- With Mother’s Day around the corner, we reached out to the
working mothersfrom the advertising industry to find out how they are dealing with quarantine blues and their kids being at home 24 hours.
- They also shared with us some policy ideas that they wish the industry could take into consideration and help them juggle smoothly between work and household chores.
Working parents have lost the privileges of ‘me time’ as there is no external help from grandparents, nannies or schools to share their load. They are also home-schooling while working as the CEO of their houses. And to top that up, they are dealing with work pressure, anxiety and waves of guilt for not being able to spend quality time with their kids despite being house arrested.
While husbands have started shouldering the parenting responsibilities in India, the task of planning, organizing and supervising if everything is in place, comes with a mental load on women.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, we reached out to some working mothers of the advertising industry to find out how they are multitasking during this quarantine period, a few policies they wish companies could introduce to help them juggle smoothly between household chores and work, and how is it they wished companies would help them cope up with anxiety and stress.
Here is what these superwomen had to say:
Rachana Lokhande, Co-CEO of Kinetic India and mother of a son:
We are almost seven weeks into the lockdown and we will be into the lockdown for a few more weeks. And I'm sure most of them are working mothers multitasking -- juggling between household chores, traveling between office work managing kids, managing their studies, cooking, baking, cleaning, mopping, and everything. In the first few days, all the family members came together and said that "oh now that we are in the household together, we are going to help each other and we are going to distribute work and all" but all the euphoria, believe me, has died down and the ownership is back on us, to take care of many of the things if not all.
While everybody is talking about how ‘managers need to be empathizing with their situation by being more sensitive.’ But I think more than all, what we require is having a mature conversation. Transparency and trust is what we need more than anything else. Having those transparent mature conversations with your managers or with your family, explaining them, what is the situation you are in? You need to listen to them and understand what their demands are. And what are the basics that need to be fulfilled. And then sitting together and prioritizing is the most important thing. I mean, that will build trust in all the relationships that we have. That is more important right now. If we have this conversation, and if we set our expectations right, between all the stakeholders currently in our life, our family and organizations or our managers, we will be able to prioritize our work and we will be able to better at everything.
Multitasking is definitely not a solution for anything, because it will only end us up in stress and guilt. But prioritizing, setting timelines for all the work, everybody being on the same page, will help you deliver your hundred percent to each of the tasks that you do. And of course, organization should continue with Flexible Working Policy, work from home as a policy should continue. Organizations should also look at evaluating the matrix to ensure that it is more objective and more delivery-oriented. Rest, Happy
Priya Balan, Executive Director, Mullen Lintas and mother of two kids:
Well, truth be told, I'm actually managing quite well. I have begun to enjoy this new way of working. And I seem to have found something, a rhythm that works quite efficiently for me, for my family and for work. It was all very overwhelming in the beginning when it just felt like your whole world order had collapsed and you're sitting in the middle of it all trying to be in different places at the same time. Multitasking, you have work, you have the children to be taken care of. There is the kitchen and there are various other domestic chores that need to be tied up. But I guess, a week into this new way of life I found my groove and that seems to be working very well. I think for me, one of the big positives of this lockdown is the fact that I'm able to be a more active weekday, ma'am. Which otherwise is not something that I end up doing. Because of the nature of my work. The fact that I'm home today when the kids finished their online school is lovely. No longer is it just a phone call to ask them how their day was, but the fact that we can actually hug and cuddle when they come back from school. It's a nice, sweet thing. Of course, there are lots of challenges; some days are great. There are some days that are not so good and there are some days that you just can't wait for them to get over. But I think given the circumstances we are in, given the need to opt for this kind of Working system. I think I am quite happy and I could actually do this for a little while more happily.
If this is going to be a new way of life and living and working, I'm sure those policies will come into place. But once the policies do come into place, I think the onus of making the system work lies equally with the employee as much as it lies with the employer. I think there has to be a certain sanctity to working hours, as much as sanctity to family time is going to be expected. So otherwise, I see productivity could get marred in the long run. Also, the other thing I find funny is that you have all lost track of days, and there are lots of public holidays and bank holidays which otherwise would be holidays for us. Today, one doesn't even think twice before picking up a phone call or setting up a meeting. I think some discipline in what is going to qualify for working hours and working days will have to come in for this overall thing to work.
Anjali Malthankar, National Strategy Director, Tonic Worldwide and mother of a daughter:
Honestly, this quarantine period has been a seesaw. Some days are really high, some days are difficult. First 10 days were chaotic -- nobody knew what to expect from each other. My daughter, Tara, thought I was on a vacation and wanted my 100% attention. And, you know, when her homeschooling started, her timings used to clash with my morning meeting timings, and how much ever I would try to kind of set her up, she would invariably video bomb into my meetings, and it was getting very difficult. And I think that's where this whole flexibility aspect kind of comes into play. Tonic has always been very supportive and always been flexible. When it comes to these things, so soon enough, I realize how to kind of manage that.
I think flexibility is the only policy that really can help mothers. So when we work in the office, when we say flexibility we mean work from home as an option. And when it comes to work from home, I think flexibility means maybe shifting a few meeting timings or being tolerant with the video bombing. And I think the rest, mothers can manage.
I haven’t experienced anxiety related to work. But as a mother, I worry about my child's future and how their learning is going to be, and when she will get to meet her friends, when she will get to step out and experience things -- the way it should be. And some days, when you feel low and you want to kind of talk to someone, when the work culture is supportive, it really helps. You need to give that space to kind of speak your mind and feel vulnerable, that it's okay to feel low some days. I think that kind of support is always something that can help.
Mitushi Verma, VP, FCB Interface and mother of daughter:
These are times like we have never experienced earlier. So it certainly is going to be an effort every day to adapt to the new normal. For the child it is a dream come true to have mom at home, at their disposal. But that also means that they want their undivided attention. They are not being able to understand why is mom at home and yet she is not. What helps, is to explain to them how it works and make them a part of the schedule. We are now not only working from home but also working for home, non -stop 24*7.
I think companies are doing their best to make it as smooth for their employees as possible. However, being able to discuss work on calls has meant that sometimes work flows way beyond working hours or that calls get scheduled at a time a when there are other household duties waiting to be done. It would really help if at an individual level we are all a bit more empathetic towards the rather hectic schedules of working moms. It was really heartening to receive communication from the agency that simply said that they understand how it is to work from home. That it is ok if kids popped up in video calls to say hello! That it is okay if you stepped out to attend to a wailing baby! It is OK!!! Feels good to be understood!
At work, a colleague introduced me to the concept of “mental load or emotional labor”,that women carry worldwide. Simply put what it means is that women always have lot more things on their mind, to do. So it’s not just about the physical load of doing the things, but also the mental load—the task of orchestration and project management which still falls disproportionately on women, mostly. So effectively, their mind is never ever free. This has only increased during the current times as there is a lot more to do and to get done. One is always on tenterhooks about someone in the family especially the kid, falling sick during these times. To be given access to doctors through Doctor 24*7 app, by the agency, is reassuring and much appreciated, to say the least.
Rituparna Dasgupta, Vice President - Strategy and Analytics, Mindshare India and mother of two sons:
As a mother of two young energetic boys and the chief operating officer at home and the strategist at work, it’s surely a quick juggle between roles during a typical day. This is perhaps for the first time it has happened that both partners are at home along with children with reduced help for such a long duration. This is the opportune time for gender equality to be truly lived. And employers are a critical part of this behaviour change.
Flexible work hours and mandatory breakfast and lunch breaks could make this juggle a smooth ride, especially for reducing the breakfast and lunchtime workload when the family is generally having meals together. There could be a no meetings policy in the 8-9:30 am or 1-2 pm time bands. Most schools are running e-learning sessions for children and probably not all families have personal laptops/computers. Companies could allow employees to use their official laptops to enable continuity of learning for their children.
With always-on unsettling news blaring, disheartening projections of the economic impact of COVID-19 and to top it up, kids fussing about food and getting cranky due to this long lockdown, it’s only natural to experience anxiety and frustration at times. However, not giving vent and letting this build-up within oneself can have serious consequences on both mental and physical health. Companies could support employees through virtual counselling sessions with professionals, laughter yoga sessions, breathing exercises or something like a date with an anonymous agony aunt for simply venting out and shedding the load! A pep-talk with one’s manager, senior leadership or someone from the company’s talent team could also have a positive and comforting impact on the employee.
Chanda Sarma, Regional Head-Operations(North), WATConsult and mother of two kids:
Quarantine has not been easy for anyone and perhaps is slightly more difficult for mothers with young kids. Household chores and professional responsibilities clubbed with a time when kids are completely homebound is a struggle. However, based on my personal experience, co-workers and clients both have been an extension to our families and extremely understanding. Not even once has taking a feeding or diaper break been a challenge and nobody seems to mind a baby gurgling in the background either.
I have always been in the camp for flexible timings but for once I feel what we really need are fixed timings. With coordination efforts being on the rise and personal efficiencies being at an all time high, the boundaries of work hours and post-work hours have been blurred significantly. The week is largely divided into work hours, screen time and sleep hours and an official cut off from work should be defined.
For anyone who has an extremely active lifestyle, anxiety is not unnatural. I have been extremely lucky to have found coworkers who constantly check on each other and at WATConsult, our days have been filled with a lot of training sessions which go beyond the trade and are focused on our well-being and holistic living. Having attended quite a few of these, I actually feel this should be a norm, quarantine or not.
Pragati Chavan, Director- Corporate Communications, DDB Mudra Group and mother of a daughter:
The hardest thing about this pandemic is the uncertainty it has brought with it. Having a support system is important at the best of times, and crucial in these testing times. At the cost of sounding like an acceptance speech, my husband, in-laws and colleagues have supported me fully to manage work, childcare, and running a household as best as possible. We share all the household duties, childcare responsibilities and everything else in between.
As a parent to a toddler who’s entered terrible twos in full gusto, and as a busy working professional, routine is my best friend. There are days when everything’s going according to plan and on some days it's complete chaos. But for someone who’s a stickler for planning, being comfortable with the unstructured parts of my day is a huge learning experience for me. Guess there’s some silver lining after all.
Currently, people are not working from home, they are working from home during a crisis. It’s an important distinction for companies to recognise. Luckily for me, my company has been extremely flexible and quick in framing policies that really look after working moms like me. Simple policies like no calls during 1-3 p.m. and following clear boundaries between work and home on weekends is a life-saver.
During this lockdown, my parents are in a different location than me. So in addition to the stress of maintaining a work routine and looking after our own health, I am constantly anxious about my parents. During such times, more than policies, it is genuine empathy that helps. This, in turn, is driven by corporate culture. I’ve had colleagues offer to check in on my parents and to help with emergencies, which is really touching. Our HR team has also been proactively reaching out to everyone on a weekly basis.