Need Ongoing Flexibility as a Working Parent? There’s Safety in Numbers

Need Ongoing Flexibility as a Working Parent? There’s Safety in Numbers

There’s safety in numbers, my dear working parents.  Safety in being something other than the lone voice complaining.  Power in group action.

“So?”, you may be asking.  “What does “safety in numbers” have to do with anything?”

It has everything to do with working parenthood right now.  Why?  Because as employers make plans for returns to offices, and plans about what workplaces will look like in the future, we as working parents have more chances of persuading “the powers that be,” if we raise our concerns together.  If we don’t howl as lone wolves, but rather arrive in packs.

A few Fridays ago, the entire Washingtonian magazine staff stopped publishing new content during a day-long shut-down.  Why?  Their CEO, Cathy Merrill, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, warning that continuing to work from home as offices were reopening could make it easier for her employees to be let go or converted to full-time contractors.  “Although there might be some pains and anxiety going back into the office,” she wrote, “the biggest benefit for workers may be simple job security.”  Yikes.

Her staff viewed her comments as a threat to their jobs and, without the protections of being part of any union, they (metaphorically, given they were working virtually) walked out.  All of them.

Wow.  A strike over the future of flexible work?  Now *this* is something working parents should be listening to.

The future of flexible work isn’t, of course, just about working parents or our needs.  But we are, not for the first time during COVID, uniquely positioned during this pandemic.  This time, it’s not necessarily about needing to deal with remote school for our children (though many of us are still doing that), but it’s about the vaccine rollout.

This morning, I woke up to a new NY Times “Updated COVID Guide: For Four Different Types of Households.” I loved their clean and helpful categories, of “the fully vaccinated,” “the almost-vaccinated,” “families with young children,” and “the unvaccinated.”  When it came to the category of those of us with young kids (i.e. the < 12 year old crowd for whom a vaccine isn’t yet available), the author wrote, “some parents may still choose to be extremely cautious, while others will be more comfortable with normalcy.  Both decisions are defensible.”

The article draws attention to the fact that those of us with kids under 12 aren’t out of the woods yet.  We still have difficult decisions to make, and we are hoping against hope that our employers don’t forget about us, as a category.

In addition to vaccine issues, many of us still face both remote school (for our family, we’re doing remote Wednesdays through the end of the school year), a lack of the usual summer camps, and the shortage of childcare options brought about by COVID’s devastating effects on the childcare industry.  We also face the pre-COVID face-time biases that made it difficult to compete in a butts-in-chair work environment in the first place.

In short: To employers saying we all need to go back to offices right now?  Not so fast.

Remember that working parent group that got off the ground not too long ago at your organization?  The ERG or BRG or affinity group that meets periodically for events and gatherings?  If you haven’t already, now is the time to get that group focused on the future of flexibility.  Have you taken the pulse of group members yet?  Convened to discuss this topic?  Gotten the group involved in conversations with your organization’s leadership about the return to the office?  Now’s the time.

Or perhaps your employer doesn’t have a parent- or caregiver-related employee resource group.  That doesn’t mean you can’t informally convene a group of parents specifically to discuss this issue.  (Want some help getting such a group off the ground?  Read this: 5 Lessons for Launching a Successful (Gender Neutral) Working Parent Group at Your Office.

[If you’re the leader of a working parent / caregiver group at your employer or would like to start one, please feel free to join theWorking Parent Group Network(WPGN), too.  We are about 160+ strong at this point and cross-pollinate ideas across industries.]

Also remember that as parents, we may have unique and specific needs, but we’re not the only group that fears a return to “the way things were.”  Who might your allies be within your organization who may not be working parents but who are just as invested in a flexible future?  Can you grow the safety in numbers concept even further?  Can you coordinate with them on this issue?

For employers reading this, please do everything within your power to involve working parents and working parent groups in your conversations about “The Return.”  You may be thinking, “we’ve done enough for them already” during this pandemic.  (Or perhaps even, “we’ve done too much”.)  I come back to this argument: Employers Helping Parents Through COVID Is *Not* Unfair.

We’re not across the COVID finish line yet.  And I guarantee that doing what you can to help your working parent colleagues feel heard and understood will go a long way toward employee retention.  We are all facing the repercussions of a long period of deep trauma, and parents are now faced with doing huge amounts of healing work, both for themselves and for their children.

Please, employers, view “The Return” as a process and not an event.  Don’t ignore working parents, but instead show your leadership.  Together, we can create an environment where all working parent voices feel heard and included.