Caregivers are struggling.
Along with my wife, as caregivers for our three daughters, working from home and homeschooling has been a challenge greater than we could have ever imagined. Before Covid-19, you'd hear the term "work-life balance" thrown around and discussions on how to achieve it. The reality is, there is no work-life balance (maybe there never was). It's just a blur -- a work-life blur.
As a leader, I'm particularly attuned to what my team is facing as well as our employees, and I'm actively thinking about ways to exhibit greater emotional intelligence, because all employees are dealing with some level of struggle in the Covid-19 era. Leaders need to think hard about how they are meeting the needs of their employees, particularly those who are caregivers dealing with work-life blur.
Below are five things to keep top of mind:
1. Battle Bias
Employees need to pay attention to the treatment and engagement of their caregivers, with a critical eye on bias, as it relates to judging employee performance. In particular, recency bias, a common bias that happens when the most recent performance is judged instead of all the work for the evaluation period. Managers need to recognize what caregivers are grappling with and not penalize over perceptions of performance -- look at current and past accomplishments.
2. Offer Autonomy and Agency
Caregivers are carrying a lot, and leaders need to extend greater agency as well as autonomy to caregivers. That means offering flexibility into their hours. A flexible schedule allows for the caregivers to tend to their children and gives them time to deliver on their work.
3. Take a Pulse Check
As leaders, on top of checking on the well-being of your team, it's critical to also look at your entire organization to see how staff are doing on multiple dimensions. Engagement surveys can be predictive indicators of what's to come. Understand what caregivers need, because as leaders, if you seem oblivious to their struggles, they may leave, not necessarily now, but when you need them the most.
Acknowledge publicly that caregivers are doing double duty (at work and at home). Showing appreciation can go a long way in maintaining the loyalty of staff. Along with employee surveys, other inputs to measure are usage spikes in employee well-being services, vacation/sick leave, and unexpected time off. Those are all signals of how well staff are managing the stresses of caregiving during Covid-19.
4. Watch for Signs of Burnout
It's important to model and mirror empathy, grace, and understanding with the recognition that many employees may be struggling in silence. Burnout is impacting all employees to some degree; however, it is probably more acute for caregivers. As leaders, we must adjust expectations for their output and recognize that their output will be varied. Some employees will register amazing performance in response while some performance will suffer. The reality is, most everyone is juggling a lot, depending on their individual circumstances.
5. Prevent Turnover Intention
Turnover intention is the moment an employee decides they will leave the company. They may not immediately leave. They'll likely wait for a more opportune time, but when it happens, there is no convincing them to stay. This should be concerning for leaders, because an outflow of key talent can be crippling, because of brain drain, decreased employee morale, and attrition contagion.
To stem turnover intention, leaders should create a parenting or caregiving employee resource group (ERG), if one doesn't already exist. An ERG provides the added support and community caregivers are seeking so they don't feel alone. Further, leaders should dedicate resources to support the group so they can take on programmatic efforts to ensure they feel supported.
Finally, revisit the existing benefits that are offered -- examine if there are caregiver specific resources such as day care services and get creative with leave policies to help caregivers manage more effectively.