Working Parents Need Compassionate Leaders (now more than ever)


It’s no surprise that we’ve been coaching so many women recently who are looking at alternative career options. There is no possible way, as working parents, we can work in traditional settings where we’re expected to be online, working 9am-5pm (give or take a few hours) Monday to Friday. Of course, a lot of organisations are offering hybrid working and flexible options now more than ever – which is brilliant! But there are limited companies that actually allow people to work truly flexibly to allow for people to be at their absolute best whilst still delivering high value for their employer. Just to confirm, it is POSSIBLE to work in this way!  

It seems the world is watching the UK right now with all of the restrictions lifting, despite having more than 40,000 new positive cases per day, albeit 87% of the adult population have had their first dose of the vaccine, so it’s a waiting game for now to see if we can actually start living a normal life again. 

There is no normal

Although it won’t feel like normal for working parents with the constant threat of children being forced to stay home due to the closure of childcare facilities or other inhouse options. What happens to these working parents then? When their teams are going into the office and they’re forced to stay home with their children, despite wanting to be part of the team, they have no choice. This is when compassionate leadership is really required and less of needing to know when someone is ‘doing their hours’. 

Please allow me to share, from experience, what it is like to work with a manager (or a whole team of people) who doesn’t (don’t) have parental responsibilities. You feel like you’re constantly letting everyone down. You are excluded from those extra chats or social events that take place because you have to look after the kids. As much as you want to get involved with the team stuff that’s going on, you also know that you cannot physically afford to miss a minute of sleep (because, the kids, they just know when you’ve been out and ruin any chance you have of catching up on that much needed shut eye). 

Speaking with a working parent recently, they had had their children sent home from school, they themselves weren’t feeling well and I know they had been putting in all hours yet when they let their manager know they needed a few hours off that morning (& would make up the time later in the day) rather than showing any sort of compassion, the manager’s response was, ‘I have noticed you’re always offline on Teams, don’t make it a habit’ [they appeared offline because they were constantly on calls!]. 

At a time when schools and childcare are ‘open’, businesses are opening back up and people are returning to their offices in a hope that this is a ‘new normal’. Please hear me when I say, there is nothing normal about what is happening for working parents right now. What do you think happens when suddenly there is a positive case at school? Cue, ‘home school learning’ with a millisecond’s notice. Your child is forced to isolate but you don’t have to. Sure, this is changing but not if the school doesn’t have enough teachers to staff it. And, that just means, for those with children under 11, you really can’t leave the house at all. You’re forced to suddenly be making breakfast, lunch, dinner plus 100,000 snacks per day. As well as be ready for the multiple live classes, pre-recorded videos and the multitude of tears from frustration of not being able to leave the house. All the while, trying to manage your work commitments and maintain a level of calm. There will be no returning to the office for these working parents, no matter how desperate they are to get out of the house and back into town. 

They will be the ones who are unconsciously determined by colleagues to be on the side-lines, not really part of the team, overlooked for promotions and exciting new projects. And, let’s be honest, as much as we (working parents) want to be doing all of these things we literally do not have the mental, emotional or physical capacity to be competing against others who don’t have these other responsibilities.

So, it’s really no wonder that we’ve been speaking to so many women about a change of career or those thinking of taking (yet another) career break so that they can focus on childcare.

Compassionate leaders, working parents need you

For all of you who are in this situation, you are not alone. I wish I could say it will get better and easier but I honestly think there is a serious inequitable issue that is here for the next few years as we navigate trying to control a virus and also fully open up the economy. But, and this is a massive, BUT. There are plenty of wonderful, compassionate and truly understanding leaders who do sympathise and who will see through the current situation to ensure you continue to flourish in your career. 

If you are a leader with hands on parents, especially mums, in your team, please do pause and spare a thought for what might be going on for them. If they make a request for unpaid leave, a morning off with no notice or just when they let you know they need to work from home for the foreseeable take a moment to be patient and consider what might be going on for them. Lead with compassion and kindness and you will get so much more in return. 

Let us know how we can help you navigate either as a working parent or as a leader hoping to be more compassionate

At Rosby, we’re on a mission to improve the experience of work for everyone. In doing so, we believe that people and businesses will thrive – creating happy, healthier workplaces.

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