One of the most challenging things about being a working daughter is that caregiving is unpredictable. You just don’t know when someone might get sick and need your help. But if there is one thing we can predict, it is that caregiving will at some point interfere with our paid work. When that happens, we need to do what we can to build and maintain trust at work. Trust is the currency we use to weather the rocky patches and that we trade for the flexibility required to balance care and career.
Recently, someone at work told me they had trouble trusting me as a result of a project we worked on together when my parents were sick and I was working part time in order to help them. I shared this feedback with another person who told me I should have responded by saying, “I acknowledge I made a mistake by trying to work during that time. I should have taken a leave from work.”
Um, no. Because I disagree.
Asking people to halt their careers for their lives is bad business. So is asking them to halt their lives for their careers. Do I sound selfish? Naïve? Delusional? I’m not.
Think about it. Show me the person who has not had life interfere with work. It might be eldercare that interferes. Or childcare. Or personal illness. A bad breakup. A bad hair day. Whatever. The people that show up for work every day are just that – people. That implies that they have lives. And life does not halt between the hours of 9 and 5 Monday through Friday.
The sooner managers accept this and create space for employees to manage their lives, the better. What’s the alternative? Lost dollars in lost productivity from preoccupied and stressed out workers? High recruiting and training costs due to high turnover? Letting the business of care continue to fall disproportionately to women and only hiring men? We all know diverse teams produce better results, right? Hiring robots? Good luck with that.
Now, none of this means we should expect to be able to slack off, or not be help accountable, or not be expected to produce results when our lives get complicated. Companies have to be able to conduct business and to do that, they have to be able to rely on their workforce. What it does mean is companies should be open to exploring better ways of integrating work and life, to creating cultures that support their most valuable assets – their people, and to exploring flexible schedules and work options. So when an employee says, “My parents are sick,” the response is, “How would you like to manage that,” and “What does that mean for our clients, our team, your schedule, your productivity and your pay,” and most importantly, “What will you do to make that work?” Instead of, “Bye Felicia.” All of this requires high levels of trust.
So, what can we, as working daughters, do to build that trust so that we can access the flexibility our lives require.
How To Build Trust At Work
Communicate! Let your manager know that something is amiss in your life and how you plan to manage. Suggest ways the work can be covered if you need to leave. Let them know in advance that you may need to take a call or check a text during a meeting. You never want to surprise the boss.
But don’t over share. Leave the gory bits for your friends. No one at work needs to know the details of any drama you are dealing with – especially not customers or clients. What they do need to know: the headline of the situation you’re facing, the status of your work, and how you plan to handle it and communicate with them.
Take time off if you need it. Of course there are times when taking leave is best. I believe my coworker was implying that if I had taken a full leave of absence I wouldn’t have lost trust. My team wouldn’t have had any expectations from me about when they could reach me. I could argue all day that my teammates should have been accountable to the information I shared about my availability, but I’m the one with the trust to repair, not them. So that’s irrelevant. You need to make that judgment call.
Use the resources available to you. Flexibility doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re going to be unavailable or slow to respond, set an auto response on your email and voicemail. Save your work to the server so your coworkers can access it when you are not in. Copy the team on emails so they have the same information you do.
If you’re at work, work. If you opt to work during a crisis, then you need to do just that. I used to manage a guy who would tell me, “Liz, I’m not 100 percent today, so I can’t do much.” What?! I would have been open to, “I’m not 100 percent so can we push that deadline, or get an extra set of eyes on that, or can I work on an easier task today?” If you show up for work, the expectation is you can work. If you’re less than 100 percent and therefore plan to play Solitaire all day, take a sick or personal day.
If you work from home, work. Sometimes I see emails that say, “I am working from home today. I will reschedule my calls.” Why? If you are working from home, then work. If you don’t have the tools to be productive (like a phone for making calls) then you are not working from home; you are giving flexibility a bad name.
Mind your manners. Personal crises are a great time to remember that please and thank you can go along way with your team. You will need a little extra help. Ask for it, with a little extra kindness.
Finally, you can do all of the above and still suffer a reputational hit. If that happens, fair or not, keep working to rebuild the trust, and know that you made the best decisions and did the best you could at the time. Don’t beat yourself up for tending to your life. Remember, it’s our eulogy, not our resume, that ultimately matters.