They say that April showers bring May flowers. But for many working parents, the only things growing this season are panic and anxiety.
That’s when, in addition to their regular obligations, parents face an onslaught of end-of-school events—the recitals, the sports awards ceremonies, the classroom parties—that take them away from the office, mentally and physically. At the same time, they’re scrambling to assemble a patchwork quilt of camps and activities and childcare to cover the whole summer. It’s a heavy cognitive and emotional load.
Some call it Maycember: an end of the year that comes in the middle of the year. This period leaves parents feeling overburdened, overwhelmed and racked with guilt, as they toggle between frustrating their coworkers and disappointing their kids.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Managers who communicate personally and meaningfully with their team members, can ease this hectic time, help retain valued employees, and make the workplace more sustainable and even more productive.
But first, they must grasp the scope of the problem. My company recently commissioned a survey about workplace attitudes, and the results suggest that managers may not be sufficiently aware of what many employees are experiencing. Although more than 20% of individual contributors said they felt their workplace culture is very unsustainable, only 5% of senior leaders agreed—a difference in perception that could stand in the way of change.
That difference can have its roots in who serves as the default parent in a family. This is the one who takes on most of the childcare and housework, often because their spouse has a higher paying job that’s deemed more important to the household. Chances are, senior leaders are not involved in the nitty gritty of coordinating, say, a new day camp program for the kids every two weeks throughout the summer, and they don’t fully understand the time and attention such tasks demand.
And since men still hold the majority of managerial and senior positions, it’s a burden that has typically fallen more heavily on women.
Studies show that even though men’s share of domestic duties has risen in recent decades, women perform significantly more caregiving, often at the expense of their paid work and mental health. A recent survey by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org found that the gap in burnout between women and men had almost doubled since the year before, and that one in three women had considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers—up from one in four early in the pandemic.
So, for senior managers, awareness comes first. The next step is to connect with the team on a truly personal level—which can mean moving beyond the routine check-ins that may work well for some team members but that others may find tiresome.
How to do that? Here are some proven approaches.
Really get to know your team
Well before busy seasons hit, use a personality assessment tool like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to learn about your team’s communication styles and conflict-resolution preferences. Those insights will let you approach each member in the way they will be most comfortable responding. For an employee with a preference for extroversion, a quick, in-person, “Hey, how are you doing?” might be enough to elicit how overwhelmed she is at home. A more introverted coworker, on the other hand, might need an email or Slack message to be able to share the issues that are distracting him from the job.
Go to the root of the problem
We’d like to believe that people can fully compartmentalize their roles — put work in one box and life in another. But of course we’re whole people and the stressors in our lives affect how we show up at work and vice versa. The goal is communication that enables managers to connect with their teams on the human level, getting to the root causes of what’s bothering them.
The Maycember frenzy usually results from factors that are external to work. But sometimes it triggers a deeper issue: being in the wrong role. Research published in Stanford Social Innovation Review found that workers are more likely to burn out when they’re poorly matched in one of six key areas: workload, control, reward, community, fairness or values. Attempting to address your team’s stress and burnout issues without uncovering the root cause can be futile.
Plan ahead and build your bench
Regular, meaningful communication also allows for efficient planning to ensure coverage through the seasonal ebb and flow of employee absences. For example, holding a meeting at the beginning of the week and learning that a parent has Muffins with Mom on a Friday morning leaves enough time to reorganize schedules accordingly.
Or bring the whole team together before Maycember panic sets in and plan not only around all the month’s school-related events but also for vacation travel plans throughout the summer.
Sometimes, though, even anticipatory planning is not enough, and you have to expand your team temporarily. Given that May comes at the same time each year and parents perennially feel stretched, consider preemptive measures like hiring a contractor or redistributing the workload to ensure the work gets done without pushing panicked parents to their breaking point.
Think about it like this: When team members are reluctant to leave work for the recital or school party, they are going to worry about letting someone down—either their coworkers or their children. And they can’t help but bring all that tension, guilt and distraction to the job.
It’s never about just one person, one parent, or even one month. For the best outcomes, everyone’s needs and schedules must be interwoven and synched.
Anna Dearmon Kornick is head of Community at Clockwise, a time orchestration platform for teams. She also hosts It’s About Time, a podcast about work, life, and balance.