4 Hidden Costs of Return-to-Office Mandates: Why Employee Freedom is Key to Success
The COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people to work from home, creating a paradigm shift in the way work is done. The shift resulted in a noticeable increase in productivity, and employees worldwide benefited from the flexibility that comes with working remotely. However, as vaccination rates increase and the pandemic becomes less of a threat, many companies are calling employees back to the office.
While many people welcome the return to the office, others are fighting back against the new mandate. One group that is speaking out is working mothers of young children: myself included in that group.
Here are 4 reasons why mandating employees return to the office not only doesn't work, but may discriminate against working mothers of young children:
#1 Productivity is better when working remotely
Numerous studies show that working from home can increase productivity. Employees can work in a more comfortable environment, with fewer distractions than in the office. Remote work is less stressful and more accommodating to personal schedules, enabling workers to maintain a better work-life balance.
#2 Discrimination against working mothers
Requiring employees to return to the office may discriminate against working mothers of young children. When children were forced to learn from home, working mothers had to juggle work, homeschooling, and household responsibilities.
When the pandemic forced remote work, these mothers found relief in being able to work from home while caring for their children. Requiring them to return to the office would mean they would need to hire additional childcare to accommodate school bus pickups and drop offs, which is expensive and may not always be possible - especially finding someone trustworthy and reliable when family is not nearby. Companies that don't provide accommodations for working mothers may risk losing valuable, diverse talent from this group of multi-tasking, creative ninjas.
The shift to remote work has provided employees with the flexibility they need to work around their personal schedules. This include but are not limited to car maintenance, meal prep, dentist and doctor's appointments (for self and each child), and even - gasp - being able to exercise!
Requiring employees to return to the office could remove this flexibility, and arguably the time moms so desperately needed for self care, leading to resentment among workers who are now used to, and are just as productive, working from home.
Costs and commute
Working from home has allowed employees to save on commuting costs, and many companies have saved on office rent. Returning to the office would mean that employees would have to bear the cost of commuting, from the high price of gas and time wasted in traffic to the daily cost of train fare and lot parking - not to mention accounting for train delays and cancellations.
Personal family situations have also evolved during the past three years: perhaps there is only one family car that has car seats to pick up children - how is a 2nd parent able to pick up the kids if the first parent must be in an office until 5pm? Then employees could be saddled with an additional car purchase, monthly payment and insurance increase. Without a salary increase following a mandate, this would be a difficult change for working parents to accommodate.
The Bottom Line
Mandating employees to return to the office may not be the best decision for many employees, particularly working mothers of young children. The shift to remote work has provided employees with greater productivity and flexibility, and it would be a mistake to remove these benefits. Companies that insist on a return to the office without considering the needs of their employees risk losing valuable talent, especially among the rockstars that are working mothers.
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I have been thinking a lot today about "The Great Resignation" and what that means especially for women. I feel like every day I see someone else on LinkedIn saying how they are excited to announce their new role. When experiencing "stuck" energy at the workplace, I can see the appeal of walking away. Especially in toxic environments, leaving what no longer serves you can be a huge step towards improving your mental health. You feel like this step puts you firmly in control of your reality.
Should You Stay or Should You Go?
This is a tough one, and no one can make that decision for you. I have heard many colleagues over my 11+ years across multiple startups and industries talking about this difficult choice. Stay where the challenges are familiar, or start someplace new where the challenges are unknown. Wherever you are employed, there will be challenges, something that I think is easy to lose sight of in a moment of frustration.
But I truly believe that in this job market, there is hope. Companies are more willing to make accommodations for working women and especially mothers. If you are considering making the leap, it is my hope that not only do you do some soul-searching on where it is you truly want to be, but make sure you are asking-really, demanding-what you are worth:
Your Personal Reckoning: How You Want to Be Seen vs. Seeing Yourself
I think what this really boils down to for many of us is self-realization and understanding. Being honest with yourself and transparent with what you want out of a role, out of your job, and how you want to manage that against your family life is important here. For me, the narrative of ambition did change when I became a mother: and with this phase in my life, I know it's temporary and I had to forgive myself for easing up. There's more to life than work, as you'll probably realize (perhaps too late) on your deathbed. Your family can't replace its time with you, but you can be replaced by your company.
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Is it weird to bring up your partner in a business-type blog? I'm going to do it anyway.
While I'm all about female empowerment, it’s naive to think that women can do it all on their own. In fact, one theme I'm consistent on is the need for women to have a support system, both personally and professionally.
Professionally, your support system is your Personal Board of Directors: much like a company, a group of people who are personally invested in your success who you can tap in to get advice or wisdom at any time to advance.
Taking it one step further, I would argue that the person that you choose to spend your life with is truly your partner. It is not as romantic to think about necessarily, but "forever after" includes compromises and sacrifices. It involves values, understanding, and making the other person's happiness as high of a priority as your own.
I'm not saying it comes without its ups and downs, but my 10+ years with my husband has been one of the most supportive relationships I have ever been in. Let's dive into what kinds of conversations are worth having:
1 - Finances
Not so sexy a topic, but an important one nonetheless. Ideally before the wedding, a conversation needs to be had about money. Who makes what, who has debt, what the plan is for kicking off your life together. And, time to be honest about your money habits: who is the spender? Who is the saver? I'm all about a little balance, but if something is out of whack now, it will only exacerbate things later. Luckily for me, we are both financially paranoid and don't spend money, ever. So we are boring ;)
2 - Career
This is also a nice time to talk your career dreams. It's not to say your career can change, but is your career important to you? Where is it you want to be in your life? How can this person help you to get there, or best support you?
For example, if your dream is to be the CEO of a company, is your partner onboard with that? Are they okay with the travel, long hours, maybe that MBA program that you are planning to take in a few years? Yeah, talk about that now. Because it's an important factor especially as we look at point 3.
3 - Kids
Hands down, having kids is one of the most challenging things to negotiate with my career. But I'm doing everything in my power to make it so that it doesn't have to be for my daughters if they choose to be working moms - at least, not to this extent.
This person is your PARTNER. That means communication, alignment and as equal a division of labor as possible when it comes to your offspring. You may still be the default parent for doctor appointments, etc., but they can jump in too. Usually, they want to. So don't take yet another day off of work if your partner can take a turn when your kid runs a fever. Tap into them as the resource they are and not as another child that needs to be taken care of ;)
The Bottom Line: Love is Just a Start
There's so much more that comes around after that happily ever after, and knowing where you both stand when it comes to heavy hitting topics like the above. The reason I chose to highlight it now is that while I got married a while back, there really is something to being with someone who commits to you and what is important to you. I love my kids, but know that I get fulfillment out of working, and I need to lean on him occasionally to dedicate the focus needed to succeed at my job. And as I look around the room, especially at a tech company, we need more women here. Women belong in places of leadership, decision making, and influence - so we can make for a better tomorrow for our daughters.
Want more? Checkout this recent episode of the Moms that Lead podcast, where I talked about support systems for women for long term leadership success.
I'm a motivated, self-starting marketer and working mom looking to make a difference in the world - one story at a time.
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