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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval for working Americans, with surveys showing women’s careers disproportionately impacted.
The Economic Policy Institute reports roughly half of all essential workers (about 27 million) are women. However, according to the Pew Research Center, mothers of children under 12 years old lost nearly 2.2 million jobs between February and August – a 12 percent drop – compared to fathers who experienced a 4 percent loss (about 870,000 jobs).
In 2013, Pew published a paper on Modern Parenthood that explored the roles of working mothers and fathers. At that time, more than half of parents surveyed said they found it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family responsibilities. While the division of paid work, housework and child care was relatively equal by gender compared to the early ’60s, researchers also found “a large gender gap in time spent with children,” with mothers averaging 13.5 hours per week with children compared to 7.3 hours for fathers.
Parents who were having trouble with work-life balance pre-COVID are now likely to be exponentially more stressed. On their list of worries: financial constraints, day care and school closures, personal health and safety, and trying to fulfill children’s social needs while being breadwinners.
A 2020 women in the workplace study by McKinsey found that one in five mothers considered dropping out of the workforce this summer compared to 11 percent of fathers. Meanwhile, inability to afford or arrange for consistent child care has proved to be one of the largest impediments to remaining in or returning to the workforce. Single mothers, in particular, are experiencing a child-care crisis.
The effect of recessions on employment status generally break down differently in terms of gender. At the beginning of the pandemic, experts say women experienced more layoffs than men because they comprise more of the in-person economy. In other recessionary periods, men have historically lost jobs at a faster rate than women due to their more substantial presence in cyclical industries such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing.
Advocates of working parents are pushing for state and federal policies to help them navigate this unprecedented time. Proposals include paid leave for family care and reinforcing protections against job discrimination on the basis of gender or family status. Employers are also being urged to step in by allowing flexible work schedules, underwriting daycare programs and being more tolerant about work-life demands, in general.
Here are some recommendations for employers to help ensure related concerns are addressed in a supportive, open environment.
Direct communication is essential to understanding and addressing the needs of your workforce. Create an environment in which employees feel safe and comfortable discussing issues that affect their work-life balance. Explore resources and facilitate a receptive culture that promotes total worker health.
Tap the experience of behavioral health professionals who provide guidance on ways to manage personal issues that affect job performance. They can help all parties negotiate boundaries and provide advice while applying their mental health expertise. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, refer employees to it as a recommended resource.
Encourage dialogue and, within reason, be receptive to employee requests for flexibility. For example, if an employee has children at home, discuss ways in which their work schedule might be adjusted to help relieve anxiety and enhance productivity. It’s important to emphasize equal application of human resources policies across the board.
Give employees a chance to connect virtually or in safe in-person social encounters that foster healthy workplace relationships. When co-workers feel bonded, they have higher job satisfaction and are more likely to see themselves as an integral part of a team doing good work.
One way to help manage competing priorities is to set and uphold good boundaries. Check out our Wellness Monthly for November to learn more.
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