Working parents: your boss may be judging you

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(Katharine Zaleski)

If people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their boss. How do you become a boss that workers refuse to leave?

The answer looks obvious from recent online discussion: Refrain from judging employees with an outside life.

In an apology letter to working mothers that set off a firestorm of online buzz, the president of an Internet startup gave a harsh account of how workers with family responsibilities are unfairly judged by their bosses.

As a manager at The Huffington Post and then The Washington Post in her mid-20s, Katharine Zaleski admits that she judged other mothers or said nothing while she saw others do the same.

“I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last-minute drinks with me and my team,” she wrote in a letter that appeared in Fortune. “I questioned her ‘commitment’ even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day. I didn’t disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she ‘got pregnant.’

In a move that goes on in many workplaces, Zaleski said she scheduled last-minute meetings at 4:30 p.m. all of the time. “It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare,” she said.

Zaleski said she didn’t realize how horrible she had been until she gave birth to her own daughter. She now runs PowerToFly, a company that matches women who want to work from home with jobs in the tech field.

We all know that Zaleski isn’t the only boss who has harshly judged a working mother — or father. It can be easy to dismiss a working parent as uncommitted, a worker with elder care responsibilities as distracted, or a younger employee who wants to train for a marathon as lacking work ethic. It can be easy to call super early morning or schedule evening dinners with clients that can happen during the regular workday.

But you don’t need to be in a person’s shoes to be a boss who creates a workplace where employees thrive. A good boss thinks about the bigger picture and realizes people have lives outside of work — and that allowing them to do both well makes them more committed to their jobs!

I find myself offering encouragement almost weekly to a working mother or father who feels judged by a boss for asking for flex time or wanting to leave by 5 to make it to their son’s soccer game. Their most common complaint: my boss will penalize me.

A report from Bright Horizons Family Solutions, an employer benefit child-care and early education company, reveals many employees – male and female – feel they can’t be open with their boss about family obligations. As more fathers want to be equal partners in parenting, they still feel they can’t express that to their boss, especially non-parents. Bright Horizons found about a third of working dads have faked sick to be more involved with their family, and one in four have lied to meet a family obligation, according to the report.

That could change.

As millennials become managers, many do think differently about work/life needs. They want to be more involved in thier children's lives and may make it easier for thier staffers to balance work and family without being judged.

If you feel like your boss or co- worker is judging you for having a life outside of work, it might be time to speak up. Communicate your accomplishments and the ways you show your commitment to your job. It's unfortunate to think that some managers don't see the value that working parents bring to a workplace.

Have you felt judged by a manager for having personal responsibilities or interests outside of work? How did you handle it?

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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