Caring for the Caregivers in Your Organization
By Megan Steckler - May 27, 2020
As employees around the world adapt to COVID-19 inspired ways of working, the spotlight now turns to the previously invisible work of caregiving. Work-life balance has been a challenge for working parents and caregivers long before they found themselves in a global pandemic. The term balance however, suggests that work responsibilities and family responsibilities can be compartmentalized, and that they offset one another. In today’s environment however, distinguishing between the two is simply impossible for employees attempting to meet both sets of demands at exactly the same time. The tension of trying to succeed as both a professional and as a caregiver simultaneously is pushing many employees to the breaking point.
Historically, caregiving responsibilities have been viewed as “personal” responsibilities, and employers may or may not have had any awareness of the obligations employees face at home. But today, the distinction between professional and personal responsibilities has become blurred as employees are forced to integrate both aspects of their lives into each work day. Caregiving obligations can take a wide range of forms from parents without childcare who are trying to homeschool, to employees caring for aging parents or family members battling illness. Additionally, employees are managing the emotional care-taking that comes with financial stress, job losses in the family, or missed opportunities to celebrate life milestones. For countless different reasons, a great many of us are facing non-work-related distractions that take a mental and emotional toll. As a working mother of three young boys, I know this challenge firsthand.
Survey data collected across a variety of Perceptyx client organizations provides clear evidence that the stress and concerns faced by so many of our working caregivers affects their job performance and well-being. The research revealed that employees who need support with caregiving responsibilities are:
- More than twice as likely to report that their remote work environment does not allow them to be productive.
- Almost twice as likely to say the company’s response to the pandemic has not minimized stress, regardless of whether caregivers are working from home or on the front lines.
- Less comfortable expressing their concerns, despite the new stressors and their need for support.
Comment data from these employees further emphasizes the importance of flexibility and understanding on the part of management. Here are some tips for managers and leaders supporting caregivers within their organizations:
The importance of giving employees a voice during times of uncertainty is nothing new, nor does it apply more to caregivers than to any other group. However, it is important to understand the unique caregiving responsibilities faced by each employee because these responsibilities can take so many forms.
- Ask about the employee’s family, how they are coping, and what they need personally to manage the situation effectively. Encourage employees to be direct and candid about their needs. Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead, individualize accommodations to address the specific barriers each is facing. One employee may need to alter his or her work schedule to care for children, while another may need equipment to set up a makeshift work space away from other family members, and others on the front line may have family health concerns to address. Rather than focusing on equality among team members, focus on fairness. Give each person what he or she really needs to succeed through this crisis.
Accommodate flexible work arrangements that acknowledge our shared reality
In many organizations, employees are empowered with the flexibility to work remotely as needed to improve work-life balance. Even organizations that had not previously embraced this style of work have been forced to adapt. Caregivers however, need even greater flexibility with not only where they work, but when and how they work based on their unique circumstances.
- Even in cultures where working from home has become a norm, these are not normal work from home conditions. Consequently, the way work gets done may need to change. Some caregivers may need to put in extra hours early in the morning or late at night. Others may need to split or alternate days with their spouse. Hours of video calls or focused work time may not be feasible during the day. There are going to be interruptions and challenges which will be important for managers to acknowledge.
- Reinforcing a culture of psychological safety where employees can effectively blend their work and family responsibilities is critical. Managers can lead by example in showing employees that it’s acceptable to see a family member come into the frame of a zoom call, and that it is acceptable to step away to help a child with homework. The most important aspect of reinforcing this “safety culture” is reassuring employees that taking these caregiving moments will not negatively impact their performance reviews or career opportunities in the future.
- On a recent all hands call, the CEO of Perceptyx introduced his children and encouraged all of us to find time to introduce our kids or our pets to our teams as well. This simple act gave Perceptyx parents permission to be flexible – and even more importantly, assured us that we do not need to apologize for (or try to hide the presence of) our children – and it was a welcome relief. It seems almost crazy that so many parents are trying to work from home while pretending there isn’t a ninja battle going on downstairs. Some version of that type of “chaos” is occurring in the background of conference calls all over the world.
One best practice for supporting people through any challenging time is to avoid empty statements such as, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, ask about what your employees are facing, listen to the concerns or challenges they raise, and identify specific ways you can help.
- As the reality of our current situation started to sink in and I realized my kids wouldn’t be going back to school, I mentioned to a colleague how impossible this all seemed. Her response was perfectly helpful, “Look at your calendar and tell me which meetings I can cover for you while you work out the school-at-home routine.”
- Those who are at critical stages of their careers may worry about the long-term impact of making necessary adjustments to address their new family obligations. They likely feel less productive and less able to take on new assignments. No one wants to let their team down or pay for the needed adjustments in missed opportunities later. In a culture where parents have been encouraged to “lean in,” these can feel like enormous consequences. This is an incredibly vulnerable time for many caregivers who feel as if they are between a rock and a hard place. As leaders, demonstrate empathy by encouraging and modeling honesty, vulnerability, and grace.
- Avoid labeling caregivers and assuming that because of their changing family obligations, they won’t want or won’t be able to take on new tasks or assignments. For some, the role they feel most comfortable and competent in may be their professional role. Give them the choice and help them prioritize, so they can continue to add value and continue to do the fulfilling work they love.
The pandemic has created a tremendous amount of distraction. As managers, it’s important to acknowledge the barriers employees are facing when they try to maintain their pre-pandemic levels of productivity and performance. Let’s face it, this is not business as usual and I struggle to call this the “new normal” because it’s not normal at all. Employees are not working at full capacity, and the pressure of hitting goals that were set pre-pandemic can become overwhelming.
- Help employees understand what is mission critical and what can wait. Have your company goals and priorities evolved? Where should employees focus their more limited time? Caregivers don’t want to let their colleagues down, and they don’t want to pass up opportunities to add value, but they are already stretched thin. In many cases, parents may also be battling guilt over the amount of screen time their child is experiencing or about prioritizing their work over their child’s school assignments. They want to contribute in a meaningful way, but need clarity about how to spend the limited amount of true quality work time they have.
- This is a marathon. As the adrenaline wears off, burnout becomes the next barrier to engagement. Re-establishing expectations and goals is critical to helping employees anticipate their success. Be realistic and clear about changing goals and accountabilities to ensure there will be no surprises during performance reviews.
Evaluate policies and benefits to curate support where employees need it most
As the needs of employees evolve with the crisis, it’s important to make sure the policies and benefits provided by the company evolve as well. Do they fit the current situation?
- For many parents, taking time off to care for children is the only way they can manage the situation. If they had only two weeks of vacation time to start with, they may be forced to make impossible decisions. Are there time-off policies currently in place that are no longer relevant in the remote work environment? Do they have enough sick leave that they can take time off if they don’t feel well?
- Restructure benefits where possible to provide appropriate resources. Provide a well-organized list of potential resources, or identify a short list of those that are most relevant to avoid resource overload. Allowing employees to select the benefit services they need not only provides much needed support in hard times, but also delivers a sense of control in making decisions that ensure the health and security of their families – a much needed gift during these turbulent times.
There are an abundance of challenges facing caregivers, but if we look closely, there are also plenty of silver linings. Through adversity, we are forced to re-examine old ways of doing things and get creative to find new solutions. There is an opportunity to learn from these experiences and carry forward the positive aspects of the work-life integration we have established in these times of crisis even as the world transitions into post-pandemic work. Perhaps we can leverage these experiences to make the workplace more accommodating for the next generation of caregivers.
Seeing The Way Forward
The Perceptyx platform gives you the flexibility to adapt your listening strategy to rapidly changing real-time events. Combined with support from our analytics experts, our platform can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s needs, so you can provide the support they need during these uncertain times. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization navigate successfully through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Find action planning guides, related blog articles, information on COVID-19 pulse surveys, and more on our COVID-19 Response Resources page.