With my son on my lap, I ask how we can ease the stress of working parents
April 27, 2021 | Category: People and Culture
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ICYMI, as they say, one evening a few weeks ago I was being interviewed live on CNN International when my son Victor opened the door to my home office and crashed the video call. He was tired and wanted me to tuck him in, so I put him on my lap and continued the interview. This type of situation has not been uncommon in the past year, with many of us working from home and parenting in parallel. Lines between personal and business life have become more and more blurry.
I was even more surprised that, after tucking him in and returning to my phone, the video had been viewed, shared and commented on by thousands of people. Within days, it appeared on morning television shows, news programs and websites around the globe.
As I read through the comments, I became clearer as to why the video went viral so quickly. Many of us are struggling with juggling family life and our job while working from home. We feel the stress of children bumping into business meetings. Granted, we are largely spared the extreme stress levels of those working on the frontlines of the pandemic in healthcare, public safety and other essential jobs.
Those of working from home feel the anxiety when children enter our space, yet we feel guilty when they’re absent. Deep down, we realize there are matters during the day that are really important to our children – and we should be there to help and support them. However, even after 12 months in a pandemic, too many of us are not given the freedom to be fully comfortable interrupting a business meeting for a few minutes to deal with the most important things in our lives – our children.
But it is more than that. During lockdowns, parents have been under enormous strain. They have had to be leaders, employees, parents, part-time teachers and much more. In times of crisis, certain fundamental issues become clearer and more tangible. The pandemic gives us an opportunity to start asking some hard questions about these issues: Why isn’t it acceptable to step out of a meeting for a few minutes if your child needs you – whether you are working from home or the office? Why are we so keen on keeping a clear separation of our professional and personal lives? Why are we so inflexible?
Changing the game
I’m a firm believer that change starts in the mind, so that is the first challenge we need to overcome. As executives, we need to set the example. We need to make the conscious decision to integrate our families into our daily professional lives. We need to show that it is perfectly acceptable and even necessary to take care of our children when they need us. This will go a long way toward making this big and necessary change in the lives of all of us.
All of us also need to make changes at the organizational level. At trivago, we’re trying to do our part to support working parents. We offer benefits such as three years of full working flexibility to a primary caregiver to help ease that balancing act and prevent parents from leaving the work force. In the future, even when our staff is allowed to return to our buildings, we are committed to a flexible hybrid workstyle that will allow employees to be in the office when they can and want to be.
But as one company, we can only do so much. As executives, we need to advocate for systemic changes that help working parents – or we risk short-circuiting the global economic recovery everyone is counting on. We need to have the tough conversations about how society can do more to support working parents. The pandemic has given us a once-in-a-lifetime (I hope) chance to bring these issues forward and consider how we can all collaborate to relieve the stress of working parents. Let’s not miss this chance.
–Axel Hefer, CEO
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