Better World

Viral post underscores the huge difference flexible work schedules can make for families

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

This pandemic has felt endless for most people—and perhaps for no one more than parents, many of whom have spent the last 18 months or more juggling health concerns, school, kids quarantining (often with little warning), worry over the risks facing aging parents, and oh yeah, holding down a job.

In a viral post that ripped through the internet recently, one manager illustrated what a struggle it is to maintain any type of work-life balance, especially under the current circumstances, and voiced how she supports those on her team. And the response—with the post logging over 100,000 interactions to date—shows just how deeply her message resonates with working parents.

“I DO care that you haven’t taken your vacation time, because I know you need a break.”

Megan Witherspoon, Vice President of Communications at Altria, expressed her feelings on LinkedIn about the priorities she sets while managing her own team. To many, it was a nice reminder of how parents’ stress can be greatly reduced by a professional environment that acknowledges that employees can have lives outside the office—and still be great at their jobs.

As Witherspoon puts it, “I DO care that your daughter is home with yet another ear infection.
I DO NOT care that you’ll be offline for 2 hours this afternoon for her doctor’s appointment.” She goes on to list several other hurdles that employees might need to overcome, from school bus transportation shortages to dogs “puking all over your rug.” Throughout, she emphasized that she does care about her employees’ well being, and also cares that they do quality work, but that she doesn’t care where, when, or how they get that work done.

All workplaces are not created equal

However, she acknowledges that this type of work environment isn’t available to everyone, “particularly hourly workers and those in frontline jobs.” In those cases, it’s often far more difficult to find workplaces that allow flexible work schedules, the ability to work from home, or the freedom to step away from work at a moment’s notice to attend to a personal matter.

While there might not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, it’s definitely something that warrants attention. Women have been hit especially hard with job loss during the Covid-19 pandemic, in part because of this lack of workplace flexibility. “Economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs,” Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement. Women have netted a loss of 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic.

In addition, depression rates tripled during the first year of the pandemic alone, and job burnout is intensifying—particularly for women. According to the seventh annual report on women in the workplace from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, 42 percent of women report feeling totally burned out (compared to 35 percent of men). One in three women who remain in the workforce are considering pulling back on their career goals or leaving their jobs entirely; that’s a significant increase from the one in four who were considering those options a few months into the pandemic. This is in part due to feelings of increased pressure, as employers expect workers to be “on” at all times. It’s easy to see how this burnout and depression might be alleviated if employees felt empowered to take vacations, a mental health break, or even a few hours off to be fully present at a child’s doctor appointment as mentioned in Witherspoon’s post.

When you combine all these factors with the increased responsibility of schooling and caring for children at home falling disproportionately to mothers, finding a way to make workplaces truly more family-friendly is one clear path for women to reenter the workforce. Moreover, flexibility like that described in Witherspoon’s post could relieve so much strain, anxiety, and hardship for families already going through so many stressors—and that flexibility would continue to provide a sustainable balance for all parents into the future.

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.