Read part one: Devolving from Recession to She-cession
Read part two: Devolving from Recession to She-cession: Part 2: What is happening to business right now?
How are businesses helping their employees deal with additional responsibilities during COVID-19? That depends on how you look at the additional burdens being placed on those working from home. While the threat of having to leave the workforce due to a lack of childcare has been of primary concern, there are other burdens that add to the stress of the pandemic.
“I do think the role of childcare in this situation is huge,” Braithwaite said, “but we also have to look at the cost of the desk, the hydro, the extra internet, all of the costs of doing work that people now have to carry themselves.”
In addition to financial stress, there is also time stress. A large minority of newly-minted remote workers no longer commute to work, but any extra time they may have saved on that task has been sucked up by doing more work.
“Among the 40% of us who can work from home during the pandemic, there has been a recognition of the work and time involved in caring for a family between the demands of work,” says Worth. “It has been stretching people’s work day long into the evening and into the weekend with them trying to get it all done. Losing the boundaries of the work day is a huge stress on everyone.”
One of the factors making life even more difficult when it comes to work, is that the rapid changes brought on by the shut-down left many without the consistency or safety net of sound workplace policies.
Meaghan Rusnell, a Masters student at the University of Guelph, recently conducted a survey called “Caring in COVID, an examination of women leaders work-family responsibilities in a pandemic,” for her major research paper. She had 350 responses to her call for participation issued via social media.
What she has found so far is that supervisors are responding to their employees’ needs with ad-hoc flexibility, but not formal policy. It’s a situation she thinks companies need to address.
“If there are not policies and procedures in place and there is another lock down,” Rusnell cautions, “I am not sure how many people will be able to sustain the work they have been doing. The lack of certainty and understanding about what is done makes women feel that they are asking for a favour when they ask for flexibility. When I asked women, ‘what would help you?’ they answered with a need for some consistency, they want to know what the policies are and what will happen. I know that when we went into lock down, we were all expecting it to be short term, but now that we know this is going to be with us for a while, this is the point when companies need to create policies and procedures. People need to know that their companies are going to have their backs and that is what they need to hear from positions of leadership.”
The emphasis on flexibility Rusnell is seeing in her survey results is clearly a feature some business leaders recognize and have embraced in running their own companies during the pandemic. It must be noted that no representatives from men-led companies responded to calls for comment on this article.
Catherine Graham is the CEO of Commonsku, a cloud-based promotional products management software. The company hasn’t lost an employee due to COVID-19 pressures. It’s a state Graham credits with taking the flexible approach, noting that the company has only a few employees with children.
“I just told them to do what they could in the hours that were available to them and try to be as efficient as possible in the limited windows,” Graham said, “it would not have occurred to me that that approach is not normal.”
Karima-Catherine Goundiam is the founder of B2BeeMatch, a fully-remote networking tool that matches small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) with the skills and services they need from other SMEs. As a result of their structure, Goundiam said, her staff has seen fewer disruptions due to the pandemic.
“My companies have always been built around flexibility so, before we even knew what COVID was, we had built a COVID-proof company,” Goundiam explained. “People were working from everywhere and any time remotely. If anything, I actually have more people wanting to work with us now because the model is so adaptable and is already set. For us, this is normal, not a new normal. Women who are looking to free themselves from corporate inflexibility, or others who are deciding to go back to school, they still want to work. From my perspective, from the culture and company we have created, everyone is part of the team. If someone can only work 10 hours a week, you are still considered part of the team.”
That does not mean Goundiam does not see opportunities for broader social change to support women. She also believes the development of a national child care system is important to economic recovery.
“I benefited from the day care system in Quebec and I think it would be fantastic,” Goundiam said. “We went through the system as a two-income household and the difference in prices when we moved from Quebec to Ontario, for us were fine because we could afford it, but it is impossible to believe that many other people could sustain it. The national daycare system would fit with the people-centric approach that Canada is known for.”