work something out before walking out the door because you might be surprised.”

Twice in two weeks, I’d had the same response—“It’s not easy,” and “You need to try.” Being actively engaged in how you manage your work and life is not always easy. It requires time, attention, conscious thought, decision-making, redefining success and patience. But, really, in today’s 24/7, high-tech, global work reality, do we have any other choice? (more…)

“Shared Care”—Work+Life Fit in Action

(Check out my latest Fast Company blog post, “Launching the “Attention” Movement, Distracted by Maggie Jackson)

One of the most entrenched mindset shifts we need to make about work and life in the 21st century is that it’s no longer a dichotomous choice between working or not working. The truth is that there are countless work+life fit possibilities from which to choose, and there’s no right answer.

You would think this realization would be a source of celebration and liberation, but I often find confusion. “What do you mean? What do these possibilities look like? How do I do it?” People want examples. They need new models of the work+life fit possibilities that they can adapt to their own lives. This is why I love “Shared Care” the model of shared parenting developed by Jessica DeGroot and the ThirdPath Institute. It is work+life fit in action.

The “Shared Care” model and the work of ThirdPath got a big boost last weekend when it was showcased in Lisa Belkin’s cover story, “When Mom and Dad Share it All,” in The New York Times magazine section. In the article, you get to see how a number of couples worked together to creatively manage their work+life fit to share the care of their children.

A couple of important takeaways from the article that will hopefully help parents make the mindset shift and allow shared care to work for them and their children: