Over the past 18 months, the realities of daily life have made it impossible for most employees to hide their parenting struggles. How many of us have had Zoom meetings interrupted by little ones traipsing through virtual backgrounds in search of crayons, comfort, or more screen time? Small voices beckoning in the background in need of help or perhaps crying for attention?
Our first instinct whether on the sending or receiving end when this happens may be embarrassment or frustration. And to apologize. But what if we took a radical step in the opposite direction, and tried instead to embrace the fact that everyone has a life—including caretaking responsibilities of some sort—that will bump up against work from time to time? What if we decided to take it in stride and, instead of trying to hide the fact that life is messy, we chose to broadcast it as a shared human experience? This isn’t a revelation. It’s a reality.
Many working parents go out of their way to try and hide the fact that their children need them because they don’t want colleagues and managers to question their commitment or work ethic This desire to hide our parenting away as a source of shame only adds to the daily stress that people are feeling, and exacerbates the stress crisis among workers. In fact, 61% of working parents say they’re more stressed now than they were before COVID.
The solution comes in the form of a practice I call “Parenting Loudly.” It’s embracing the messy, authentic life of being a working parent and openly acknowledging that there are times that you’ll need to shift into mom or dad mode. Its power is amplified when all parents in the workplace—from the most senior executives to middle management—commit to doing it. It’s especially powerful when it’s supported by an organization’s leadership, whose example makes it acceptable for anyone to explain that they must leave a meeting early to take a child to a doctor’s appointment or coach a little league game. Here are three ways to embrace Parenting Loudly at work.
Talk honestly with colleagues or employees about the difficulties of being a working parent. The past school year presented a whole new set of challenges for working parents, many of whom were required to help kids with virtual schooling every single weekday day while also trying to manage their full work responsibilities. As a new school year is set to begin, there is still a lot of uncertainty around whether there will be more lockdowns that force children into virtual schooling and the availability of afterschool programs.
Even without lockdowns, working parents have to juggle the needs of their kids (sick days, snow days, school activities) with the demands of their jobs. While we may be tempted to lie or mislead about the reasons we’re missing work or needing to reschedule a meeting (e.g. I have an appointment), Parenting Loudly means being honest about the reasons you may need coping accommodations. The more working parents do this, the easier and more normalized it will become.
Understand how being a parent makes you a better employee and/or boss. There was a point early on in my career, when my kids were younger, where I felt like I needed to pretend they didn’t exist. I thought it undermined my credibility. Fortunately, I think that has actually changed permanently, largely accelerated by COVID-19. Today, taking a personal day or an afternoon off to care for your child or an aging relative won’t raise a red flag or label you as a slacker.
My experience as both an employee and an employer has been this: Having a life, even if it’s messy, does not prevent you from being committed and getting your work done with quality. Most people agree. A recent Bright Horizons study revealed that 85% of those surveyed agree that being a mother helps women prepare for the challenges they will face as business leaders, and 84% believe having mothers in leadership roles will make a business more successful. This should help give you the confidence you need to know that the skills you’ve acquired by being a parent make you a valuable asset to your employer.
Talk to managers, senior leaders, and the HR department about how Parenting Loudly is good for business. Unfortunately, many employees who are not in senior positions still feel like they have to fall in line with company cultures that have an always-on mentality or mandatory meetings during critical family time. If an organization hasn’t embraced Parenting Loudly, and senior leaders don’t take an interest in the personal needs of their employees, it can be really hard to know how to change that. When faced with this, most employees will just quietly leave their job and find one that better supports their whole life. However, quitting isn’t your only option.
You can improve your company’s Parenting Loudly culture by coming armed with the facts and presenting them to key decision-makers. Here are some stats to get you started:
Gallup estimates about 18% of employees in the U.S. are actively disengaged from their jobs. This amounts to a loss of anywhere
from 33% to as much as two times an employee’s annual salary when the costs of lost productivity, filling the vacant position,
onboarding and ramp-up costs are all taken into account.
The pandemic has made this much worse, especially for working moms who are struggling to stay engaged in the workforce. Considering the women’s labor force participation rate—the percentage of women who are either working or looking for a job—is still lower than it was pre-pandemic, now is the time to start making parenting accommodations. Making it okay to be a parent in the workforce is a great first step.
With so many people forced to work remotely over the past year and a half, the pandemic offered a unique opportunity for employees and managers to embrace their whole selves at work. We saw the daily struggles of colleagues, bosses, and direct reports who were balancing the demands of work and home life, and we found ways to become more human, compassionate, and genuine.
Many working parents had no choice but to Parent Loudly at work, but it’s beneficial for organizations and their employees to keep this trend going. It allows employees to feel more connected to the companies they work for, it fosters a connection between managers and employees, and it helps to alleviate some of the stress many workers are feeling. Allowing people to Parent Loudly makes the workplace a more human place. And that’s better for everyone.
Lorna Borenstein is the CEO and founder of Grokker, an employee health engagement solution.