Like many working moms, Lisa Durante, a consultant who helps companies create more inclusive workplaces for parents, is at home with her two children during COVID-19, and picking up extra tasks, tasks she doesn’t necessarily enjoy, is changing how she feels about work, at least for the time being.
“I have been managing much of the schooling in our household,” Durante says. “That’s not a role I enjoy, and because it’s something I don’t enjoy—I don’t enjoy it in the moment, I don’t enjoy planning for it, any part of it—it’s really affecting my satisfaction with the work I’m doing. I usually enjoy the work, but now it’s just another thing I have to do.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s estimated that parents are spending upwards of 40 hours per week taking care of their children, with women in opposite-sex relationships spending 7.4 more hours than their partners. When InHerSight asked working moms what they need most from their employers during the pandemic, the top response was flexible work hours, with 48 percent. Women need to be able to make their own schedules to accommodate new demands on their time. (Notably, flexible work hours are one of the top-five things working moms want from employers, regardless of the pandemic.)
Still, even employers with the most liberal flexible work policies have to grapple with an unfortunate reality of our current circumstances: that their employees with kids, especially women, are more likely to be overworked, distracted, and less productive as long as the pandemic continues. Working moms are also more likely to be thinking about leaving their jobs entirely. A recent survey from Syndio found that 14 percent of women are considering caretaking full time during the pandemic.
Will those pressures affect how women feel about their jobs? They already have. In May 2020, just a few months into the pandemic, InHerSight asked working moms whether their job satisfaction has changed since working from home. Forty-eight percent say their job satisfaction has decreased; 24 percent and 28 percent say their job satisfaction has increased or stayed the same, respectively.
It’s important to note that job satisfaction is linked to turnover. Satisfied employees equal higher retention, and dissatisfied, the opposite. If women are already wondering whether juggling work and home is worth it, it’s crucial that companies interested in retaining female talent focus on keeping job satisfaction from falling too low because it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. “Women are thinking,‘If I get rid of this thing, I will be more sane,’” Durante says. “We can quit a job, we can’t quit parenting.”
Job satisfaction is about belonging
Durante says, because every working mom’s situation is a little bit different, the decline in job satisfaction could be for a variety of reasons, one of which she’s experiencing herself—the stress of unpaid work impacting paid work. “There are things happening in each of our homes that are likely making us very dissatisfied,” she says, adding that some women might be frustrated with their partners not pitching in. “One always impacts the other.”
Companies can combat the issues of schools and daycares being closed and unequal distribution of housework through policy—flexible work hours, paid time off, expanding parental leave to cover both women and men, and encouraging men to take paternity leave.
But formal policies aren’t necessarily job satisfaction drivers. Durante says, for working parents and moms in particular, how teams react to kids and parenting can impact how they feel about their jobs. “I think a parent’s job satisfaction comes down to the experience,” she says. “I do think it is how parents are treated, or how they feel they’re treated, by not only their managers but also their teams.”
Imagine, in pre-COVID times, that a woman announces her pregnancy. What is the reaction of the team or her manager to requests to take time off for appointments? If it’s negative, Durante says, “That will play into how you feel at work because belonging and engaging all factors into job satisfaction.” If a mom or mom-to-be feels she’s going to be penalized for being a mother, she won’t feel welcome.
“I think right now what we’re seeing is that people can’t hide the fact that they have children in the background,” Durante says. “I’ve been hearing from people a lot that they couldn’t handle it anymore. Having kids in the background was too distracting. They were hearing too many comments about it.‘It was cute in the beginning but not so much anymore.’ You know, things like that. I wouldn’t label that discrimination, but how people react and their attitude toward you is going to impact job satisfaction.”
How to drive conversations that engage working moms
Team attitudes and reactions are adjustable, though, because they’re largely cultural. Durante says negativity toward working parents can be rooted out with training. In her consulting work, she encourages managers and company leadership to be more aware of what the parents on their teams are going through. She pushes them to ask questions that allow them to be more open-minded and supportive.
One of those questions is simply asking, not assuming, what working moms in your company need. A large part of Durante’s background is in corporate communications and change management. She worked with companies in New York to effectively communicate organizational changes during the Great Recession.
“What I find that companies do, especially in times of change and in times of crisis, is they become very paternalistic, and it’s almost like‘company knows best, manager knows best,’” she says. “That happens a lot to parents, where, for example, a manager sees a new mom coming back to work and thinks,‘Well, I’m not going to put her on that project, and I’m not going to have her travel because she’s not going to want to travel,’ without actually talking to the individual.
“I think in this scenario what companies may do, and I worry that they will do, is come up with some solutions that they think are best and enact them on people, but everybody has a very different experience right now.”
It takes time and effort to ask for feedback, but the danger in presenting a plan without gathering data is it encourages a fit-in-or-get-out mindset. What’s a single mom to do if daycares are still closed when her company decides it’s time to return to work? What if, even, daycares are open, but she’s still worried about the safety of her child? “People become dissatisfied because you’re forcing them to make a choice,” Durante says. “They think,‘Well, this doesn’t work for me. I either have to come into the office and leave my children, or I have to quit so I can stay at home with my children.’”
Durante says growing understanding and collecting feedback should start with managers. Alongside HR, they should play a crucial role in communicating benefits the company already has and looking for places where its offerings could improve.
She suggests using an anonymous app or surveying system to encourage more participation and sincere responses. She also says to be prepared to ask multiple times throughout the pandemic. “It’s going to have to be an ongoing thing,” Durante says. “But I think right now it’s just getting the managers to talk to their teams and opening up the door in a way that makes employees feel safe.”
About our source
Lisa Durante is the founder of LDI Consulting, which partners with companies to develop more effective programs designed to engage, support, and retain parent employees. Durante has spent her 20-year career helping leaders to communicate and engage effectively at work into a platform to support parents as they navigate their careers alongside growing their families.
Survey of approximately 1,300 women in May 2020.
InHerSight is a company ratings platform for women with ratings and reviews of more than 120K companies in the United States.