On Mothers Day, is it just my early ’60s-’70s upbringing that makes me think of a very traditional mom? You know, cooking, hugging, putting on bandages, meeting the bus, cleaning (and making us clean), gardening, and taking grandma to the doctors. Of course, most moms are still doing that. But 4 of every 5 women with kids 6 to 17 years old are also holding down paid jobs, and nearly 7 in 10 moms with kids under 6 have paid jobs. In short, nearly every mom is holding down at least two jobs.
Maybe the best thing we can give is not yesterday’s flowers, jewelry, and scented soaps, but today’s flexible work arrangements. The not-so-new reality is that (the old) Mary Tyler Moore is not sitting at home waiting for Dick Van Dyke to come home for din-din. Nor is she the (also pretty old now) Mary Tyler Moore staying late for Lou Grant. Instead, she’s doing the job and running out to care for her kids and/or aging parents. We need to make it work for our moms, aunts, sisters, and daughters.
The business case for flexibility has been consistently documented: If as employers we want productivity and loyalty and commitment, we’d do well to offer trust and flexibility. And if as a society we want healthy children, we’d do well to offer trust and flexibility. Yet, according to last year’s White House report less than 1/3 of full-time workers have access to flexibility, and only 39% of part-time workers have access to flexible work hours. So, what could you do to make your moms’ lives saner AND make sure the work they do is excellent? Create the norms for flexibility and encourage that they use them.*
Here’s one other huge gift you can give to moms: Make it clear that flexible work arrangements are not just a women’s issue. Ask, encourage, support your dads to consider leave time. Many of them would love it, and many times their roles have changed at home, too. And consider this: if in your shop you have great women doing awesome work, who’s supposed to be supporting their kids when they’re working overtime for you? Hopefully, there’s an employer who says to your female worker’s husband, “Sure man; your wife’s in trial, you should head home. Send me an email tonight when you’ve put the kids to bed.” Male leaders: Model flexible behavior yourself. Let men know there’s no penalty for changing when they do their work, as long as they do their work.
To anyone with a clock-punching, old fashioned notion of productivity this may sound crazy. But a great manager who’s already focused on results and doesn’t micromanage can easily make the move to flex. And a great manager who can candidly discuss issues and drive for win-win solutions has some big wins ahead.
Why not think about whether you can help someone be both a much better parent and a more focused worker, so they as well as you can
Lead with your best self.
* There are lots of great organizations and websites to help. For great research, check out the Families and Work Institute. For a readable introduction – including how to approach your boss about flexibility – and other links check out the Boston College Center for Work and Families.