Flexible approach pays off

Jennifer Schroeder

It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. Businesses in general and human resource professionals in particular continue to endure the repercussions of restrictions and remote work. 

HR professionals have had to disseminate information to managers and employees when conditions keep changing. Those working from home have had to find ways to maintain their productivity as well as their sanity. It’s no wonder we’re all a bit frazzled.

The pandemic has been harder on some than others. According to a story by Liz Lewis posted on Indeed.com, COVID-19 has had profound effects on working women. Some statistics:

  • Among women who were employed full-time prior to the pandemic, 29 percent have since reduced their hours and 9 percent left the labor market.
  • Women who cut back their hours said their employers could have helped by offering greater flexibility, understanding and patience to navigate work and life in a pandemic.
  • Most women who downshifted plan to return to full-time work, but the majority will seek remote positions.

How many women are we talking about here? According to catalyst.org, in 2019 there were nearly 77 million women age 16 and older in the work force in the United States.
If 29 percent reduced their hours and 9 percent left the workforce, that’s almost 22.3 million and 7 million, respectively. Could that be right? Nearly 30 million women who were employed full-time are now working reduced hours or not at all? That stunned me.  

Consider, though, that 40 percent of  U.S. households are headed by women and most child care and domestic duties still fall to the female partner in a male-female relationship. It’s no wonder women cut back their hours or left the work force during the pandemic. Trying to work full-time, care for children and also manage their online learning was too much.

I was grateful my children are in high school and didn’t need much supervision when they were learning online.

Of course, I really haven’t worked an 8-to-5 job in years. When my children were young, I worked from home managing a tree service. I worked full-time, but around my kids’ schedules. I had an amazing boss who was understanding and accommodating when it came to my family’s needs. It helped I’m friends with his wife and our daughters are friends. It also helped my flexible schedule allowed me to serve as chauffeur for my kids and my employer’s kids.  

But that’s kind of my point.  Regardless of the fact we’re friends, we had a vested interest in working together to make not only the business run smoothly, but also our family lives.

It’s said it takes a village to raise children, but we as business owners and managers sometimes forget that. Although my family is the most important thing in my life, my home life has suffered because of work life.  

Why does it have to? Why do we have to work from 8 to 5 every day? If we get our work done in less than 8 hours, why can’t we go home? Why don’t we have more job sharing or part-time positions at all levels in an organization?  Why are we as business owners and managers so rigid and unwilling to try new things that could make all our lives better?  

We all have strengths and weaknesses, skills that enable us to excel at our jobs and preferences on how we like to function. When employees comes to us with a dilemma about balancing their work and home lives, why don’t we try harder to make it possible for employees to continue doing their jobs?

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that work continues even if we’re not physically at our places of employment. Moreover, we are not only who we are at work.

According to the story on Indeed.com, 79 percent of those who left full-time roles believe work-life balance is a challenge in their industries, and 60 percent are actively looking for jobs in new sectors.

That’s not to mention the mental toll the pandemic has had on women and men in the work force. That makes it even more important for people to strike a balance between work and life.

We want our workers to be happy.  We want them to be happy at home because that happiness will carry over into their work. Better mental health also will affect the bottom line in terms of less absenteeism, substance abuse and stress-related diseases.  

The line between work and home has blurred during the pandemic. While working from home has allowed us to be present for our kids, it’s also made for added stress and odd working hours.

If we continue to work from home even as children return to schools, what could we gain? As an employee, I’m thinking more money because child care expenses could go down along with the cost of commuting and professional attire. Employees could see decreases in absenteeism and health care costs along with improvement in attitudes and productivity

I’m not saying a more flexible approach will be easy. Change never is. But as the effects of the pandemic ease, I challenge people to shift their views about work and what they consider normal. We’ve all had time over the past year to re-evaluate our circumstances and shift our priorities. Let’s talk about some of the positives that have come out of the pandemic and how lasting changes in the workplace could make things better for all of us.