Q: I work in an office of six employees, and everyone has young children—except me. I obviously support flexible work options that allow parents to care for their kids, but I feel like I’m getting stuck with too much—working longer hours to open or close the office, covering for everyone if they have to be out for kid issues, and even getting judged for taking a personal day because I “don’t really need it.” What do I do? Am I just paying my dues until I have a kid and it’s someone else’s turn to shoulder the burden?
A: It’s great that you say you support flexible work options for parents, but I’m not sure you really understand the challenges working parents face with commutes, day care hours, and the unexpected conflicts that arise when children are involved. Now is the time to have a very candid conversation with your colleagues to let them know that, while you understand some of their situation—and you know you won’t fully understand the challenges they face until you have kids of your own—you also want to make sure they understand that you want the same flexibility in your schedule they have in theirs and reciprocity with support.
You haven’t mentioned your manager in this situation and this might be the right place to start this conversation. Your manager should be able to help everyone get flexibility and equity in a situation like this. An equitable situation can absolutely be reached, especially in such a small office. Have an open conversation with your colleagues, offering your continued support while vocalizing your own needs: “I’m happy to work the opening or closing shift and alternate that duty with other people.” When colleagues are mutually supportive and understanding of the challenges people face and value work/life balance for everyone, they can find a solution that meets everyone’s needs. It’s to your benefit that your office is fairly small—six people should be able to create an environment that gives support to all members of the team. Everyone needs a personal day or vacation day, whether or not they have kids, and these comments may come from envy of their days of freedom, so try to brush that off.
It may feel like you’re stuck catering to the needs and schedules of parents with school-aged children, but that doesn’t need to be the case. If you know you’re planning a week away over February vacation, communicate that well in advance: “Hey, I know this could be a challenge since your kids will be home over school vacation week, and I don’t want it to be a hardship for you. Can we plan now to find a set up that works?” Don’t hide your plans or spring them on anyone last minute, don’t be uncooperative, and don’t be the person who takes every snow day off knowing these people have to be home with their kids. Be accommodating, and others most often will be accommodating back.
And, yes, to answer your other question, part of this is “paying your dues,” so to speak. At some point in your career, you will need extra support from your colleagues, whether it’s having children of your own, caring for an elderly parent, or dealing with a personal health issue. You want to be able to look to your colleagues, manager, and organization for the kind of support you would need in any of these situations, knowing that you provided it in the past. You may be frustrated with the situation now, but don’t burn bridges with people you may need help from some day. It may not be a direct one-to-one return on all the days you have provided coverage or worked late for a colleague, but if you contribute to a culture of support and understanding, you will be grateful to have the favor returned in kind when you need it most.
While you may feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick right now, you’re fortunate to be in a situation that can be remedied with open communication and mutual support among colleagues.