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Ask HR: What to Do When a Colleague's Child Interrupts Work

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

My colleague is working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recently had a baby. She used her maternity leave and is back at work (online). The baby is now almost a year old, and she does not have a caregiver for the child. It's distracting when we are on a videoconference and she needs to stop to attend to the child. She doesn't feel she needs child care because she is working from home. How should I navigate this? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Whether someone is at the physical worksite or working remotely, caregiving responsibilities have made returning to the workplace complex. Many employees are juggling their work and home life—and sometimes we see this play out on our Zoom screens and hear it on the phone.

As a first step, review your company's policies. There may be guidelines on working-from-home protocol, especially during calls or videoconferences. 

I would also have a respectful conversation with your people manager and explain how your work is being impacted by distractions. However, I encourage you to come to the meeting with ideas for a solution.

Does your team have guidelines for videoconferences and calls? If not, perhaps you can establish some moving forward. This can include ensuring participants have their microphones on mute when not speaking or instructions for when cameras should be turned on or off. You may also suggest recording meetings so if team members miss anything, they can go back and listen.

As the pandemic continues to exacerbate the challenges of balancing the personal and the professional, employers are doing their best to be empathetic and provide their workforce with the tools and resources they need.

In fact, 41 percent of HR professionals feel they can make an impact by adapting flexibility and leave policies to better fit the needs of working parents or those with elder care responsibilities.

I understand distractions can be difficult, but with the help of your people manager, hopefully your team can come to a solution that works for everyone.

Be well!  


I recently accepted what I thought was a better job opportunity. After one week, I decided to leave. I was not comfortable with the ethics of the CEO and overall lack of compliance. Because I was there such a short time, how do I address this in my resume or when a future employer asks? Unfortunately, returning to my prior employer is not an option because of budget cuts.Nissa M.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm sorry to hear your opportunity did not work out. One in 4 employees say they dread going to work; you can avoid that if you feel that you fit in with an organization's culture and values.

First, I want to emphasize something I've learned over the years: It's OK to not list every job you've ever had on your resume. Ideally, your resume highlights your applicable work experience, skills and accomplishments that make you a good fit for the position you're applying for.

Since you were at your most recent position for less than a week, it may be difficult to include meaningful information about your responsibilities and experience from that particular job.

When you're deciding what to include on your resume, ask yourself, "Did I achieve significant results, and do they relate to the job I am applying for?" If the answer is yes, I would bet hiring managers will want to hear more about these experiences during a potential interview.  

When asked about your last position, it's best to keep the conversation open and honest. Be truthful and professional, and share what you learned from the experience while stressing your commitment to your next employer.

Ultimately, what's important is the ability to transfer your skills and achievements to a new organization and convey to hiring managers your interest and how your professional experience could make you an asset to the team.

Remember, hiring managers and HR have seen this type of situation play out before—you aren't the first person to recognize an organization wasn't a good cultural fit, and you likely won't be the last. Have confidence in yourself, and keep moving forward.

Best of luck on your job search!


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