How society can help working care providers handle coronavirus pandemic strain
- The inevitable increase of the burden of care during the pandemic affects employees who are pulled between their personal and professional responsibilities
- Company- and government-level interventions are essential to creating an environment where people with caring responsibilities feel supported
What has received less attention is the impact of the pandemic on people who carry out other types of caring responsibilities. Because of a combination of cultural norms, family values and the limited availability of state support for care, the burden of care in East Asia is disproportionately placed on the family and, within them, women in particular.
In the workplace, this inevitable increase of the burden of care affects employees who are pulled between their personal and professional responsibilities. Negative consequences for these employees can include heightened stress, depression, lack of engagement, presenteeism and more serious forms of mental illness.
These in turn affect coworkers and leaders who themselves might have caring responsibilities. As former US first lady Rosalynn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
I delivered a webinar on the subject of burden of care as part of the Women in Finance Asia 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Forum on May 6. As part of the session, I asked the participants to give examples of the challenges that leaders face amid an increasing number of people with caring responsibilities at work.
The examples given included communicating openly; dealing with the perception of unfair allocation of work between those with caring responsibilities versus those without; adequately measuring performance; and the impact of uncertainty in planning arising from the availability of team members with caring responsibilities.
We then turned to the question of what can be done, and by whom, to support the growing number of people with caring responsibilities at work. The need to establish or review family support policies immediately came into the discussion.
The rate at which we are seeing an increase of the burden of care in the workplace requires immediate and collaborative action. For this reason, I asked the same workshop participants to share what they could start or stop doing straight away to support people with caring responsibilities at work.
Pandemic leaves Hong Kong women stressed by caregiving, household chores and husbands who say ‘that’s your job, not mine’
Suggestions included offering more emotional support, listening to staff, being an example as a leader and not making assumptions of the narrow definition of carers, such as that only parents with young children have caring responsibilities.
The extensive list that emerged within minutes of me posing the question showed that when individuals understand how something can affect them personally, they are able and willing to find ways to effect change immediately. Company- and government-level interventions are essential to creating an environment where people with caring responsibilities feel supported, but these policies alone will not do the trick.
Rather, it will require a concerted effort by all. As Mother Teresa is often credited as saying, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Nerice Gietel is an executive and return-to-work coach. Her work with employers focuses on how they can support their employees to better combine work and life commitments and, in return, to get more back from them