by Amy Hoyt

Organizations often talk about work/life balance as an effective way to manage employee engagement and find a healthy structure for optimal work focus. This pandemic has taken that model away and left us with a life of fluidity that is no longer in balance, but more of an awkward dance. It’s a jarring shift without training wheels, leaving us to wonder: how will we manage it all?! 

We’ve seen moms and dads on calls interrupted by kids’ homework needs, snacks, or diaper changes, or dealing with a full-on toddler meltdown in the middle of what would normally be sacred space for an important meeting. We no longer have the luxury of in-person corporate norms and protocols, creating tremendous stress on employees seeking to balance being a good parent and person while trying to remain a viable, relevant, and engaged employee. An organizational structure that defines a more command and control approach will not have as much success as one that understands the flexibility needed to maximize human engagement potential.

When a parent or caregiver is stressed, anxious or fearful, their ability to manage the compartmental roles of work and life are tested. On a human level, there is nothing easy about being 100% caregiver and 100% available for work. So how can leaders show up to put people first, giving them the space and flexibility they need to work and live in this new world? How do leaders manage work/life balance with the goal of effective, engaged, and less stressed/anxious employees? Employees want their work to come first, but also need their children and family to come first.

Leaders are experiencing significant change and are re-thinking norms and approaches to remain relevant and successful in the future. This pandemic will change the way we work and help define the moments that matter most. Here are some practical ways organizations can show up to support an approach to work that looks more like a fluid dance in balance than a compartmentalized view of work and life.

  • Review and change your policies. Policies that are family friendly help balance both work and family life and are essential resources to parents. Look at policies to see how they allow for three things: time, finances, and services. Examine how your company is aligned, through policy and action, to be family friendly during the current pandemic and beyond. 
  • Offer creative and low-cost support options to parents. Host online events designed with your employees’ kids in mind. If you’re a technology company, consider offering a fun assignment for kids to learn about coding or a competition for who can build a Lego model of a new prototype. 
  • Increase flexibility. We mean it!!!!! Rethink norms and culture to fit the employee. Re-align priorities. This may mean being open to the idea of working around family needs, such as late at night or during nap time.  Create meeting-free time so employees can plan homework, attend parent/teacher meetings, etc.  Engage in meaningful dialogue. Set up specific time with your leaders, people and teams to give the space and safety to discuss challenges or goals in a meaningful way. Don’t rush. Listen to understand.
  • Stretch your leadership. Be proactive about engaging before being asked. If you are a leader, own more and criticize less.  You may have to get down on your knee and offer to finish those meeting notes so someone can step away. If you are a caregiver leader, you may have to let go of control and allow others to step up. Allow your kids to be needed and let someone you trust take on more meaningful assignments.
  • Respect people’s privacy. Recognize, acknowledge, and respect personal, home, and family space. Working from home can be an invasion of privacy and employees need to know leadership understands that.  How are your policies and conversation respectful employee’s privacy?
  • Think about your employees in terms of the customer experience. These changes matter. Great employee experience companies outperform the S&P 500 by 122% between 2009-2014, which can impact the bottom line of an organization. 

The Bottom Line

What does the future of work look like? It looks more adaptive, inclusive, and fluid with both on—and off—the job description skillset.  Putting your employees first, especially during an unprecedented pandemic will pay dividends, allowing your company to enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce both now and in the long term. Watch out!  It might also change your organization for the better in the long-term.