As states across the U.S. approach the two-month mark of official stay-at-home orders, working parents are slowly settling into a difficult new normal of juggling full-time work, full-time teaching and full-time parenting, while dealing with home-confinement for weeks on end.
As a working mother myself with teenage daughters, I can relate to many of the challenges parents are facing, so as head of Benefits at Bank of America, I understand the importance of supporting our nearly 210,000 teammates by “rolling out benefits” that can help alleviate some of these challenges.
We recently hosted a virtual coffee talk, where teammates from across the U.S. gathered on a conference call to talk (and commiserate!) about their greatest challenges, family victories and hardships, and to offer support and advice for navigating these unchartered waters. We stripped away our titles and connected personally, parent to parent. It was eye-opening and inspiring, filled with heaps of helpful tips and camaraderie.
I thought I’d share some things that I personally, took away from the conversation:
We’re all in this together: Many teammates shared feelings of inadequacy — a sense that in trying to juggle both parenting and working, they weren’t giving 100% to either. One lady shared a message that her boss had sent her: “You’re not working from home. You’re at home during a crisis, trying to work.” This helped her put things into perspective and take the time to really digest the situation and think about what was important. As another teammate put it, “I’m not failing on all fronts, I am doing a noble and amazing job under these difficult circumstances.”
Embrace fluidity: One teammate, a father of two young daughters, offered a positive perspective based on how his workday structure has changed: “I’ve embraced newfound fluidity during the day. I try to get online a little earlier while my girls are still sleeping. I know when they wake up, I have some ‘dad duty.’ It’s the same on the back end of the day when I’d normally be commuting.” In order for this flexibility to be possible, he stressed the importance of communicating scheduling nuances with co-workers and managers, and encouraging understanding if the work day looks a little different than usual.
Set limits on your kids: While parents are adapting to this new normal, it’s important to teach children about boundaries to help them understand the importance of patience and flexibility. One teammate with a teenager at home shared her advice for teaching kids to be quiet and exercise understanding during important work times: “You can set limits for your kids. Older kids can read a book, do some coloring. Check on them frequently, but it’s OK to let kids know, ‘This is my job, it’s really important. I’m on this conference call now, but as soon it’s over we’ll have lunch or do an activity together.’”
Take time for yourself: During these unusual times, it’s easy to slip into a role of caring for everyone but yourself. This is not healthy, nor is it sustainable, and it can have a negative effect on your mental well-being and ability to care for those around you. A teammate who is doubling as a caregiver for her elderly father offered this advice: “It’s hard to schedule time for yourself. I am not doing any one thing well. So, on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. I try to join a mindfulness session that a teammate hosts. It helps me clear my head from work and caregiving issues for a few minutes. I also try to exercise before starting each day, which has helped me focus my energy before things pile up and get crazy.” I also encourage everyone to take some vacation time. Even if you can’t go anywhere, being able to step away from work demands helps you relax and recharge.
Also, look what your company is doing around additional support through the coronavirus. At Bank of America for example, we have a dedicated space on our intranet that points teammates to updates from health experts, employee FAQs, tips for working from home and mental health resources. We’re offering a stipend for backup child- or eldercare support; and our Life Event Services team is providing resources to help our teammates navigate everyday challenges. We’re also supporting Khan Academy in their effort to keep students learning amid widespread school closures.
These are extraordinary, challenging times. Times that require support, understanding and camaraderie between teams. Together, I believe that with a little grace and patience, we’ll emerge from this crisis better connected to each other, and I hope, with a little more understanding and perspective than we perhaps previously had.