The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a crippling halt. Almost all countries in the world were forced to impose lockdowns as a stringent measure to combat the spread of this deadly disease. While the impact on the world economy was massive and businesses suffered substantial losses, another striking feature that came to the forefront was a bulk departure of women from the workforce. Sad but true, a recent survey revealed that one in four women were considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely because of the COVID-19 impact.
What led to the mass departure of women from the workforce?
The pandemic crisis has intensified work, household, and childcare responsibilities. Where disproportionate job losses shoved men and women out of their jobs, the stress of juggling work and family life threatened many women to plan to quit their jobs. The pandemic raised hopes in its earlier stages that work from home would lead to equal sharing of the workload at home. However, it proved to be a nightmare for most working women as a major share of the burden still fell on them. Most working women found it struggling to balance pregnancy, housework, and working from home during the pandemic, which required an extra six hours a day of care and supervision.
There are ample statistics worldwide that show the disheartening numbers in which women surveyed are planning to leave their companies. Women in the Workplace, a large corporate study of the female workforce, by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in collaboration with LeanIn.Org showed that about 2 million women were planning to quit the workforce for an unlimited time. Single mothers and women at senior levels faced the maximum work pressure due to high burnout rates.
How can we address this core challenge?
With so much being said about the condition of the women in the workforce, it is time now to come up with preventive measures to curb the mass exodus of the women workforce. Let’s have a look at some probable measures that we can undertake to control this exodus.
Your work culture should value women
The challenging times in the pandemic have raised an important concern. Organizations should step forward to create and raise awareness in the workplace. They should address unconscious bias, which means being less judgmental about a child playing in the background of a video call with a female employee or setting flexible hours of meetings. At the same time, employers need to set realistic targets for workplace productivity and performance and lay down relaxed guidelines. A revision of expectations set before COVID-19 is a must to create work-life boundaries.
Awareness about employee benefits
Employees, especially female workers, should be educated about the full range of benefits available to them from the organization. This includes flexible working hours, extensible leave periods, and even mental health counseling. Women employees should know how to consider subsidizing emergency childcare. Wherever possible, they can also look for referral options for daycare services.
Companies should take care to share regular updates and information about how employees can maintain a proper work-life balance, how to stay fit while working from home, and how to be more productive at work even in such challenging times.
Sharing responsibilities is the much-needed respite, whether at home or at work. Organizations should schedule sessions to train employees to take over for one another in case of any emergency. Female employees at work can call in for the most unexpected situations like a sick toddler or an unavoidable burnout. In such cases, employers should be ready with backup staffing plans for essential roles instead of panicking and increasing stress at the last moment.
Back-to-back Zoom calls or Google Meet sessions may be the regular norm in your company. But, your female employees in a work-from-home situation may have little time to work on their job initiatives in a similar manner as when in an actual office. Organizations should cut down on a large number of video calls every now and then and should encourage people to pick up the phone or send a quick email instead of immediately calling a meeting. Proper discipline with clear-cut call guidelines will reduce the stress on your female workers, at the same, giving them enough space to manage their duties from home.
This is important as your female employees are burdened with almost double responsibilities while working from home. They have a family to support, children to take care of, household responsibilities as well as reporting to work. Managers should give them leeway within disciplined boundaries. Workloads can be re-examined, and wherever possible, tasks can be shuffled and adjusted as per your work demand. Productivity is essential, but it should not come at the cost of losing your employee in the long run.
Suggestions are many, but the real game-changer will be how effectively and promptly organizations implement these changes. A touch of empathy to your daily tasks will make all the difference. Managers should check in on workers to get an idea about their emotional health. They can encourage breaks and time off and provide counseling referrals wherever needed. Remember, the more employees can work whole-heartedly, the more the workplace will benefit from them.