“Work – Life Balance”

It’s an easy statement for employers to say, “We really emphasize work – life balance here.” We’ve all said it to our employees for years. Work to live, not live to work. Employee surveys regarding the workplace have always listed the work – life balance as a top priority for employees. But, what did it really mean back “then,” in the “precedented times”? Did it mean, we’re okay with you having a work – life balance, as long as it doesn’t create any roadblocks or, even worse, impact my work load? These past five months have put employers in the hot seat to make true on their rhetoric. Now, we are embarking on a purely virtual school year without any in-person schooling in the near-term. 

So the same question presents itself: For all companies, with children becoming omnipresent in our workdays, how do we provide employees with work – life balance during a global pandemic? Here a few examples that span from fun ideas to practical necessities to help start the dialogue among senior leadership at your company:

Be Thoughtful

For starters, let’s talk about empathy – an essential element to surviving a pandemic. What can we do that’s going to really drive employees to feel that empathy? Really think about what it is like to walk in our employees’ shoes. This is truly the best way to think about how to be the most helpful when our teams need it the most.

Those extra laptops that you have sitting in IT land – perhaps instead of redeeming them for Microsoft or Mac credits, we offer them to our employees. They are most likely looking at buying an additional laptop (or printer) for their kids and this will provide them with one less burden and a nice perk for the start of a fully remote school year. 

And, since families will now officially have devices aplenty, one thing my daughter will gladly break from Roblox or Minecraft for is a family game night. Some tried and true favorites that your employees may love to see delivered on their doorsteps include Wits & Wagers, Pictionary, Yahtzee, Jenga, Kids Against Maturity, Clue, What Do You Meme? Family Edition, Scattergories or Code Names. With bowling alleys and movie theaters now closed in most parts of the U.S., this pops up a family fun night for all ages instantly. 

Another option for our loyal, deadline driven team members is a monthly babysitter subsidy. This helps parents establish a regular babysitter for deadline-tight work days, when getting interrupted 72 times for a snack within an hour is simply not an option. Speaking of child care, an employer can create an online grouping system so that employees in close proximity with similar age kids can locate other families who would be open to creating learning pods. And if your company is fortunate enough to absorb the cost, consider paying for the learning facilitator that is hired for these groups. 

Leave, PTO, Personal Day… Whatever You Call It. Make It Happen.

If learning pods aren’t an option for your company, then this fall, there will be a three to six hour window of time for employees to dedicate to work while kids are virtual schooling. This equation assumes the parents won’t need to provide tier 1 helpdesk support or snacks aplenty. We need to be okay with less hours (quantity) and really focus on output (quality) so that we can allow for more flexibility. Managers should aim to sincerely support this endeavor to make sure employees situations are understood and tailored situations are clearly communicated to the team. 

For those with the ability to focus on quality output, we can really create a culture tailored to allow for bonus days off – where employees are required to shut down work. Managers cannot call or text them. Managers cannot skype them. Managers sincerely support said employee taking the day off. Adding a Parental Leave Mental Health Day one day a month will likely provide for more productivity throughout the rest of the month. If your company isn’t prepared for that endeavor, managers need to, at a minimum, genuinely accept standard Paid Time Off leave at the last minute without judgment or penalty. Kids aren’t like us – they don’t understand the importance of the afternoon call or webinar – and some days, they just want the extra love. 

Yes, I know some of us are more challenged on that front being tied to billable hours. For those of us who are required to live by billable hours – one option to consider is pairing up office managers, or those with now reduced duties due to lack of facilities, with others who need support. For instance if a Project Coordinator is needing to take off additional time to be with their kids, instead of them returning to a huge workload – managers could have the office manager assigned to the program. The Project Coordinator and Office Manager could begin to job share some of these components so the Project Coordinator isn’t overwhelmed when returning from time off. 

Empower

If ever there was a time to ‘let go’ and ‘trust’ your team, today is the day. Empower managers to make their own calls on how to manage their projects and time. This approach will provide everyone with less stress and increased flexibility. When not in close proximity, we must trust managers to make the right call. When assessing leave requests, accommodations and overall delegation, reduce the number of hoops. 

Allowing managers to empower their employees will bolster further culture flexibility and collaboration. All parents likely had scheduling snafus in the spring that will replicate in the fall – the first grade morning meeting was ever so inconveniently scheduled at the same 9am hour as your teams daily Scrum meeting. While in a typical work world environment, the first of the day morning check-in makes sense but perhaps managers take a pulse of what the fall will look like for their teams. Maybe those 9am meetings are moved to 4pm check-ins to accommodate school schedules. Managers should be encouraged to work with their teams to best navigate the upcoming fall season. 

Pretend It’s Bring Your Kid to Work Day – But.Every.Single.Virtual.Workday.

It’s officially Bring Your Kid to Work Day everyday. Send kids swag! Parents seeing their kids write with their company branded pens and notebooks will make employees feel like everyone is in it together. Hey, it’s not bad marketing for you either!

Yes, screen time and TVs aren’t always perfect – but who wouldn’t mind a Disney+ membership? This perk can provide a bonus few hours of family favorite movies. It’s not a substitute for parenting but it is a way of showing that we care and get it. 

For parents of four-legged Fidos or Fluffys, show we care with a myriad of pet toys that make for an enjoyable game of ball and chase. Or, head straight to a pet’s heart through their stomachs with tasty treats. Mental stimulation games like Kong toys or tunnels are a sure bet to entertain, if the work schedule moves up a walk or a snuggle.

At a previous company, most employees were on client-sites. We didn’t get to see them as frequently as we would have liked. Each quarter, we sent snack boxes to each client-site employee. It was a lower dollar spend with a huge impact. We would get feedback that was out of this world, including, “this reminded me of being away from home and getting a care package. I truly feel like this company is family.” Your company could even create a channel, in Slack or Teams, for sharing the fun goods that kids made so the whole company can see it. Whether we send parents craft bags, art kits or a bag full of fun new notebooks, employees see that employers care. That matters.

How about we combine all of these things and provide a virtual family fun race to one of the many deserving charities out there? Company branded t-shirts of all sizes can be sent to participating homes. An extra employee bonus is a required company-wide afternoon off to participate in the event. Only requirement is to send a picture or selfie in gear so employees can get some much needed good news in a time when smiles are slim.

Put on Your Oxygen Mask First.

As the friendly flight attendants in the sky used to tell us in our flying days, “put on your oxygen mask first” and that’s because if you run out of oxygen yourself, then you can’t help anyone else. We want to take care of the parents in the equation too. 

One of the new aspects of working remotely is having our little kiddos be ravenous from the time they wake up until night time wrap up. Oftentimes, parents make kids’ breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and, let’s face it, desserts. Parents end up skipping a meal for themselves in the mix. Nowadays, with in-office catering undoubtedly being cancelled at your workplace, consider providing ubereats or grubhub credit to employees. So, when the kids are screaming for yet another snack and their parents are dragging during conference calls, employees can order-in a salad or sandwich (or depending on the conference call, maybe even an afternoon ice cream or latte).  

And since we know it’s not an easy time for all, date nights will appeal to parents and non-parents. We can set-up virtual cooking classes and provide employees with Instacart credit to purchase the supplies in advance without having to leave their house. Or, an out of the wine box idea for a date night incorporates a virtual escape to Napa or Sonoma. This memorable date night experience includes a wine tasting kit and virtual sommelier, all coordinated through the winery itself. The wider the cast in putting people first, the better. 

Conclusion

I recognize we are close to half a year deep here in this “unprecedented time” but it’s never too late to provide our teams with a culture of understanding, empathy and strength. According to a recent survey by Willis Towers and Watson, less than 25% of employers will enhance caregiving benefits for their employees.  This generates an opportunity for top employers to truly deliver on the work – life balance. We have to do our best every day to make employees feel cared for and understood. This is important. They will remember it. 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou