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Managing Working Parents

December 2, 2020

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to the latest U.S. Census report on employment characteristics on families, of the nation’s 82.6 million families, 33.4 million families, or two-fifths of all families, included children under age 18. At least one parent was employed in 91.3% of families with children.  Among married-couple families with children, 97.5% had at least one employed parent in 2019, and 64.2% had both parents employed.

With the pandemic, more had to work from home while watching their children as schools closed or went remote.  This situation has led to a new work environment, one that will likely extend into the future.  Work from the office will still be a norm, but remote work will gain steam.

With the pandemic, watching children at home while working has become a norm.  For some managers, it has been an inconvenience, where the “old” needs of face time and rigid deadlines are still expected.  Yet with technology face time has changed to video conferencing and to non-video calls, emails, and chats, with the latter becoming more important, especially with the need to identify time spent (available, busy or on a call, away, do not disturb etc.).  

According to Harvard Business School (HBS) research, trying to enforce rigid deadlines and frequent meetings creates additional anxieties and demands for working parents. Research shows that managers who are overly strict on face-to-face time and create arbitrary deadlines without employees’ inputs — particularly in teleworking situations — increase employee stress.  This rigidity of the managers makes it a nonbinary choice for working parents between work and family.  Further, women are found to be leaving the workforce at a faster rate to take care of family needs, and it has been argued that all the gains made by women over the past decades will be erased because of the pandemic.

Yet employers cannot be too giving.  Work must be done, and expectations need to be set.  And if the leniency is given to working parents only, the employees with no children will resent the perceived favoritism given to working parents.  It seems for employers that they are between a rock and hard place, pleasing no one.

So, what are some ways to create predictability for employees to reduce stress and increase productivity?  First, according to HBS research, employees, especially those with family demands, prefer set or preplanned schedules because they can then better manage their nonwork lives.  Managers can block times that employees need to meet and set calendars accordingly.

Second, employers can create core hours that employees must follow.  ASE, for example, has core hours that all ASE employees must be available during.  For those working in teams or projects, collective time can be agreed upon and set by the team.  Teamwork conducted during this “collective time” should be focused with clear goals.  Now that virtual tools, such as instant messaging, have gained predominance in the workplace, they can be easily used for employees to communicate with colleagues on different schedules and during non-core hours.  The key is training on the tools and for managers to be consistently using them to set the culture.

Managers should schedule consistent one on ones with their direct reports, but no longer than 30 minutes. It should be led by the direct reports, with an agenda expected.  The purpose of these one on ones is to discuss the report’s work priorities and to ask open-ended questions about how well they have been balancing job and family demands.  Unfortunately, HBS research belies the fact that 100% of managers rate themselves as supportive of employees with families, while only half of their subordinates agree with this assessment.  These discussions will also identify means to reduce burnout and try to ensure workload balance.

Finally, managers should be flexible.  Sick children or parents will consume time.  All employees should know the employer’s leave policies, and managers should help guide employees to make proper decisions without it resulting in a negative against them and negating opportunities for professional growth.

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