Working Mothers and the Double-Edged Sword of Remote Work
There is no doubt that the pandemic fast-tracked acceptance of the remote work model. Many companies who had been reluctant to embrace remote work found themselves with no other option – and then they were surprised by the productivity results. So much so, that the percentage of workers around the world that are permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021, according to a survey from U.S.-based Enterprise Technology Research (ETR).
The shift to remote work has had a disproportionate impact on working mothers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are around 23.5 million employed women with children under the age of 18, and nearly two-thirds of those moms work full-time and year-round.
McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report, conducted with LeanIn.Org, revealed this surprising statistic: one in four working women in North America said that they were considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce entirely. For working mothers, and particularly those with young children, the number was one in three.
But wait –aren’t mothers often especially well-suited to remote work? They are typically organized multi-taskers who are masters of time management as well as being resourceful and independent problem solvers. Despite this aptitude, the careers of nearly a third of working mothers will be negatively impacted due to remote work pressures.
Deloitte conducted a survey of working women across 10 countries to learn more about the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and how employers can provide better support. The survey found that, “Nearly 80% of surveyed women indicate that their workload at work has increased because of the pandemic. 66% of women report having the greatest responsibilities for home tasks and more than half of those with children say they handle the majority of childcare duties.” Remote work necessitated by the pandemic has forced working mothers to shoulder more responsibilities at both work and at home, which for many has become untenable. So as remote work continues, the question becomes, what can companies do to better support mothers working remotely?
While it is important to set boundaries at home and in a family structure, companies often don’t set boundaries in regard to remote work. “Flexible” seems to be code for “24/7,” yet there are often very few company guidelines relating to the rules of engagement. While it’s a nice thought that employees can get work done when it’s right for them, setting basic expectations can be a game-changer for flexible work situations, and particularly for moms. For example, zoom call scheduling or meeting scheduling can be restricted to a set of core hours, such as 9am-3pm. Similarly, you can also set expectations regarding email response time (i.e., within 6 hours; within 24 hours, etc.). Providing some level of predictability can go a long way in creating a sense of control.
Are remote workers and managers both working off the same set of expectations? Are there clearly defined objectives for both? How will employees be held accountable? Do old expectations no longer make sense in this new environment? Do managers know how to motivate in this new hybrid work environment? For both employees and managers, it should be clear what is expected of each and when.
Working mothers who are struggling to keep too many balls in the air can benefit from employee assistance programs that provide therapy, counseling, as well as health and wellness programs to deal with stress. Companies can also establish a working mother’s group where working moms can voice their concerns and ask for advice from their peers in a safe, supportive environment.
Ask What They Need
As the old adage goes, “if you don’t know, ask.” When a company makes of point of “asking” what its working mothers need, it creates an empathetic environment. Make a point of checking in frequently and provide easy-to-use mechanisms for feedback.
Finding the right mix of work-life balance is different for each mom. Establishing the right mix of boundaries, expectations, policies, and resources is different for each company. But doing so can help a company to better retain its eminently capable, productive, and effective working mothers.
Here’s a glimpse at just a few of the hard-working moms of ConnectedHR. We appreciate all you do!