Career and care during a public health crisis


In the midst of our public health crisis, pervasive feelings of fear and uncertainty can affect everyone - families, communities and businesses. However, in any time of crisis it's imperative that we also identify the 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

For businesses, this is a time to embrace the changing professional landscape and address outdated policies related to flexibility and leave. The productivity of your workforce will depend on it.

For working parents, this is a time to reimagine your role in a remote capacity and explore flexibility strategies that add value to your productivity, as well as your life outside the workforce. This includes reimagining how you contribute to care at home.

For everyone in the community, this is a time to acknowledge the status quo and shift our mindsets about the inconveniences we will face in our day-to-day lives. This public health emergency isn’t just about our routines – it’s about the collective health of our population and each one of us has a role to play in reducing the impact of this virus. We all need to be willing and prepared for inconvenience now so we can #flattenthecurve and maximise containment of the spread of infection.

forceful flexibility 

It’s widely anticipated, and already evident, that the global coronavirus pandemic will drive monumental changes for workplace policies, including flexibility. Whilst we wait in hope that coronavirus won’t become a major health event for those around us, businesses are already implementing contingency plans – including running with a remote workforce.

And as learning centres and schools begin shut down to protect the health of our community, working parents will be set to assume both full-time care in addition to their remote working arrangements.

There is no doubt that this will present 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.’

In the context of this crisis, we will see that full-time no longer means most important. 

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 the 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, lonely and if this crisis lasts the 2020 winter, then it could feel a bit like another parental leave. 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.