What employers can do about women leaving workforce – Crain’s Chicago Business

0
30
what-employers-can-do-about-women-leaving-workforce-–-crain’s-chicago-business

Pre-pandemic, two-thirds of working mothers were breadwinners. Work-life balance took the form of summer Fridays or work from home days employers rationed like golden tickets. Then COVID-19 struck and transformed work in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Now, 20 months into an unprecedented event during which many of us crammed work and life into our dining rooms, this notion of work-life balance is rightfully being re-examined. It’s no longer just nice to have. After years of making slow progress in the mid- to upper ranks of companies, a growing number of women—mothers, caregivers and historically marginalized groups —are leaving stressful jobs and toxic workplaces as an act of self-care and fulfillment. And, as employers, we can either meet employees’ expectations that the workplace has changed or face a great exodus of talent that could be harmful to business.

When the world began sheltering in place in March 2020, life’s daily demands spilled over into the workday. Working remotely, women—who disproportionately shoulder the responsibility and demands of caregiving and parenting—absorbed the brunt of it, placing their physical and emotional well-being at risk or, in some cases, in peril. In a new McKinsey survey of 423 organizations and 65,000 employees, 42% of women said they often or almost always feel burned out. That’s an increase from 32% last year and 7 percentage points higher than men. By February of this year, women’s labor force participation dipped to its lowest level since 1988.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11.5 million workers quit their jobs in April, May and June of this year. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that around 3.5 million working mothers of school-age children left active work during the pandemic. Because we’re not in a post-COVID world quite yet, these mass resignations are expected to continue. This narrative that today’s labor shortages are due to people who would rather stay home and collect unemployment benefits is simply not true. As people are asked to return to the workplace, an increasing number, especially women, are examining their willingness to boomerang to the status quo, concluding, “I’m not ready to go back to that.”

According to LinkedIn, 74% of those surveyed said the pandemic had caused them to rethink their current work situation. Some reported toxic environments and lack of upward mobility. Others say they’ve reorganized their value system to focus on joy and the people who matter most during this uncertain time.

However, the race to the status quo for many employers is less about listening to what the market is telling us and more about returning to business as usual. At Women Employed, we work day in and day out to advance equity for working women. So, when we saw signs of burnout within our staff, we felt it vital to address it and take care of our people. Here are a few actions we took that we believe companies can and should do if they want to retain women and people of color in their organizations:

Meet your employees where they are. We have shifted to a model that focuses on caring about the whole person and employees’ well-being, so they can be productive and have the energy to move the mission forward. In the early days of the lockdown, we provided staff with a stipend to make improvements to their home offices, and later established a wellness room in the office for those coming in. This past September, we shut down operations for a week surrounding Labor Day to give our staff members a wellness break to recharge and practice self-care. I conducted a listening tour and met one-on-one with each staff member to better understand their needs. We are continually re-evaluating workplace norms and practices, and making space to talk about mental health, setting boundaries and creating balance.

Accept change. This isn’t your parents’ workforce, and for many leaders it isn’t the workforce in which they rose to the ranks of leadership. You must challenge yourself and the norms you hold as truths. Recognize this isn’t a temporary movement, but a sea change led by the employee in which you need to mine innovative ideas that fuel success. The balance of power is shifting. Workers recognize their value in the current market, even if you don’t.

Embrace authenticity. During a time that included heightened racial tensions and social unrest across this country, we encouraged employees to bring their full, authentic selves to work. It’s more than how they wear their hair and celebrate their culture. Whether they’re a mother or a caregiver, there’s a recognition that they have an entire life outside of work that informs their mental state, and their ability to be productive and engage with their coworkers.

Work is personal, so remove stigmas about mental health. Employees should feel safe to talk about their mental well-being with their coworkers and managers and ask for a break when they need it.

Be open to flexible schedules. This notion that to advance at work means working 24/7/365 isn’t sustainable. Some workplaces cannot offer flexibility, and require people to be there. But those that are able should consider a compressed work week in which employees can choose days off and start times. Or, one that allows someone to take a midday break for yoga, a counseling session, or even a nap. That midday break helps them get through the rough parts of their week. You have to trust your employee to get the work done, without prescribing when and where it needs to take place. Your valued staff don’t need you hovering over them to complete work assignments. It is challenging, but it can work with trust, transparency and communication.

Redefine the notion of work-life balance. Why does work come first? It’s all life. And, as I have come to accept, balancing life isn’t an achievement or destination, but an ongoing cycle that requires constant examination and tweaking. How do I balance my role as a partner, mother, caregiver and friend with my responsibility to myself? Black and Latina/x women, in particular, tend to take on more responsibility in caring for extended family. Re-examine current policies to make sure they aren’t counter to your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Cherita Ellens is president and CEO of Women Employed.