Many organizations continue to move forward with plans to bring people back into the office.  Sometimes, this “move forward” feels more like one step forward and three steps back.  This stumble forward cannot be completely the fault of the organization.  Not many of them planned to go remote.  Also, the guidance available provides confusing signals as shown in these recent articles:

A sample of confusing advice I see on returning to the office. (From my reading list)

What I don’t see discussed often are stories like the one below.  

Used with permission (even though it’s public on Twitter)

What happens if this caretaker must return to the office? In that case, she would need to take care of her job, her immediate family and her extended family. Now that would give her three very difficult choices to make.

Caretakers take care of others. They may not always be women, but they generally are. Usually, a caretaker takes care of more than one person or group. It’s in their nature.

I recently heard another story of a female CEO who decided to step away from her position to take care of her special needs child. The family could not find help for their child during the pandemic.

You might think “big deal, she’s a CEO.” Yes, it is a big deal. I don’t know the size of her organization. I don’t know who she inspires within her organization with her leadership. I don’t know who she inspires outside of her organization with her leadership. I do know she is a respected speaker at conferences, a thoughtful person and cares about her company. She represents a caretaker at home, within her organization, and within her industry. She had to let go of one of her caretaker roles (perhaps two) because her family could not find the support they needed.

So the pandemic continues impacting women at all levels of the workforce. .

Think these scenarios are rare?  Try searching for “women leaving the workforce” in your favorite search engine.  This is what I found as I wrote this:

If we need diversity for innovation in our businesses (research shows we do) and we may have up to 25% of women leaving the workforce due to the pandemic (or related scenarios), do we really need to force people back into the office?

In other words, who takes care of the caretaker in this situation?

We are not going back to “normal before the pandemic” and it’s not really clear yet what the “new normal” will be.  We have to return gently and thoughtfully or we run the risk of doing even more damage:

  • We could do damage to people we need the most if we force them back to the same way of working.  
  • We could do damage to their families if we make it a family-or-job choice to return.
  • We could do further damage to our organizations by the stress we put them under or the void they leave should they decide to drop out of the workforce.

How is your organization planning to take care of the caretakers when planning a return to the office?

I’ll be sharing more of my thoughts later, but I’m very curious who else might be thinking about it.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash