Viral Infections in Kids Aren’t Just a Problem for Working Parents

There are company-wide reverberations for not supporting working parents.

Working mother holding baby types on laptop with dog nearby.
Photo by Sarah Chai via Pexels

As anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows, it’s been a rough Fall for viruses. Flus A and B, RSV, Covid-19, and a seemingly endless parade of obscure cooties have been hitting kids hard and then making the rounds through the whole family. (Last week we saw the highest  EVER recorded positive flu tests!)

Parents’ ability to work is being severely disrupted by this new rinse and repeat round of viruses, especially for those with young children who haven’t been able to build immune systems during the last two plus years of pandemic living. This coupled with staffing shortages at schools and daycares means more kids are home sick and more working parents are unable to work at capacity. We are all facing a caregiving crisis that is exacerbated by inflexible work setups. 

If you think this is only a problem for working parents with young kids, it’s time to reconsider. Entire teams and companies suffer when working parents don’t get the flexibility, support, resources, and paid leave they need to meet their demands at work and home. 

You can find more evidence of this in recent reports of plunging worker productivity as well as in the rise of, and fascination with, quiet quitting. On average over four million people a month (!) quit their jobs in 2022. These trends are indicators of declining worker engagement, decreased loyalty, increased disillusionment and depression, and more. The burden is often exponential for managers who are forced to demand more from their overwhelmed and shrinking workforce while working extra to cover the shortages – and let’s not forget that managers and leaders are frequently working parents too.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, outrageous numbers of working parents (heavily moms) were forced to quit their jobs because of a lack of childcare support and required online schooling. Schools have reopened and it seems expected that with these problems solved we can go back to work as usual. However, that is not the reality being experienced. Working parents are now facing a double crisis: the seemingly endless responsibility to care for their sick children through one illness after another, while also being expected to shoulder more at work with less support due to reduced staffing and unrealistic expectations of family demands. Frequently while being sick themselves.

Beginning with how we handle parental leave in this country, there are causal structural issues within today’s workplaces that, if addressed and improved, would change the course and destination. Too few companies offer inclusive or adequate parental leave and/or family-friendly policies such as sick leave or flexible work arrangements, and those that do often fail to integrate practices that support employees in using the benefits. Without these foundational policies and practices, companies will continue to lose valuable employees who are forced to make impossible decisions between work and family demands. Some may shift careers, others will leave for competitor businesses that provide a more family supportive culture, and some may find a way to make ends meet without working outside the home at all.

It should be common knowledge by now: when organizations embed family supportive policy and practice into company structures, the entire company benefits.  When they don’t, everyone suffers. Decades of research have demonstrated positive business outcomes including increased candidate attraction, retention, productivity, employee engagement, commitment and loyalty. All of which have a direct impact on the bottom line. Further, intentionally designed family and medical leave policies and practices foster and communicate a culture of support for diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The best way to support working parents – and their managers – is by providing clear family leave and sick leave policies surrounded by seamless administrative and compliance support, thoughtful resources, and parental leave coaching and training for expecting parent employees and their managers. At the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, our expertise is focused on helping working parents – and their organizations – maximize the opportunities of working parenthood to enable both to thrive. Companies have an opportunity to address the suffering their working parents, teams, and managers are experiencing at the root. It only remains to be seen which ones will.

Small steps WORKING PARENTS can take to improve leave in our country:

Small steps EMPLOYERS can take to improve their employee’s leave experience

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