CEOs and Work-Life...A Hidden Need

Earlier this week, I participated in a podcast on WorkLife HUB, an international broadcast focusing on the work/life arena.  Our discussion revolved around working parents who have children with autism, ADD, learning disabilities and mental health needs and how employees are struggling with these exceptional caregiving responsibilities both at work and at home. 

We discussed a number of topics, including the obstacles facing employees in terms of disclosing to their managers and colleagues that they have a child or teen with special needs.  We touched on the fact that this is now an issue impacting mothers and fathers alike vs. being a “mommy” issue, and that parents are leaving the workforce because the demands – e.g. time, resources -- are simply too great.

One Piece Of Advice To CEOs

At the end of the podcast, I was asked what one piece of advice I would like to share with CEOs.  It was this -- that while CEOs may not see something, it doesn't mean that it doesn't existWhat I meant by this was that employees, particularly working parents and especially those whose children have ongoing and complex needs, tend not to discuss their lives and their daily juggling.  These issues are hidden from the people who need to know about it the most, because they're the ones who can bring about the organizational change and acceptance needed. 

It’s Time To Normalize

Ask any working parent raising a child with autism, depression, or any number of diagnoses and they'll tell you that they could use 12 more hours in a day and another set of hands at a minimum.  Yet until we "normalize" these issues and recognize that these unseen needs are often more intense and demanding than those we can readily see or discuss, these employees will continue to play - and live - a "smoke and mirrors" existence.  CEOs need to know so they can lead the changes needed.

With Microsoft just announcing that they are actively recruiting employees with autism, the shift is underway.  Companies are recognizing that a diagnosis does not mean unemployable and that many with autism and other unique needs can be valuable and valued employees.  Now companies need to know that it's today's working parents who are raising these children and they need support themselves.  And this starts with the support of the people at the top.

To listen to the podcast mentioned in this blog post, please click HERE.

-Debra I. Schafer

 

So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

10 Things To Help Us All

I'm really not one to complain, but something has become painfully apparent to me over the past few weeks.  It actually has been obvious for the past few years but it's become moreso lately. It has nothing to do with what I do every day nor the issues that capture my time and attention.  It has to do with people and their behavior.  So with the new year approaching and everyone fixated on resolutions and new beginnings, I wanted to offer a few insights that perhaps could become part of the resolutions of others at this time of year.  They will be part of mine...

  1. Smile.  Just a little.  Even when you don't feel like it.  Even when the other person does not expect or even deserve it.  It's disarming plus makes you feel like a "mensch".
  2. Be kind.  To others.  At times and places when it's least expected.  I've had several people over the past 10 days stop and tell me, "You're a really nice person" when I did nothing more than allow an elder to walk through a door before me or nod to allow someone to step ahead of me in the deli line.  That elder, by the way, commented that she's never seen so many "nasty people" in her life.  I hope she only meant *out and about* but perhaps she meant everyone.
  3. Say thanks.  For things like acknowledging with a simple wave the person who allowed you to merge onto the highway ahead of them or for the cashier who, without asking, double-bagged a fragile item.
  4. Notice things.  Like the person who forgot to close the trunk of their car (and yes, I did close it and notified the customer service desk as well) or the child who dropped a toy while their parent was frantically strolling them out of a crowded store.  Just a few days ago, I witnessed a teenager who was sitting with a few friends stand, walk over, and pick up a piece of newspaper that fell from the hand of a woman who was wheelchair bound.  And yes, I told him that he is the kind of teenager every parent wishes for.
  5. Slow down.  That mocha-choca latte won't suddenly turn cold if you wait to grab it until after you put your change away and are able to balance your laptop, smartphone, briefcase, keys, biscotti, and drink in your two hands.
  6. Stop complaining.  Everyone is busy, harried, stretched, and juggling.  And some are busy-plus with young children, aging parents, financial worries, health concerns, and a host of other things on their minds.  Yes, just like you perhaps.
  7. Be gracious.  If someone defers to you in any small way, recognize it vs. expect it.  Entitlement looks tacky and really makes others shake their heads in disbelief.
  8. Think.  If you don't like the way someone is treating you, consider that perhaps things are not going swimmingly for them and that they are barely hanging on themselves.  It's easier to react but the outcomes are often less fruitful.
  9. Ask.  Rather than assuming something, ask.  You'll be amazed sometimes at the answers.
  10. Be grateful.  If you have warm clothes on your back, a hot meal to eat, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a book or a CD to bring you joy, and at least one person whose presence in your life makes you feel grateful, it's a good thing indeed.

Somewhere along the way, our lives have become so complicated that we have forgotten how we were raised -- to be decent and caring people willing and able to understand that others are carrying burdens just as we may be.  So at this time of holiday merriment, family gatherings, and gift-giving, my wish for everyone is for a kinder, more humane 2012.  Maybe it won't be an easier year and maybe the burdens will still be as heavy but maybe, just maybe, a simple smile or kind gesture will make one moment lighter for you and another.

Happy Holidays to all.