Career and care during a public health crisis


In the midst of our public health crisis, feelings of fear and uncertainty continue to dominate our lives. However, we can also identify opportunities to make positive changes - and act with leadership and grace.

“In 1665, the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to the bubonic plague. Isaac Newton had to work from home, and he used this time to develop calculus and the theory of gravity.”
— courtesy of Martin Kleppman on Twitter

The global coronavirus pandemic has driven monumental changes for workplace policies, including flexibility. And as learning centres and schools shut down again to protect the health of our community, working parents continue to assume both full-time care in addition to their remote working arrangements.

There is no doubt that this has presented many challenges for families, particularly those with two working parents. So, here are Grace Papers top tips for managing career and care, together, during this crisis:

1. Challenge the gendered roles at home, especially regarding caring responsibilities, and know your collective rights and entitlements

According to ABS, Australian women spend 2.5 times more time caring than men and 95% of primary parental leave is taken by women. For many heterosexual couples, economics was the decision criteria when negotiating their career and care set-ups. In Australia, men on average are three years older than their female partners when they have their first baby, translating to a domestic gender pay gap that informed their decision to adopt a breadwinner/carer model. This model is validated by community expectations – normalising a scenario where a female carer’s career comes second.

For many families, this model has meant that the full time worker’s role takes precedence over the partner deemed to be the ‘primary carer.’

Regardless of whether you’re working full-time or part-time, responsibility for care of children, elderly and others must be shared as parents and carers work remotely.

And remember that regardless of whether you’re sick or you need to care for someone who is sick, both you and your partner have access to 10 days ‘carers’ leave, regardless whether you work full-time or part-time.

2. Reimagine flexible work beyond ‘work from home’

As gender equality experts, we run flexibility workshops for leaders on a weekly basis. One of the themes that consistently emerges from our clients is the default mindset that flexible work means ‘working from home.’

Yet most workplace policies we have designed and supported include a broader definition for flexible work arrangements such as:

a) Flexible work hours: Not all work needs to be completed between the hours of nine and five. How can you reimagine your work hours to reflect shifts, enabling both working parents to deliver on work priorities? With no travel time in remote work, this could mean and early start for one parent.

b) Compressed working weeks: Could you both work longer hours over a shorter number of days to help manage the care?

c) Part time work: Is your workplace expecting an economic downturn? Maybe you could consider reducing your days for a period of time.

d) Purchase leave: Reframe this period as an opportunity to build connection with your kids, and either use up some paid leave, or purchase some more.

3. Be accountable for your deliverables 

With economists using the word ‘recession’ far too frequently for us to ignore it, mitigating against redundancy by continuing to demonstrate your value is another thing to balance. This can be particularly challenging when your boss has traditionally preferred to see you when they’re managing you. As such, it is critical that speak to your boss regularly to ensure you are both in agreement as to the expectations of you and your role on a day-to-day basis.

Why not try a 15-minute virtual stand up each day, to ensure you can manage your collective priorities as a team and redistribute as needed, and check in on each others health and wellbeing?

4. Embrace flex

Many Australian workers tend to fear that working flexibly, including from home, will result in judgment and reduced career opportunities. Use this opportunity to test out flexibility practices that can help you achieve better productivity at work – as well as life balance – and look to maintain them beyond now.

5. Operate with grace

With the distractions of children/home-life combining (probably spectacularly) with deadlines, it’s important that we show compassion to colleagues and clients – many of whom will be facing similar challenges. Once we acknowledge that things won’t always run smoothly with career and care in such close quarters, we can adapt commitments, expectations and better manage our own mental well-being.

6. Keep In Touch

Working remotely can be isolating and lonely. Keep in touch with your employer with virtual and, if safe, physical meet ups that can allow you to keep up to date with business operations and the context of your role within them.

Thank you for doing your part to support the safety, health and wellbeing of you and those around you.