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Lack of Flex Arrangements Keep Moms from Returning to Work

Women are particularly focused on workplace flexibility

A woman is sitting at a table working on her laptop.

The careers of working mothers continue to suffer even as vaccinations against COVID-19 become widespread and more workplaces reopen.

Between March 8 and April 20, a survey of 1,508 U.S. women who identified as primary caregivers to children under the age of 18 found that:

  • 69 percent planned to remain at home as a full-time caregiver for the time being.
  • Only 31 percent said they planned to return to work within the next 12 months.

Those who had left the workforce said the main reason they were no longer working was because they had lost their jobs due to the pandemic (30 percent) or they stopped working to accommodate their children (70 percent).

"The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people's careers, but no one has been hit harder than working mothers, which is especially distressing since over a year has passed and the outlook should be more promising," said Amanda Augustine, career expert at survey sponsor TopResume, a resume-writing and job-search advice service. "Not only have working women left their jobs in droves, but nearly 3 out of 4 have no intention of returning anytime soon—a grim outlook for employers who are ramping up for a post-pandemic workplace."

For more than a year, Augustine noted, many working mothers across the U.S. have had to re-evaluate their priorities. "If and when they are ready to re-enter the workforce, many will be searching for opportunities with new criteria," she added. Employers "will need to commit to providing benefits and implementing programs that better accommodate and support mothers in the workplace."

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Disproportionate Burdens

The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 8 percent of 3,661 U.S. women reported quitting their job for a reason related to COVID-19. The KFF Women's Health Survey collected responses Nov. 19 through Dec. 17, 2020.

"Family caregiving responsibilities before and after the pandemic have largely fallen on women," the report noted. "As the nation begins to turn a corner on the pandemic, more schools are re-opening but many remain closed or with limited hours, still placing additional child care burdens on parents and limiting the ability of many mothers to work at the same level as pre-pandemic."

Policies such as paid leave, the report said, "can support women in caring for their families, obtaining needed health care and balancing work and family responsibilities in this unprecedented time."

[Related SHRM article: Job Candidates Seek Assurances on Workplace Safety, Flexibility]

Men Want Flexibility, Too

Although working mothers still shoulder more responsibilities for child care than working fathers, the need for employers to provide greater flexibility—or risk losing employees—applies to men as well.

In another recent survey, for instance, 71 percent of 4,553 full-time employees—both women and men—said that less flexibility regarding work schedules was a source of anxiety about returning to the workplace. When asked what aspects of their work life over the past year they wanted to keep moving forward, flexibility and working from home were cited as particularly desirable:

  • 68 percent want to keep flexibility in work schedules this year and beyond.
  • 53 percent want to continue the current amount of time spent working from home.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 20 through Feb. 5 by Limeade Institute, the research affiliate of Limeade, an employee engagement technology firm. Respondents were from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Australia.

"Employees fear losing the flexibility that work-from-home practices have established, including the decreased commute," said Reetu Sandhu, senior manager of the Limeade Institute and author of the report The New Normal: Facing the Challenges of Returning to Work.

"Employees are maintaining their productivity and focus time and would like to keep the added flexibility that has come as a result of the pandemic," Sandhu said. "Employees continue showing up for their organizations and the work required from them—it's time for organizations to do the same."

Keeping Working Parents on Board

"Remote work and flexible schedules allow caregivers the freedom and flexibility to successfully complete their work and care for their families at the same time, said Laura Hamill, the Limeade Institute's chief science officer. "Businesses cannot afford to alienate working parents and drive them to competitors who will offer increased flexibility."

With a "great resignation" already starting to take shape, Hamill noted, "it's important to listen to employees and center workplace policies around what's best for all employees and not leave working mothers and parents behind."

She added: "The invisible workload of motherhood has never been more apparent than it is today. For better or worse, the pandemic exposed our flaws in society and at work. Employees are saying, 'no, we're not going back to the way things were.' "

[Related SHRM article: Employers Enhance Well-Being Benefits for a Post-Pandemic Workforce]


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