I had been dreaming about enjoying the view in that cover image for over a year – we planned to go there these April school holidays but of course had to cancel and instead rapidly adapt to a new world of work and care. I’m not alone – people are feeling a sense of loss about many things. Change hit fast – adapting to the change has been fast too.
In support of our members, Parents At Work have been running live and interactive webinars for parents, carers and managers over the last four weeks in response to the changing working environments since COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place.
Over 1000 people have participated so far and some common themes have arisen which I thought worth sharing – it always helps to hear about one another’s experience.
Here are six areas that have surfaced in all of the webinars to date:
1 – Normalising the challenge
The first theme is that people are relieved to know that they are not the only ones feeling the pressure of combining work and care responsibilities. There is power in normalisation – for people to feel they’re not alone and that others are feeling the same thing – i.e. the stress that can come with the challenges of having to work and care for others at the same time – is normal. This in itself brings a great sense of relief and more openness to accepting support where needed.
2 – Managing overwhelm
The second theme is a sense of overwhelm. Parents are feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of staying on top of their work whilst keeping kids educated and entertained. This overwhelm can be doubled if there is job uncertainty or you are being thrust into working with colleagues in a new way i.e. via video conferencing rather than face-to-face. How can you overcome a sense of overwhelm? Our recommendation includes a few key elements: notice and acknowledge your emotions; take each day as it comes and adjust your routines as much as you need to; find your support network and connect in regularly; focus on things you can control (such as how much and which news you read); and take deep breaths regularly. Remind yourself that these are exceptional circumstances and you’re doing the best you can.
3 – Switching off
The third theme is that people are not sure how to unplug or switch off because we are fitting work into our care environment – meaning work has now immersed itself in our homes. Some suggestions on how to unplug: create a space in your home that has no work or learning involved; when you do take breaks play music or watch a funny video to help you switch off; try to dedicate particular days such as the weekend where you don’t work at all and get outside to take a break or go for a walk (but avoid the temptation to take your phone with you!).
4 – Family Time
Fourthly, people are feeling guilty about not spending enough focused time on kids. With regards to guilt, we encourage people to accept that this is part of our emotional journey and it’s difficult to avoid. We are all learning this new work and care environment together. Kids have more time on screens than usual and that’s okay. Establishing new rituals with your kids creates excitement. For example, creating an obstacle course in your home, or a daily walk to embrace the teddy bear hunt which has emerged globally – it is fun to go on a bear hunt (and please do put your teddy bears on display in a window of your house if you haven’t already!). For older kids, card and board games are popular again, cooking and gardening involvement is fun – as well as a healthy amount of daily activity. We also recommend carving out time to focus on your children each day and manage expectations of your work requirements too. Kids get to see you at work like they never have before and they will need to understand your job is a priority.
5 – Productivity
The fifth theme has focused on how to approach conversations with managers about productivity. We’re hearing that people realistically end up with about 5-6 hours per day of focused work time. This is causing great concern – some managers are asking people to explain how they’re “fitting in their hours” around children. We suggest you prepare for that conversation with your manager – be open about your reality and go into the conversation with the attitude that common sense must prevail. Do not focus on the number of hours you can get through – focus instead on your outcomes you can achieve. Agree on priorities with your manager and focus on achieving that outcome. Never has it made more sense to work smarter, not harder.
6 – Self Care
Little things can make a big difference. Noticing your emotions, acknowledging and accepting how you’re feeling is important. Pay attention to your posture – open up your chest, put your shoulders back, get up and walk around for 5 minutes each hour to stretch your body. Step outside, get fresh air, ensure you have at least 30 minutes of activity per day. Eat well, drink lots of water and try to rest at night. Taking care of yourself has never been more important as you are combining work and care in a way you never have before. Burnout risk is high and self-care helps to combat this.
All in all, we’re in this boat together and we all learn as we go. It’s a journey of discovery and it’s not easy for anyone. The more open we are about our feelings, the more we talk to other people, lean into our support network, take care of ourselves and give lots of love to our children, the more positive this difficult time will be.
As first published by Kiri Stejko on LinkedIn