By Sarah Cain, VP of Coaching, and Kelsey Ruwe, Chief of Staff
Firm leaders, many of your team members are stressed right now, and it’s only going to get worse over the coming weeks. Why? Well, as one article put it, for many parents right now it feels like you can have a kid or a full-time job, but you can’t have both. And with uncertainty around schools reopening and the associated safety concerns, many of your team members are faced with a seemingly impossible task: give 100% to their job AND give 100% to their children during the same eight-hour workday.
Some leaders might not yet have had the “aha!” moment that this fall is not going to be “business as usual.” Maybe you don’t have children. Maybe you have the financial resources that allow for a stay-at-home parent or to hire household help. Maybe you’ve been so busy taking care of your clients that you haven’t even thought of it. Or maybe you’re in the same boat as your employees who are working parents – and you’re overwhelmed trying to figure out your situation, much less how you can support your team members.
Regardless of where you’re coming from, here are some important ways you can support your team as they work through a tough situation.
Caring is Worth It
At Carson, we work with advisory firms run by genuinely good people. If you’re reading this, chances are, you are too. So we’re going to start one of the most important reasons you should care – supporting your team members who are working parents is simply the right thing to do. Remember all of your talk about valuing work/life balance and caring about your team like family? Now is the time to step up and show that you mean it.
If that’s not enough to sway you, remember that it is much more cost-effective to retain great team members than try to search for, hire, and train new team members. Gallup estimates the cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary – which is a conservative estimate – by the time you factor in lost productivity and the cost of hiring and training a replacement. A little lost productivity or extra expense during the next few months is much less expensive than losing a talented team member.
Finally, if you do things right, it can engage your team. They’ll have a great story to tell that differentiates you from other employers and attracts top talent. And, you have a huge opportunity to create loyalty that will get you and your firm through future challenges and retain great people who may otherwise be tempted to leave for a slightly higher paycheck.
Demonstrate Your Ability to Adapt
At Carson, we talk about AQ: Adaptability Quotient. Listen, your amazing team members have not changed; the situation has changed. They are still incredible, hardworking individuals who are trying their best to adjust to an impossible situation. And as great leaders know, when the situation changes, you have to change your strategy.
The No. 1 thing you must do is to adjust your expectations, be flexible and show understanding:
- Proactively communicate with your team that you understand things are going to be tough this fall, and you are ready and willing to do what you can to support them.
- Reach out one-on-one to your team members regularly to see how they’re doing and what they need.
- Realize that responses may be delayed or come after work hours. If it’s urgent, say so – but only if it is. Otherwise, be flexible.
- Be thoughtful about scheduling meetings. Ask yourself if the same information could be covered via email or another form of communication. Only schedule a meeting for things that must be discussed over a call.
- Don’t show annoyance when kids pop up on your virtual meeting. Acknowledge the youngster – “Hey kiddo! Love your dinosaur T-shirt!” – and then keep the meeting going. Completely ignoring the obvious disruption or having a major negative reaction just adds stress to the parent who doesn’t want to be in this situation, either.
- Be willing to reschedule, and then do it. If you’re having a meeting when a kid has a meltdown in the background, say, “Hey, it’s OK. Let’s reschedule.”
Everyone is likely in a different situation – and you may or may not realize it. Maybe an employee has someone in their household, even a child, who is especially vulnerable to COVID due to an underlying health condition. Perhaps a team member has three different children in three different grades with three different teachers and three different schedules. (Whew!)
Work with your team members individually to make accommodations that they may need, such as:
- Continue to support remote work.
- Offer flexible work hours. Yes, someone on the team needs to be available during normal office hours. But it doesn’t have to be everyone or everyone at the same time.
- Adjust meeting schedules to accommodate school schedules.
- Allow parents to temporarily work reduced hours, with reduced pay if necessary, but keep their normal health insurance and other benefits intact.
- Provide paid or unpaid family leave.
Prepare for Plan B
You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will. Smart firms are thinking about this now and developing plans to take care of their employees if things go wrong.
- Develop back-up plans and cross-train in case someone gets sick – or their kids get sick – and they are unable to work for some time
- Pre-arrange emergency child care for your team members if schools or daycares close unexpectedly.
Be the Employer Everyone Talks About
Once you’ve covered the basic accommodations, you can really step up your support. Here are a few of our favorite ideas for supporting working parents during COVID-19:
- Provide extra time off so your team can take a break and recharge.
- Extend summer hours (closing early on Fridays) so that your team can take the extra few hours to plan the coming week for their family.
- Provide subsidized opportunities for children. Carson is working with local universities to team up in a win/win program: Students who need volunteer hours or work to put on their resumes due to a lack of internships can be matched up to tutor or mentor employees’ children.
- Offer wellness reimbursements for exercise programs, coaching, nutrition advice, therapy and more. Stress reduction is even more important than normal for working parents during this time!
- Take care of home technology needs. Not everyone has the financial resources to have enough devices to effectively work from home while accommodating kids’ educational needs. Of course you should provide a work laptop for remote work, but also consider being generous and providing additional devices, either as a gift or loan, for kids in the household that might need them for schoolwork.
- Check in on the home internet and wifi situation for your team members. Again, not everyone has the financial resources needed to set up a well-networked office and school. Consider offering to subsidize internet service so they can purchase additional bandwidth speeds, upgrading wifi routers or providing hotspots for your team members.
- Help them with household management. Pay for or arrange for substantial discounts on household services like meal planning, grocery delivery, laundry service with door-to-door pickup and delivery, lawn care and housekeeping.
- Take care of dinner. Provide restaurant dinner delivery for your team members’ families as a nice surprise – bonus if it supports a local restaurant!
- Hire a retired or substitute teacher to lead a virtual activity once per week. Think an updated, interactive version of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” or “Mythbusters.”
- Send out personalized “kid kits” that include puzzles, games, crafts, art materials, books and conversation starters.
- Ship goodies like fun cookies or cakes to all of your team members – with enough to share with their families!
A note: Don’t just offer benefits like additional time off, discounts, or goodies for those you know to be parents – make sure to offer these to everyone on your team, whether they use them or not.
At the end of the day, being a strong leader and supporting working parents through the fall of 2020 is about being a good person. Be flexible, show empathy and understanding, and put in the extra effort to show your team you care about them.
And when it comes to figuring out how you can best support your team, don’t assume – ask! None of us have all of the answers, and the coronavirus pandemic is creating an ever-changing situation. Get comfortable learning and making adjustments as you go. And as things change, keep coming back to your goal: taking care of your people so that you can all get through this together.