Why Should You Invest In The Juggle?

Monday - You roll into work late-morning after taking a red-eye home from the West Coast to see your ailing parents.  You order a trenta at the ‘bucks.

Tuesday - You frantically call your in-laws to pick up the kids (last minute) from daycare so you can meet a deadline.  

Wednesday - Back-to-back meetings and you are in a sweat as you make it to daycare by 6 pm.  

Thursday - 10:30 am appointment at the pediatric ENT (the only available appointment for 5 months).  You manage to make your 11:30 client status check by muting the phone as your 2-year old screams his head off because he isn’t getting ice cream.

Friday - You greet the day with a puking incident as you herd the kids out the door. You still make it to work, on the late, late train, just in time to realize that you haven’t worn the appropriate outfit for your 2 pm meeting, are out of diapers at daycare, and you still have to get a birthday present for so-and-so’s 5th birthday tomorrow.  

Primary caretaker life at its finest. Sound familiar? Probably. Gen X and Xennials are, in many cases, taking care of two generations -- their children and their parents. Speaking from experience, it is overwhelming and exhausting. The real question is why should companies invest in the employees who are in the thick of the work/family juggle? Because the dividends that companies receive far outweigh the costs, that’s why. But don’t just take my word for it.  

There are approximately 160 million in the US workforce. The Department of Labor reports that there are 52 million working parents in the US. So, a third of the workforce is parents, but that number does not take into consideration the number of people taking care of other family members - parents, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents, etc. In most households, there is one person who tends to handle the majority of the caretaker responsibility, otherwise known as the primary caretaker. This isn’t to say that partners in the household do not handle any of the day-to-day care of those who require it, but many times there is one person who makes the sacrifices - calls in sick to take care of a child, handles the finances for a parent, does pick-up and drop-off, etc. It adds up.

Harvard Business Review recently published an article that outlined the need for companies to help their employees handle the juggle. The reality is that the juggle has gotten more intense due to a significant increase in dual-career couples or single working parents in the workplace, combined with technology that allows access all day (and night) long. You add in the variable of caring for multiple generations and the fact that our kids do a whole lot more (activity burn) than kids did back in the day and we have a recipe for disaster. And the potential employer/employee issues that accompany.

So why invest in these folks that bring so much complication to the workplace? The vast majority of the time, they are going to bring years of expertise, efficiency, dedication, and passion.  

Most Gen X and Xennials have been in the workforce for at least 15 years. They have been through the analog-to-digital shift. They know life before social media, but also appreciate life with it. They are well educated. Add on caretaking - putting the needs of others first, multitasking, quickly assessing situations with significant consequences, prioritizing - and you’ve got an amazing resource. A study found that women who were mothers to two children outperformed women without children and men with two children were more productive than men without children or with only one child. In my experience, the number of people an employee is caring for may not be significant, particularly if there are special needs or circumstances involved, but the data doesn’t lie; the jugglers get shit done and do it well.

What do they ask for in return? It will vary, and so will the solutions to what you can do for them. But a common trait is flexibility in scheduling and a healthy complement of understanding. Those two together will go a long way. In turn, a company can expect extremely hard work and a tremendous amount of loyalty, and reap the benefits of reduced turnover, recruiting costs, intellectual capital loss, and so much more.  

The next time you have an employee ask for work from home, flexible work hours, or walks in the door with an I-just-ran-from-the-train glow and says their youngest wouldn’t wear a coat today because “the cold never bothered me anyway,”, laugh, say “good morning,” and see what magic they work that day.

Suzanne Reicher