People worldwide have had to work from home through the lockdown and this reality has perhaps been the most difficult for working parents, who have had to homeschool and care for their children. We spoke to Alis Anagnostakis, executive coach and Senior Associate at Performance Frontiers about the challenges of being a working parent during the pandemic and what companies can do to help.
What advice do you have for working parents on how to stay productive and mentally healthy while also caring for their children?
Alis Anagnostakis: For many of the people I work with, being at home with their kids came as a gift (as many had travelled extensively before and had always had too little, not too much, time with their children), but it also came as a burden, as they had to do home-schooling and work at the same time. The toll has been heavier on families where both partners worked full time and even more so on single parents. I have seen many parents creating new family routines to make the most of the time with the kids, but also create a bit of time for self and their partner. One CEO I work with set a routine where he woke before the rest of the family to do some running in the morning, which always set him up for the day, then had a 2-hour break in the middle of the day to spend time with the kids while his wife took a break to take a bit of time for herself and then made a point not to touch his computer after 5 pm so he could be present for his family.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a ‘recipe’ that works for everybody, nor any magical list of tips and tricks that would make this time, less challenging for working parents. Parents have shared practices that generally have proven helpful: purposefully creating even a little bit of time for self every day or maintaining a family routine as much as possible (time for play, limited time on screens, outdoor times when possible, regular meals and nap times) so the kids have a rhythm throughout the day. Clearly separating work and family time (both physically, by delineating the workspace from the rest of the home, but also time-wise, by keeping regular work hours) is also necessary.
Most importantly, self-compassion has proven priceless for parents at this time. We are only human. We are trying to parent, teach, work, manage our anxieties and we are bound to fail sometimes – that is perfectly normal. We have had to be forgiving with ourselves for our down moments, honest with our kids and explain in age-appropriate ways that these are challenging times for all. We have also had to be kind to self and kind to those around us as we spend days, weeks and months crammed up together. All of these are valuable ways to keep our sanity and still be there for our loved ones and hopefully come out of the other side of these times stronger, wiser and more loving.
How can companies help working parents, as they continue to work remotely?
Alis Anagnostakis: One of the things employees have appreciated most throughout this crisis was their leaders’ and organisations’ compassion and flexibility in acknowledging the challenges of being a working parent and accommodating their needs. It has helped that the status of a working parent does not distinguish between individual contributors and the most senior leaders – they all faced very similar challenges and I have seen a genuine sense of empathy in many of the organisations I work with.
Work schedules have become more flexible as parents were allowed by their workplace to cater to their children’s needs throughout the day. The etiquette has been less strict in meetings – I don’t know of one team among my clients where somebody’s kid doesn’t barge into a video conference once in a while or where someone doesn’t have to make a presentation with a baby on their lap sometimes. This is just the way things are.
I believe this has made companies realise the real challenges of working parents and hopefully, it will lead to more permanent policy changes, particularly around work schedule flexibility.
(Alis is a long-time group facilitator and executive coach who supports leaders, teams and companies on their journeys of personal and organisational evolution. She has a Masters in Positive Psychology and is now undertaking a PhD, exploring transformative learning and leaders’ consciousness development. She deeply believes wisdom is one of the scarcest and most needed resources in today’s organisations and focuses her research on new ways to help broaden leaders’ mindsets and worldviews towards more complex and mature ways of thinking and acting. You can read more about her work and research here: www.alisanagnostakis.com)