what’s reasonable for managers to expect of parents working from home?

A reader writes:

What are reasonable expectations for managers whose employees are now working from home? For myself, I can adhere to my normal schedule while homebound, but I have a great employee who, having gone above and beyond in normal times, pleads child care issues now that she is home. She is productive, but putting off some time-sensitive tasks because her toddler demands her time. Her husband is also at home.

Is it reasonable to expect an employee to find a way to work her normal schedule even while she is telecommuting? It is frustrating to hear “I can’t” do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace.

No, it’s not reasonable to expect someone caring for a toddler because schools and daycares are closed to work the same schedule she worked in the office without a toddler around! It’s also not reasonable to expect her to achieve the same productivity levels as before.

How would that happen? There’s a toddler there!

Yes, your employee’s husband is also at home, but assuming he’s working as well, they are presumably splitting the child care.

How exactly is she going to stick her office work schedule when she’s supervising a small child half the time?

This isn’t a question of her needing to “find a way.” There is no way.

Your employee didn’t choose this; it’s not like she decided to work with a toddler lurking around in order to save on child care expenses. We’re in a pandemic and a public health crisis. She, like millions of parents across the country, is an impossible situation and is trying to make it work as best as she can.

And of course there will be times when you’ll hear she can’t do X or Y now, even though she would have been able to do it before. There’s a toddler there.

This is a completely different situation than employers have had to deal with before. In the past, it was reasonable to say people couldn’t care for small children at the same time they were working from home. You can’t say that anymore because it’s now unavoidable.

In the past, it was reasonable to expect people to stay more or less productive throughout the workday. It’s not anymore. That’s not because people are lazy or taking advantage or somehow not understanding what work you expect of them. It’s because there is a global pandemic that has changed everyone’s reality. It needs to change yours too.

This is someone who you say is a great employee who has gone above and beyond. You need to treat her as a human, not a work-producing robot, and you need to accept that These Are Not Normal Times and she is almost certainly doing the best she can. You need to give her, and others, as much flexibility as you can find. You need to radically adjust your and her priorities and expectations right now. Everything is different.

If you want to keep your great employee and ever have her go above and beyond again, it’s your turn to go above and beyond for her. That’s the only way managers can rise to the occasion right now.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 945 comments… read them below }

        1. ppcno*

          The sentiment needs to be extended to childless employees as well. We are all scared and distracted with other things going on besides our stupid jobs – battling our own illnesses, caring for elderly parents, etc. Simply getting groceries requires hours and hours of pre and post planning now. We may be at home more, but the doesn’t necessarily equate to more time.

          1. Rebecca*

            I agree, we all need to practice a little compassion and patience in this time. It’s a tough experience for everyone. I know spending all this time at home has made my depression and anxiety skyrocket, which has lowered my productivity.

          2. Hlyssande*

            Yes, please. I already struggle with depression and anxiety problems that affect productivity on a good week. This situation makes it even more difficult.

            1. Rosc*

              It takes me 40 minutes to queue to get into the store, for a start. Plus often there isn’t everything that you need, so you might have to go to multiple places. And then you might have elderly relatives or vulnerable neighbours that you’re also shopping for so that they don’t have to go out.

            2. MC66*

              A lot of stores have also implemented a maximum capacity policy, too. Our store only allows ten people in at a time, so you’re waiting in line—just to get in the door—a lot more than you would normally.

            3. Ace in the Hole*

              Before, I could go to the store, walk right in, know exactly where everything was and just zip through my weekly shopping in 30 -40 minutes.

              Now I have to stand in line for 15 minutes to even enter the store. Once I’m in, I have to spend two or three times as long finding things because everything’s been rearranged and a lot of the products I’d normally buy are out of stock. Then I have to spend more time either finding a replacement product or re-doing my shopping list to find a thing I can cook without whatever staple item is missing. Oh, and going around the store takes more time too since it takes a lot more care to maneuver through the isles while maintaining appropriate distance from other shoppers.

              What used to be a 30-40 minute trip now takes 1-2 hours.

            4. Andrew*

              Disinfecting the groceries after you buy them takes nearly as long as the shopping trip. Add in the shower and change of clothes after coming home and time is practically doubled.

            5. Certaintroublemaker*

              My local store opens at 8 for seniors, 9 for the rest of us. But forget going after work or on the weekends a everything’s gone. (TBH, a lot is even gone just after the seniors.)

          3. Rosc*

            And even if we have the same amount of time, we don’t have the same facilities and resources. My home internet is slow and intermittent, for example, which affects what tasks I can do and how long they take. I don’t have a photocopier or a colleague to check something with. I don’t have my own office with shelves of relevant reference texts. So yeah, even without any toddlers around, I’m a lot less productive working from home. That’s why, employer, you normally give me an office.

          4. MC66*

            I completely agree. I’m childless, but I’m finding it exceedingly difficult too. It’s scary and distracting, people are dying, the economy is completely tanking, and I’m sorry, but it’s becoming a Herculean task to mentally and emotionally gear up for a “normal” work day. I’m so annoyed at managers like the LW who have completely lost sight of the fact that we’re human, this is tough, and please forgive us if we’re not at our best right now.

            There’s a meme going around that says something to the effect of: “You’re not working from home. You’re at home trying to work while the world goes to shit.”

      1. Ixchel*

        Allison, thank you! I just wish I could get my own supervisors to see this. I work in special education and I feel this so much. We’re essentially being asked to complete all of our (full-time) job duties remotely and I have an 1-year-old at home. My husband and I have had to trade off duties throughout the day to make it work as best we can, but it’s still not enough. I sadly have begun to hate my job, which is sad because under normal circumstances I love it. I’m so frustrated and stressed out and I know by boss tries to be understanding but the demands are still there and need to be met.

        All I keep thinking is that I am doing a half job at being a mom and an equally half job at being an employee and it’s awful because I always pride myself in doing well. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t prioritize other children over my own, though.

        1. ‘Dem Boots*

          Oh Ixchel, Major Hugs!!! It’s tough being one of us who prides oneself in going over & above and not being able to….but someone gave me this advice and maybe it’ll help you- consider that Anything you do for work over a ‘half-arsed” worker (ie a 50%er), plus the same in parent mode is added to the total. You are already giving more than 100%. You are already a superstar.

    1. LawyerMama*

      Yes, Alison. Thank you! I am in the same boat as OP’s employee and I’m feeling fairly self-conscious about the amount of work that I’m able to complete given that I have two kids under five at home. I’m typically a very high producer, but these are very odd times. More managers need to hear this message!

    2. Mama Bear*


      My mother works with small children and her daycare center was closed as of today. In our entire county, there are only 12 daycares allowed to stay open, for essential employee families only. **Parents have no options.** Taking a kid to grandma’s is out. Having a playdate is out. Using the neighbor kid to babysit is out. I bet her spouse is also working and maybe she takes lead because she’s the one the baby wants or because he’s on a lot of calls and can’t juggle a kid at the same time. Doesn’t matter, really. She said she’s struggling. Hear her. Expecting normal right now is insane.

      I like the idea of prioritizing one or two tasks that the boss really needs done fairly timely and be flexible on the rest. When I WFH when my kid was small (PT only), I routinely worked late at night, sometimes with my kid sleeping on the couch next to me. It’s hard even when you’re not worried about life or death. Boss needs to greatly lower expectations and increase understanding and flexibility.

      If boss is frustrated to hear “I can’t” imagine how much that employee is struggling to be at the point where she needs to say that. There are a lot of people looking at their company’s response to all this and some will jump ship if they feel their company really missed the mark.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Nevermind that if your daycare *is* open, you might not want to take your child there becuase we are in the midst of a contagious virus pandemic.

        One coworker said they kept their 10 mo. old for three weeks, but they’re going to send her to daycare this week because it’s impossible to get work done. It’s unfortunate to have to choose productivity over health.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          And not just their own health – but public health! I’m not very worried about becoming seriously ill if I get the virus, or my husband, or my child, because none of us are in the vulnerable demographics – but I’m working like hell to keep us from getting exposed because I don’t want us to be vectors. And part of that is keeping my kid home even if her preschool reopens, because I don’t want her to pick up the virus, give it to me, then I unknowingly infect a nurse at the grocery store despite my precautions, and then that nurse goes to work before she gets symptoms.

          Employers, even if your employees technically could send their kids out for childcare, do not push them to do so unless it is truly necessary (like if all parents in the household work essential jobs that cannot be done remotely). Otherwise you are sacrificing public health for your own company’s profits.

        2. The Rural Juror*

          I just had this conversation with a friend yesterday. She and her husband have both been at their wits end because their 11-mo-old needs to so much attention. It’s understandable! She’s used to being taken care of despite anyone else’s schedule! They’ve been having to tag team the child care duties based on when they have virtual meetings, and every once in a while there’s overlap and one of them has to watch a meeting with the baby toddling around in the background. She was in tears yesterday because she’s so stressed, but then felt really guilty about even considering taking her kid to daycare in order to get work done. She felt like taking her child to daycare would be very selfish when there are essential workers who really need that childcare facility…and then it stressed her out more to feel selfish. And then she felt silly for even thinking this way when they only have one kid. I wanted so badly to reach through the phone and give that poor woman a hug.

        3. NW Mossy*

          Or, as is the case with my kid’s daycare, it’s open because so many parents are essential healthcare staff. While we technically could still send her, we decided to keep her and free up a spot for another parent who doesn’t have the same WFH ability we do.

          1. MissMeghan*

            Yes! Same boat here. Daycare is open, but it’s because there are parents with literally no other option who are essential workers. Everyone who can work from home is keeping their kids home.

        4. MusicWithRocksIn*

          And it’s not just about the kid catching Coronavirus. My kid’s daycare was open past when a lot of them were closing, and my kid picked up a bug. His temp got up to 105 and my husband had to take him to the emergency room alone because I was sick too and they wouldn’t let me in. Being in a hospital right now is horrible and terrifying, we were all at a much higher risk for catching coronavirus, and all of their resources were strained. It is a terrible terrible time to get sick with anything – keeping kids out of daycare cuts down on all the normal little bugs that kids get that mean trips to the doctors office and pharmacy.

          1. PhyllisB*

            Yep. My husband had to have a pacemaker installed this morning and I couldn’t go in the hospital, had to wait for dr. to call with an update. (Everything went fine)

            1. a good mouse*

              My dad was due to have hip surgery, which was postponed because it was elective. But some things classified as elective right now really aren’t, like a friend of my dad’s who had to get a kidney stone removed, right under the wire of the restriction. When it hit midnight, her surgery would have been deemed elective and she would have been sent home.

              1. allathian*

                Yikes. I hope her kidney stone was of the less painful kind. My dad had a few bouts of really painful kidney stones when I was a kid, and it was scary. An aunt of mine who’s a doctor, a mom and has had kidney stones said once that it’s the closest thing to labor pains a (cis) man can experience.

          2. Mama Bear*

            Agreed. Children can have one parent with them, but adults often can’t have anyone with them. I hope everyone in your household is doing better now.

            And that said, though slightly off topic for the OP, people should consider a File of Life for every member of their household, just in case: https://www.folife.org/

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              My niece just got out of the NICU. Despite living right next door to my brother, my parents couldn’t visit her in the hospital this last month, because of covid-19 restrictions. Before that, so long as either my brother or his wife accompanied them through the door, they could go as often as they liked. The baby’s parents didn’t even have to stay the whole time; they just had to sign Grandma and Grandpa in, so my folks spent hours reading and singing to the baby. And, by extension, to all the babies within earshot. Poor things haven’t had that attention for a month now.

        5. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

          This. Both my husband and I are working with our 8.5 month old at home. We both have “shifts” where one person can focus on work and the other can be on baby duty and wok at the same time. It’s hard, but thankfully our bosses understand.

          OP, please don’t be that boss who makes an employee choose between their job or their child right now. When we all get through this, she’ll go back to being a great employee. If you make her choose, she may decide it’s time to look elsewhere.

      2. Observer*

        There are a lot of people looking at their company’s response to all this and some will jump ship if they feel their company really missed the mark.

        OP, please do keep this in mind. This is someone who is good at what they do, and is a valuable employee. Things WILL change, and you WILL lose your best employees if you have unreasonable expectations.

        1. That Lady in HR*

          YES. This. Your employees are watching you very closely right now. People are looking at how their businesses react to this pandemic and how they treat their employees, and this will affect their decisions about where they want to work and who they want to work for in the future. Now is the time for you to go above and beyond for your employees.

        2. Shannon*

          Yep. This. My husband and I work full time and have a 2 yaer old. His employer is completely unreasonable with unrealistic expectatations about what can be done during this time. And it’s putting a huge strain on us IN ADDITION to everything else going on. He is absolutely planning on looking (resume updating when time allows) as soon as he can because of how his managers have acted during this situation. Granted, they were kind of assholes before, but mostly managable. But now, nope, true colors. And it’s not going to get easier, they’re only going to get more unreasonable as this continues. And, of course, expect that everything will bounce back to normal the minute we’re all allowed out again.

          And, OP, I felt literal rage boil up inside me reading your question. But that’s because of my personal experience with a spouse who works for people who aren’t exhibiting humanity right now. My question, as non-judgmental as I can ask it is – why didn’t it occur to you that this isn’t a situation you can change and make your employee “improve” on, and that being human in the face of this is the best way to manage right now? Have you not adjusted your outcomes and metrics to accomodate for this literally unprecedented situation?

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            Yeah, rage is about right. You think YOU’RE frustrated that she can’t act like there’s no toddler there? How do you think she feels, trying to work full-time with a toddler there? Toddlers are exhausting! Yeah, they’re adorable, but they’re also demanding, challenging, noisy, perverse, and ready to scream at you at the literal drop of a hat, and your employee can’t get a break from any of it, maybe for months. With all this, she’s also working full-time, and by your own account doing her best. You think she isn’t frustrated?

            She’s already dealing with one person who pitches tantrums because they WANT IT NOW. Don’t make her deal with two.

            1. Darsynia*

              Not only that but wait until your employees start to realize that they’re using their home resources for work without extra compensation for it. If this crisis had happened 5, 10 years ago, what would all these employers have done??

              I mean this kindly, but OP, please recognize that your employees’ time is the CHEAPEST commodity they’re offering at home. You push too hard and people will start requesting that their internet and computer access be subsidized like they are at work.

        3. Anon-a-souras*

          Absolutely we’ll remember. My manager is focusing on getting her people the tools they need, my headset arrived about 2 weeks after she insisted I order one since I’m suddenly on about 4 hours Skype for business a day. It has made my life infinitely better. We’ve already been home for 3 weeks and the state says at least 4 more. Going from a full office set up, with printer, etc to a laptop is a transition.

          OP, if you’re is interested in helping, some ideas besides prioritizing:
          Does the employee have everything they need to be successful at home? Can you help? Do they need a monitor, keyboard or mouse.

          Is the work you’re asking the employee to do limited by the environment (space, noise, etc) or uninterrupted time? Ask her if there are workflow changes that might help, like holding meetings at certain times, or shifting work that is difficult to do from home.

          This isn’t a kids/no kids/pets/parents issue, this is a ‘everyone is struggling and the best thing to do is ask them what they need and what you can do to support them’ and do it, if you can.

      3. Super Admin*

        This is the tactic my manager and team are using – we know there’s no way our team members with children are going to be able to get as much done as they would at the office, so we’re prioritising a couple of things, and then either backlogging less important stuff, or asking if other team members can help out. I don’t have kids, but I DO have very loud, slightly insane cats, and my husband has a lot of calls with vendors and clients, so I have to every now and then step away from my laptop in order for him to work without interruption. It drives me nuts, so I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is for people with children who are bored because they’re cooped up at home all day!

        Everyone just needs to appreciate that things are not normal right now, and even those without kids are not going to be as productive as they are in the office, because they’re anxious/stressed/frustrated/fed-up. OP needs to appreciate this.

        1. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

          My kid doesn’t prevent my from getting work done right now, but the worry/anxious feeling of the unknown is causing huge issues. :( I’m trying to concentrate enough to keep up productivity, but it’s HARD!

          Thankfully, my manager understands and I’m not working on time sensitive things, so that helps as well.

          1. arin*

            I am here with this – my kids are great, and we are all doing the best we can. This lingering dread is killing me. It’s weird to feel like the sky is falling while seeing a beautiful day outside, but I am in the heart of the US Pandemic, already know people who have died, and feel like it’s going to drag on forever.

          2. Gaia*

            Same for me. Employers need to understand that ALL of us may struggle to maintain normal standards right now. Be understanding or expect to lose your normally high performers when this ends.

          3. Charlotte*

            People are also using these observations to determine who they want to give their business to in the future. I know I’m not in a hurry to spend my money with a company that treats its employees poorly

            1. Arial*

              Same. I’ve very rarely wished so hard for a querent to say where they worked, and to promise a reply. I’ve got a list of companies I’m not going to do business with again under any circumstances – and will loudly and vociferously explain to others why they shouldn’t either – and I’m just ITCHING for another name for the list. Not treating employees like human beings? Automatically will never get my money again if I can help it (avoiding Amazon’s network 100% is impossible if you spend any time online) at any stage, but this pandemic is adding names to the list faster than ever.

                1. Arial*

                  Of course! Give me a few hours – I’ve got to make some grocery runs for neighbours and cut out the reasons that are on there for private reasons people wouldn’t want public (at least until this is over and they can quit their job) – but then I’ll put it in a Google doc.

            2. Harper the Other One*

              So much this. Every time I hear about a great company or a terrible company, I’m filing that information away. When I’ve had to place online orders for curbside pickup, I’ve been choosing where to do that based on the same information, so (at least from me) it’s also affecting companies’ income right now.

          4. Starbuck*

            Yep, my mental game is so off that I’m at about 50% of my normal productivity (WFH) on a GOOD day. Plus I’m now only doing the parts of my job that can be done remotely/with a computer, when normally I spend 25% – 75% of my time outside with groups of people. I didn’t mind the deskwork when there was other stuff mixed in but now I’m finding I can’t sustain full-time focus on the computer for weeks at a time….. hence me writing this comment now.

            1. Quill*

              Part of my job involves phone tag with government agencies… several of which are closed or have limited availability right now, and one which is, as far as my emails can tell, completely AWOL.

              I’m not even sure at any point in time what I’m supposed to be working on because priorities change at least three times a day.

          5. allathian*

            I agree. My fourth grader is doing well in remote school, but then he’s a pretty diligent student with a great teacher. That said, I get sick of being the tech support in our house. They’re using Google Classroom as a platform. We live in a well-to-do area so pretty much everyone in the school and certainly all of his classmates have smartphones, but I almost tore my hair out in frustration trying to help him to get a photo from his phone to a Google presentation. Yikes. The next issue he had, I told him to ask his dad who’s also WFH. We’re just upstairs and DH is downstairs, so it’s easier for our son to come to me with issues.

            Luckily my work is rarely time-critical. We do have deadlines, but they’re more a matter of days than hours.

      4. a good mouse*

        My sister and brother-in-law basically trade off mornings/afternoons for who works and who minds the toddler. He’s too young to just play unsupervised and is himself reacting to the confusion of disrupted schedules, in a way they really can’t explain to him. (He’s in that mimic phase of language acquisition, it’s weird to hear him parrot back “quarantine” or “covid” when I’m talking to her.)

        1. Shannon*

          We do this as well. But there is no way to be as productive as you would with childcare/in an office. And some businesses don’t understand “I have baby-time right now so my spouse can work…”

          1. MeepMeep*

            Yeah, the only way to get any sort of productive time out of an employee is being flexible on exactly when the work needs to happen. Then, assuming there are two parents at home, the parents can tag-team it and switch off minding the toddler and working. So if the boss is willing to have the parent employee do an “evening shift” or maybe a “split” shift of 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening, that can work quite well. But that requires a more understanding boss than OP.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          My toddler is having a tough time as well. Frequent meltdowns, wanting to stay outside even when he’s obviously cold because he just can’t stand being cooped up in the house again, trying to run for anyone he sees walking by.
          Poor thing just doesn’t understand the reasons for this upheaval.

        3. James*

          My sons like to play “vet” with their toy animals. It was weird to hear them say “He has COVID-19! We need to get him to the hospital!” for the first time.

          1. Quill*

            I’m the neighborhood dog whisperer and every day at 1 pm when I take a walk everyone is trying to keep their dogs from making a break for me so they can get that sweet, sweet attention.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            One of my co-workers overheard the neighbor kids playing cops and robbers outside – except the bad guy wasn’t a robber, he’d been pulled over for violating stay-at-home!

      5. willow for now*

        “If boss is frustrated to hear “I can’t” imagine how much that employee is struggling to be at the point where she needs to say that. ”


    3. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Ditto. Thank you.

      Depending on where they are, even if they don’t have a toddler, there can be other reasons they cannot work exactly the same hours. Where I am, opening times of any grocery stores are extremely reduceed and we all have to wait on line to be one of the limited number who can be in at a time. I have needed to run out during my “workday” to get things I need. Basic foods.

      Also, even teens are potentially needing a lot more attention than usual.

      1. HR-ing from home*

        Yes! I have two college students who have had their lives (both academic and social) uprooted and they are now back under our roof trying to complete the school year alongside my husband who works from home all the time, and I who am working from here for the first time in my 25 year career. We are all trying to adjust and while luckily my kids no longer need help with basic human functions, they are still needy in their own way and there are a lot more distractions than would be ideal.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I was talking to a colleague the other day who lives in a small town outside one of our smaller suburbs, and she mentioned that her husband and two kids were all jockeying with her for bandwith. They had to take turns for anything that involved video meetings and/or downloads; while they were all able to do their work (so far), they couldn’t all do it during their regular work hours. They’ve resorted to some late nights all around. Sticking to their regular 9-5 schedule was far less productive than everyone doing staggered 3-hour rounds of online activity. (She’s not even that far outside of “civilization,” either – the digital divide is very real and closer than most of us might think.)

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            One of my friends has 3 kids, and says there literally aren’t enough hours in the day for them to complete their online classes and assignments, because they all have to share one computer.
            I know that this is a lot for teachers to process, and they are doing a great job, but maybe the busywork could be print outs instead of slow online platforms?

            1. Rebecca*

              I work with schools across the US. Some are doing print outs, but I have seen parents complain because they worry about the virus being spread through the packets.

            2. Kitrona*

              Or maybe just “you get the grade you had when things went down”, maybe with an opportunity for extra credit, and all the work from here on out is optional. Kids aren’t learning well with all this change. I’m in college and I ended up having to drop a class because /I’m/ not dealing with all this change well, and I’m sure not retaining any of the information I read. I don’t think it’s fair for students to essentially get punished due to a heretofore unknown global traumatic situation. This will have repercussions for decades at the very least, the way that the Great Depression in the US did/does. Why make it more stressful?

          2. Amanda*

            This is so true. I just moved houses in December, and my husband insisted we get a bandwidth about 3x what’s normal in our area. At the time, I fought him hard at what seemed like a big waste of money. Boy, am I glad now I lost that battle! All my coworkers are struggling so hard to even keep a steady connection to our remote softwares, productivity company-wide is at about 50% now.

      2. Another HR lady*

        Here here. I have an eighth grader, and I have found myself silently wishing she was a baby again, with a regular nap and eating schedule. Now I’m trying to get her all set up with online school, fielding emails and updates from teachers, helping her with assignments, somewhat monitoring her phone/videogame/laptop usage, all while trying to work. There’s a whole lot going on, and OP now is the time to demonstrate as much compassion, understanding, and flexibility as you’re able. Try to imagine her purview: she realizes that her output has decreased. She may have hesitated letting you know what she could and could not take on-but decided it was better to let you know, so you’d be able to put tasks on the back burner or delegate to someone else. She may have even tried to keep up for a while, but ultimately determined that just wasn’t feasible in this situation. She has been honest about what she’s able to realistically take on, and given that she has proven herself to be a “great” employee, don’t use that transparency against her. Take her at her word, and be a great boss in return, by cutting her (and others) a lot of slack. Alison’s response is a fantastic blueprint for how to move forward.

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        This! My tiny town has responded extremely well to the situation, and the side-effect of this is we need to accept that routine things are just going to take longer. It took me 35 minutes to fill a prescription yesterday. But if doing it that way keeps the community safer, that’s what we do.

    4. cmcinnyc*

      So happy with the tone of this response.

      PEOPLE. WTF.

      I’m in NYC and there is *zero* childcare availability. Zip, nada, none. My company has flex timed to the max and before this, we had a very ungenerous, anti-WFH policy. I truly appreciate how fully my company has transitioned *both* to All Hands on Deck *and* Do What You Can simultaneously. We are busier than ever, but yeah, people’s kids are ALL AT HOME, ALL THE TIME and there’s no way around it. Major demerits, LW. Major.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’d urge the LW to write some text that their organization might use in a future ad for recruiting:

        “We’re a high-performance organization, expecting staff who are working from home due to public health emergencies such as shelter in place orders to maintain the same high standards of productivity and schedule regardless of circumstances. It you can produce at that high level, we’re the place for you!”

        Then you’ll get the right people. Good luck!

      2. Amanda*

        Same. I am so very happy with my company right now! I’ve never actually felt loyalty to a company before. I mean I always felt: it’s your job, you do your best, perform well, meet your goals, but look out for yourself first. But now? I seriously want this company to succeed, and I’ll work my butt off, promote them if I can, do whatever it takes to help them through this as much as they’re helping me!

    5. COVIDmfgHR*

      Yes. All of this. I have transitioned all of my office staff who can work at home to WFH. We’re paying without regarding to productivity because we as a company can bear the financial burden better than any individual can. We’re assuming positive intent in every interaction with staff, whether we’re worried because key items are being missed, or just checking in to see how they’re doing. Our staff make our company possible. It’s our turn to make sure they understand what we’ve said all along: we’re in this together.

      1. Shannon*

        Thank you for doing this and being kind, and human, and reasonable. As the spouse of someone who’s employer is unreasonable…your employee spouses are equally as appreciative as your employees. The stress of my spouse’s work environment is massive right now, and it’s putting a huge strain on us – time, stress, etc. And he is absolutely nope-ing out of there as soon as possible because of how they’re treating people during this situation. It’s a shame, but lots of places have seemed to lose sight of people – actual, real, human beings.

      2. Arial*

        Thank you so much. I find most businesses who treat their employees with humanity tend to not trumpet what they’re doing very loudly, but consider reaching out to a local journalist with your story. Not only will it help you (I’m collecting two lists right now: companies I’ll never support again, and companies I’ll support in any way I can because they’re reacting to this properly, and I know I’m not the only one), but it will also put pressure on your peer companies to also treat their employees well.

    6. AnonMurphy*

      Yes thank you so so much! I know my problem isn’t the worst, but it is frustrating to me!

    7. addiez*

      You are not working from home during a crisis, you’re at home during a crisis trying to work.

      I saw that somewhere and it’s become a mantra of sorts – this isn’t normal, and expecting normal just isn’t realistic.

      1. Ray*

        Perfect timing for a mic drop response to this letter. Just wow. This OP is remarkably out of touch. Perhaps a young manager with a solid resume but zero life experience?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Or works in and industry like mine with notoriously poor work-life balance on a good day and the expectation that everything is the same except location. The deadlines are still coming, and we’re shifting resources and pitching in to provide relief for those with child/elder care obligations.

          I nearly cried when I was in a pre-shift-to-remote planning meeting and one of the hardass, Type A, high-level executives asked the c-suite to confirm that we’d be providing support, hours flexibility, and project hours grace to everyone, since we didn’t know what they were dealing with at home. If that person gets it, anyone should.

      2. higheredrefugee*

        Also, even if your daycare was open, and you felt it was safe to use it, maybe it is located by work, not home, thus making it a logistical nightmare to use. Too many variables – don’t lose your stellar employee to this. Or even your non-stellar, but empathetic, employee this.

      3. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, this so much. And although I don’t want to come close to diminishing what it’s like to have children and be in this situation, don’t forget about the people who live alone and have been totally stripped of any social interaction.
        I’m single, and though I’m lucky to be able to WFH, I have little to no socialization, no physical contact with anyone, and there is constant stress due to the virus. My focus is shot. The last thing I want to do is work. I wish work would take my mind off of things, but because I’m not *at* work (which again, I’m glad I can WFH because it’s much safer), it does not feel normal, and I can’t concentrate on working.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        Also, Alison should take this mantra and advertise it on this site and everywhere. It completely nails the situation we are all in.

      5. allathian*

        I love this framing!
        Under normal circumstances I WFH between 0 and 10 days a month. My productivity now is not what it was before, when I usually worked from home alone, so that my son was in school for most of my workday and my husband was either in his office or traveling on business.
        My boss and the top management of my organization have been extremely understanding of the fact that these are not normal circumstances. We have some rather critical tasks that have to be done, other stuff gets left on the back burner.

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. All I could think was “preach!” while reading Alison’s response.

    9. Just no*

      Yes, Alison, thank you!

      OP, my question for you is this: What do you think is going to happen if you have this conversation with her? She is obviously at her wits’ end trying to do everything at once. (And as someone with two kids under 3, I can relate.) If you say something to her…probably nothing about her behavior is going to change, because she’s obviously trying to do her best right now. The only thing you can expect to happen is that you will hurt your relationship with her, and she will want to look elsewhere when this is all over. Is that really the outcome you want?

    10. willow for now*

      Yes, a million thanks. What’s next, LW is going to tell the employee she can’t go to her own graduation? (Same icky feeling I am getting from these two bosses.)

  1. WantonSeedStitch*

    It might be that the OP needs to be clearer about what the top priorities are for this employee’s work right now, too: if she has X, Y, and Z on her plate, and she’s getting X done but letting Y and Z fall by the wayside, but Z is really what you need her to do, let her know that you really want her to focus on Z, and that she shouldn’t worry about X until that’s done.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. The OP needs to start making better, clearer decisions about what her employee’s top priority should be every day so that these time sensitive tasks aren’t missed because the employee is busy working on something else that can wait.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      That’s what I wanted to say.

      #1 – Tell whom I will call Jane: “Jane, I need you to prioritize to complete it by . If you will be unable to I need to know by so I can assign to someone else. Please prioritize over Y and Z.”

      #2 – Stop expecting her to go above and beyond in this unusual working situation. You can expect everyone (who didn’t already work from home or who is suddenly dealing with other people at home during work time) to be less productive because they’re no longer in an ideal work situation. You need to adjust your expectations so this great employee will be happy to continue working for you once she can return to the office. Don’t let your unreasonable expectations drive her to look for a new job once this is over.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        #1 – Tell employee whom I will call Jane: “Jane, I need you to prioritize =time sensitive task= to complete it by =time=. If you will be unable to do =time sensitive task= I need to know by =time= so I can assign to someone else. Please prioritize =time sensitive task= over Y and Z.”

      2. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

        your second comment – so true! I read a Mark Cuban linkedIn article about how the tone / tenor of how companies deal with their employees now will have cultural ramifications for years after the current crisis subsides. Especially as LW indicates this person is one of their best and brightest employees – being supportive and understanding now is vital.

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        The employee IS going above and beyond right now as a human being. She’s juggling parenting in a challenging situation (no playgrounds! no other kids!) with being an employee, all with the backdrop of a very stressful society-wide crisis. She’s just not able to go above and beyond solely for work at the moment.

        1. Code Monkey, the SQL*


          Your employee is producing deliverables during a PANDEMIC. A worldwide health crisis, resources, personnel, and the fabric of society all changing in ridiculous ways by the minute, and golly gee, she’s cranking out those TPS reports, but sometimes they come in late and there was child noise on her last conference call.

          Come on LW, think.

      4. That one girl*

        And can we talk about how unreasonable it is to expect continued above and beyond from an employee? It creates pressure to either always or never do that kind of thing.

        1. nerfherder*

          RIGHT? The very phrase implies something special in addition to a regular workload. If you expect “above and beyond” all the time, it means your baseline is way out of proportion.

      5. Remedial Chaos Theory*

        Even with folks who were already working from home and don’t have other people at home to worry about can very easily be less productive right now. There’s a big difference to working from home when that’s the normal state of the day, to working from home alongside your whole company because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Or working from home solo during the day, but getting out to see friends evenings or weekends, and now not having any human contact. Anyone can be struggling as a result.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I know! A friend of mine and I were just talking about this – she has been fully work from home for quite awhile – almost a decade. Before the pandemic she had 2-3 conference calls a week. She now has 9-10, but has to schedule them into her same workload. Not exactly easy to get accustomed to.

        2. Malarkey01*

          This. I’ve been a decade long teleworker, and the current environment is just..different. Everyone is more distracted, our projects are up in the air, it feels a little like the day before a big snowstorm when no one knows quite what will happened but it on edge. I have been less productive even though I am a super WFH person normally.

    3. Mbarr*

      This is what I read in the letter too – that OP is understanding, but frustrated about the more urgent tasks falling by the wayside. So follow this person’s suggestions. :)

      1. Observer*

        Actually, the OP doesn’t sound understanding at all. How does someone think that it even MIGHT be reasonable to expect someone to maintain a “normal” schedule. Especially when normal means “being unusally productive”!

        1. Booklover13*

          OP likely doesn’t have a good frame of reference for what is reasonable to expect. I think we should give some credit to people like OP who realized they are getting frustrated by things and reach out to people like Alison for a sanity check. That’s part of why I like Alison’s response, she’s giving OP the reality check needed without looking down on them for asking.

          1. Observer*

            I agree – The OP is not a monster and it’s good that they asked. I’m simply saying that they are not coming from a place of understanding. I hope that Allison’s response and the rest of the comments help them gain some understanding of the reality.

          2. MsM*

            I mean, I don’t have a kid, but I’m watching my coworker deal with her two year old on Zoom at every morning meeting and feeling nothing but compassion for those who do. If OP doesn’t have visual evidence of just how hard it is trying to entertain and comfort a kid who doesn’t understand why everything is weird right now and they can’t do the things they want to do, then her employee’s doing an even more amazing job of keeping things together than she even comprehends.

          3. Not a cat*

            I think Alison’s response was unkind, aggressive and over-dramatic–“playing to the cheap seats.”

              1. Kilroy was here*

                Anoning, not exactly a mature response to someone who is merely disagreeing with Allison here. Actually, I understand where he’s coming from. Once again, employees with kids are given a pass for generating shoddy work while those of us without families pick up the slack. Her husband is there, but he can’t step in to wrangle the toddler when she’s doing priority work with a deadline?

                1. Observer*

                  Actually, the response was not in any way reasonable – if Not a Cat had bothered to explain what was wrong in their opinion that would have been one thing, but they couldn’t be bothered to do anything but lob an insult.

                  The OP does not indicate that the employee is producing shoddy work. In fact they actually acknowledge that the employee is actually productive. The problem is that the manager doesn’t just want “productive”, they want a “normal schedule” (apparently 9:00- 5:00) which includes “going above and beyond”. That’s insane on it’s own.

                  There is absolutely not the faintest shred of evidence that the employee’s husband is not stepping up to the plate. But WFH with little planning and support is often going to clobber productivity. Under these circumstances, that’s pretty much a given. The presence of a toddler in the mix just makes it worse. It’s just not reasonable or realistic to expect really high levels of productivity from someone in that situation.

                  If a boss can’t cut a stellar employee some slack when they go from “stellar” to “good” in circumstances beyond their control, they don’t deserve to have employees.

                  Waving all of that away by slinging insults or making baseless accusations won’t change any of that.

                2. Kim D.*

                  But you don’t know what the husband is dealing with. Maybe they both have deadlines. And if they are sharing the burden of childrearing that is still 50% of the time the employee can not work (a lot). Also, it’s not as if she can all but ignore her child, in her home, while they are upset. Sure, the husband might take care of the child at that time but it’s still a distraction.

                  Also, no one is giving employees with kids a pass. Being understanding that having a child at home while neither you nor the child is accustomed to that situation nor to the pandemic is not “giving a pass”. It’s being kind. If a childless employee or an employee with older children is also unable to work (as much) they have every right to ask for accommodations as well. We are all in this together and that means helping each other out, not rekindling an age-old debate.

                  Sincerely, someone without children.

                3. Amanda*

                  I mean, yeah. It’s a global health CRISIS. So people with young children, elderly relatives, sick roomates, whatever, are going to do less work. And people like me who don’t have those worries are expected to help and “pick up the slack”. Because that’s what being human is supposed to be, helping each other through a CRISIS.
                  I get what you’re saying, you probably was already frustated before all this began that peolple with kigs got more leeway, and back then I’d agree fully with you. But right now? They’re not slacking off, they don’t have a choice.

                4. Bridget the Elephant*

                  He may very well be working to a tight deadline too. When my 1 year old is at home with us, either I can work or my husband can. We have to prioritise as much as possible, but sometimes both of us have urgent work and it’s down to just doing our best at the time.

        2. Steve*

          Yeah it’s one thing to expect the normal productivity. At least you can make an argument that it’s not the company’s fault, or it’s not fair to the employees without children etc., or the company is relying on their top performers to survive, etc. It’s still an unreasonable expectation but at least it can be rationalized.

          It’s simply unrealistic to expect that employees will be able to keep the same *schedule* during these times. That’s simply not going to be physically possible for many families right now, even those with two parents able to work from home.

          1. Software Engineer*

            I think it’s important that the same grace is extended to everyone, parents and not. When people say they are doing what they can, believe them and work with them to get the most important and urgent things done and adjust

      2. Just no*

        OP is…not understanding. I think most working parents, myself included, would have a very difficult time seeing how OP’s letter could possibly be construed as “understanding.”

    4. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

      Totally agree! As humans and in the absence of clear guidance regarding priorities, we will focus on either the easiest task or the one we are best at completing. If those are X & Y, but Z is what the employer / manager truly needs more, then that needs to be stated clearly!

    5. Observer*

      Yes, this was my first thought – Tell her what are the most time sensitive things and make it clear that she should prioritize those.

      Not “Get everything done just do these first” but “These are the things I need done. The rest you can get to if you have a chance to.”

      1. Willis*

        Yes, OP needs to be clear about prioritizing. And it can’t be like “here are 10 things to do, 9 are priorities.” Really pare it down…what would you most like Jane to do if you had 4 hours of her time? And realize that that is not likely to be 4 uninterrupted hours at the time of your choosing. It’s going to happen throughout the day, possibly outside of normal business hours.

        Also if there are things that need to be turned around quickly when Jane might not be in front of her computer, give them to someone else, do them yourself, or run interference with clients/management/whoever about longer turnaround.

        1. pamplemousse*

          I’d lower expectations even more than that. If she can get ONE thing done for you every day, what should she do? It sounds like the manager doesn’t have a great sense right now of Jane’s bandwidth and what’s reasonable to expect.

    6. Miss Muffet*

      Totally! A good manager is able to have this as a conversation. “I know things are tricky. Here’s what I see as a priority, what are your thoughts for how it can be accomplished? Is this deadline still reasonable? Are there other resources or things I’m not thinking of that can assist you?” maybe she just needs more flexibility with when she’s online. Maybe you need to step in and get your hands dirty helping get the project done if you don’t have the same challenges. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat here, my friend. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And humanity.

    7. Ralph Wiggum*

      My reading was that the employee was not responding to high-priority tasks as they arise, since she is busy addressing something with her toddler at the time.

      I just spent the last thirty minutes getting my toddler down for nap. That’s just what it takes, and trying to put it off is asking for a lot more trouble later.

      I get the sense that the OP doesn’t quite comprehend how time-sensitive addressing a child’s needs is. Honestly, I don’t think anyone totally gets it until they have to experience it themself.

      1. Zanele Ngwenya*

        I agree- I get the sense they must not know what toddlers demand (literally, while shoving their face into yours so you can’t even physically look at your computer). My toddler is napping and I’m doing a mandatory online training right now, which is allowing me the few minutes to read AAM. Your comment made me feel the solidarity. Big hugs from one parent to another!

        1. PurpleMonster*

          Mine jumped on my lap and shouted in my face, ‘MUMMY! I’M HERE!!!’

          We get childcare for a reason.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes to this! Make sure you guys are on the same page about priorities. If she’s doing things that can wait over things that can’t, let her know. If you just want to say that *all* of it can’t wait, then you’re really going to have to adjust those expectations.

    9. Beth*

      Yes, this! OP, as a manager, you need to recognize that most or all of your team members are going to be less productive than usual in these times. Some, like this employee, are caring for children; others don’t have a good space or setup to work from home and are struggling with small screen space, a loud environment, a lack of desk space to set up a semipermanent workspace, and other logistical problems; others need to interrupt their normal hours to do errands like going to the grocery store off-peak-hours or delivering food and other necessities to a quarantined or isolated friend; others are or will be sick for an extended period; others are simply highly stressed and anxious and understandably struggling to focus under these circumstances. These are weird, intense times, and even the best, most productive workers doing the most work-from-home friendly jobs are fighting an uphill battle right now when it comes to productivity.

      Even beyond this single employee, you should be seriously reevaluating priorities. Look at the work on your team members’ plates and mark it out into piles: what absolutely has to happen now or there will be serious business consequences for your team, what can be delayed slightly but not dropped completely, and what can be put off for a couple weeks or months without a serious business impact. Then adjust based on those buckets. Make sure your team members know what’s genuinely essential and that these are the tasks you expect them to handle first. Make sure that no one is overloaded on the high-priority tasks compared to others. Adjust deadlines on mid-level things to reflect when they actually genuinely need to get done by, and explicitly tell your team to drop nonessential tasks for the meantime. This is not a time for going above and beyond; this is a time for bare minimum, so make it clear what that bare minimum is and be clear with yourself and your team that you don’t expect or ask for more than that under these circumstances.

      If an employee’s circumstances are creating a particular problem–for example, this employee is having particular trouble with time-sensitive tasks given the disruption and unpredictability of working with a toddler–work with them to get their needs met. Maybe someone else can do that client phone call that has to happen at a scheduled time, and in exchange Jane can take over managing a report that needs to be run but can happen at whatever time of day she can manage (adjust exact tasks to your business, of course, this is just an example!). If someone else needs to adjust their usual hours to allow them to deliver groceries to a quarantined friend’s porch, unless it will cause unfixable problems (not just “our policy doesn’t allow that,” but an actual business impact), let them do that.

      We’re all humans in strange, unprecedented circumstances right now. Let’s be gentle with each other and do our best to offer whatever care we can. As a manager, the best way for you to do that is to lower workloads where possible, be as flexible as possible, and not expect your team to be ‘normal’ in any meaningful way. You can reassert norms (where they make sense–I think we’ll be reevaluating a lot of “that’s just how it is” work norms in the wake of this) when the world starts to return to normal.

  2. Shramps*

    Toddler legit scare me with the amount of attention they need and energy they have. Toddlerhood seems like one of the busiest stages of young development- please OP, give her as much grace as possible.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, this. I have repeatedly said how thankful I am that my twins are early elementary age right now and not toddlers. We still need to modify our schedules to care for them and manage schoolwork and such, but it’s still basically possible to get our work done if we manage things right. With younger kids it wouldn’t be.

      1. Ex-Teacher's Wife*

        my twins are toddlers right now and if my parents weren’t close enough and free to watch them, I don’t know how I’d get anything done. Please give your employee a break! Toddlers are hard!!

    2. Toddlermom*

      It absolutely is. I think toddlers are harder than newborns and has been the most challenging phase of parenting yet. I have 9, 5 and 2 year old. So I am creeping up on pre-teen/teen years. I’ll let you know if I change my mind after the oldest becomes a teen. LOL

      1. TiredMama*

        I was thinking how much easier this is for my toddlers than it would be if they were teenagers and had their world rocked by this thing.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, emotionally, toddlers are easier. In terms of the immediate time and attention, though? No contest – it’s toddlers.

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, I have an 18-year-old high school student at home, and he’s not really taking up my time. (I’m retired, my husband is working from home, but neither of us has to spend any time on our son’s online classes.)

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Yes – I have been grateful that my one year old isn’t going to remember this thing. He’s still not quite old enough that the disappearance of other kids is going to register either. Super hard to work and keep him entertained at the same time, but I feel like development wise i’m very glad he’s not older.

          1. Mama3*

            I’m a single mom with a 3 year old. I’m trying not to resent the days when she needs more cuddles and attention. And the killer is that I really, really want the distraction that work brings. But working into the night just defeats me. Luckily I’m not getting a ton of pressure from my job – it’s more self-inflicted guilt.

        3. Media Monkey*

          my almost 12 year old’s anxiety is off the charts at the moment. she is missing all her friends, she is sad not getting out and about and losing almost all the independence she has gained in the past 6 months (in the UK, 11/12 is when they move up to the next school where they tend to be much more independent). At the same time as having it taken away she is expected to be more self-directed in learning than would usually be expected of a child her age. it’s tough for everyone.

      2. Lizy*


        preteens are a pain, and teens are a pain (I have a 14-YO, 7-YO and 2-YO), but toddlers are the worst (and the best because they’re still cute and can’t COMPLETELY talk back yet lol)

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Mine are 22 and 15 (boys). Teen years are hands down the hardest. Toddlers don’t drive. They can’t use substances. They don’t date and aren’t hormonal. My kids are pretty good kids and I could have a lot worse issues from what I have seen, but at 15-16, it’s like they are the dumbest, least happy people on the planet. You get such a spectrum of drama from, “I can’t believe we don’t have any gatorade” and “I got 1/10 on my quiz” to “I rolled my car”.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          “… but at 15-16, it’s like they are the dumbest, least happy people on the planet…”


          It started settling down about 21 IIRC. If he was still alive he’d be turning 33 in June.

          Obviously I wish he was still with me, but I’d love to have been able to watch the changes through his 20s.

        2. Disco Janet*

          This completely depends on the kid and the parent. I teach high school because that’s the age group I love working with – drama and serious scary issues and all. I have a wayyyy harder time with my five year old’s dramatics than my teen’s.

          1. Quill*

            My mom teaches preteens because her sweet spot is “can wipe own butt and possibly be trusted to light a candle, still believes in cooties.”

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Mine are in their 20s so I’ve seen every stage of childhood/young adulthood. I’ll take ANY of them over the infant/toddler stage any day. Getting through their teen years was nothing compared to when they were 3yo and a newborn. Nothing.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Must depend on the kids. My kids were such nice babies and toddlers, but as teens, their drive to commit dumbassery really developed. This is a trait from their father. If they had been straight-A nerds like me, I think the teen years would be lovely. My 15 year old had a really rough run over the last 6 months. My older one outgrew it, I think. (Which would be great, because my husband didn’t outgrow it until he was 35.)

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I had one of each. A straight-A nerd and a “I plead the fifth”. It got scary sometimes with the second. My point was not that my kids were easy teenagers, more that their infant/toddler years were ridiculously hard. Their dad wasn’t much help and the kids were both (unbeknownst to us) ND. Oldest on the spectrum and the younger had ADHD. It was wild. I don’t remember much of the first year after the youngest was born. I have been physically unable to cry since that year, so it must’ve been pretty bad.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              That does sound like rough times with your young ones. My youngest has ADHD, but he was a super-relaxed infant (once we figured out his lactose intolerance). You could stick my oldest in any situation as a baby and he would do well. I also had more emotional support from my extended family. My mom was helpful then, but now they are judgmental because they raised two perfect girls.

              Not that it was possible to get things done, I just didn’t have as much child-rearing stress. I went to college when my oldest was a baby, and I remember trying to type with a 12 month old. Ugh. Definitely easier to WFH with teens than toddlers.

            2. Kitrona*

              My oldest was super easy and my younger has ADHD. I also have ADHD, but wasn’t being treated for it, so that was just… so hard. He’s so much fun now that he’s older (12) and we’re both getting treatment, although he can still be a little intense sometimes. But on the other hand, he’s so *funny* and joyful!

      5. Miss Muffet*

        I’ve got 16, 14, and 11 here. Everything isn’t easier, but parenting and distance learning (while both parents are working) during the pandemic sure as hell is! I’m glad every day that mine are all older and can take care of themselves.

        1. Jay*

          I have a 20-year-old. I LOVED having a teen. Loved it. Would take ten more teenagers over one more toddler – and she was a pretty easy toddler as toddlers go.

          We’ve all got different skills, risks tolerance, and preferences. Parents of littles: don’t despair! You, too, may love the teen years. Teenagers are awesome.

          And yeah, I can work full-time from home at my usual level of productivity because my kid is self-sufficient, and my husband is retired. I could not have done anything close to this when she was a toddler or preschooler and he was also working full-time.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Agreed. At 11 a NT child is able to be in the home while you’re working; younger than that I’ve always had to have childcare in place, or work while they sleep, which is hell.

          Also agree with everyone else that toddlerdom is the peak for intensity of care needs. If you take your eye off them for thirty seconds, you’ll be (at best) replacing or vainly scrubbing something expensive, or (at worst) racing to the ER. Once they know their way round Netflix, you finally get to pee in peace.

          1. KaciHall*

            I definitely sped up teaching my kids which buttons to press on the remote while he’s gone with me while I’m working. He’s four, and I worry he’s getting too much screen time, but honestly, he generally comes out ready to play outside and babbling about whatever he learned that day. (Seriously, not sure how a tv show got my four year old to understand what tertiary colors means AND to be able to pronounce it, but I’m impressed.) Even watching Wonder Pets yesterday drove him to want to use teamwork to clean his room. (I hate that show. So very, very much. Have since I was babysitting my brothers almost twenty years ago. It’s not any less annoying as an adult. And the kids still love it.)

            1. Kitrona*

              Wonder Pets is, to me, worlds better than Caillou. I also liked Pingu, though, and Backyardigans and the one with the animals in the submarine… they were cute. (Of course, I say this having not watched any of them in years, so it’s entirely possible nostalgia is coloring my recollections!)

      6. Third or Nothing!*

        Haha, I MUCH prefer this age than when my daughter was an infant. But she’s high needs and screamed non-stop for months on end. NON. STOP. (Turns out she got injured during her traumatic birth and was in constant pain but that’s a story for another time.) She’s still high needs at 2.5 but holy crap it’s so much easier now.

    3. Alton*

      Very true. And they don’t have the same level of comprehension and emotional regulation that older children have, so it’s hard to just tell them “Not right now” and expect them to understand that. Not to mention they need more supervision than older children do for safety reasons.

    4. The Original K.*

      I love toddlers. I think they’re hilarious. They are also exhausting and need constant supervision. It’s the classic “I turned my back for one second and …” stage.

      1. CM*

        Can I tell my favorite “I turned my back for one second” story?

        Kid had just turned 3, still in diapers but resisting naptime. I persuaded him to take a nap by agreeing to lie down with him. I passed out immediately. When I woke up about 15 minutes later he was gone. Found him in the kitchen, where he had scribbled all over the floor and all over himself with a black Sharpie — on his face, his hands, palms, arms, legs, stomach, the bottoms of his feet. Shocked, I said, “You drew all over yourself!” and he replied, “I didn’t draw on my butt!”

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        (Tales from the Home Country) Then-husband stayed home with the 2.5-year-old while I was in the hospital giving birth to his brother. On their first night on their own, then-husband left the apartment for a few minutes to walk up one flight of stairs to the garbage chute and to dump the garbage into it. In that time, the 2.5-yo locked him out of the apartment. Mind you, it wasn’t an automatic lock, there wasn’t a handle to turn etc. There was a literal key in the lock that you had to turn the right way. The lock was quite tricky and even I was having trouble getting it to work when I’d first moved into that apartment. But for our son, it worked right the first time. Dad (who had not expected Son to figure out the lock so quickly at such a young age) then somehow talked the toddler through the process of turning the key the other way and unlocking the door (which again was tricky with that door). This kid is now 27 and I am convinced that there is nothing he can’t do with his hands: does his own car maintenance, home repairs, built a desk once because “I was bored” etc.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I do not have kids, but one of my best friends from college has a 4 year old and an almost-1-year-old. She is an HR rep, her husband is a teacher, they are both trying to work from home and keep the 4 year old from killing her little brother (by accident, of course – she thinks he’s her doll or something) and it is a CHORE. I wish so much I could visit and wrangle the kids for a day or two, but obviously that’s just not gonna happen.

    6. Tuckerman*

      I started keeping my 14 month old home last week. I don’t think a lot of people understand that parenting a toddler=actively working to keep them alive. It’s not even noon and I’ve pulled a dozen things out of my daughter’s mouth and kept her from falling off the couch and grabbing the dog several times.
      I try to get work done while she sleeps, but sometimes I need a nap, too. Or to do laundry, cleaning, cooking. Fortunately, my work has been super supportive.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        This. It’s not like, “Oh I want to play with the baby!” Kiddo will die. Quite literally die. Anybody who doesn’t understand that needs to go take their Species Certification test again. You might not be from this planet. Or, you might be a zebra or a frog. Same rules don’t apply. But humans? Yeah.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I was talking to a rep from the auto loan company yesterday.

          I could pretty much tell she was WFH by background noises but I didn’t say anything.

          Then I heard a very insistent “mommy mommy mommy mommy mommy….” so I asked her if she was WFH.

          She started apologizing profusely and I was like “don’t even worry about it. We’re all doing what we can. Take care of the kid. I’ll hold.”

          Seriously OP needs to chill.

      2. Lucy*

        I think people really do forget even if they’ve had kids. Yes there are challenges at other ages, but you do not need to have constant eyes on your child. I really like the toddler phase, and find it much easier than the newborn phase, but it’s constant & all consuming.

        1. glitter writer*

          I managed to forget between my first child (recently turned six) and my second (still under age two). Also the second child discovered climbing almost as soon as he discovered walking, which my first did not, which has made his toddlerhood significantly more challenging.

      3. Luna*

        I empathize with you!! I have one just under 2 and my job involves quite a bit of Zoom meetings and client appointments. Each call/video appointment starts a “You may hear a random, high-pitched voice in the background or me saying something that doesn’t relate to the conversation at all. I apologize in advance”. Toddler is at the stage of climbing everything, dumping all of the food, trying to plug in the vacuum cleaner, etc. Keeping them alive is the priority. Naptime is golden and sacred, but it always goes by so quickly…
        I am also grateful to have a supportive workplace but there is a lot of internal guilt for all of the screentime and the example I’m setting of (almost) always being attached to some type of device.

        1. Quill*

          My mom always says “I wanted three of you but you two didn’t sleep for the first three years of your lives and I was NOT rolling the dice again.”

          She taught me to read at three (when my brother was born) in self defense, because if I was reading out loud to myself she could track me by ear while trying to keep my brother from spitting up the entire universe.

    7. Third or Nothing!*

      I personally find my daughter much easier to handle now at 2.5 than she was as an infant. She was such an unhappy baby. She’s still feisty and has lots of energy but she’s so independent now. She’ll even go into another room without me! And get her own snacks! And play in the backyard alone!! Bliss. Oh and the snuggles are way better cause they’re no longer my desperate attempt to get a screaming baby to stop screaming.

      Working from home with her is another matter entirely, though. I get pockets of time where I can concentrate when she’s engaged in independent play or crafting or napping or whatever, but I also have to take frequent breaks to help set up an activity, give her snuggles, discipline her, help clean up messes, etc. This is so much harder than working in my cubicle with the constant distractions of meetings and coworkers asking me questions and all the social interactions and noise.

    8. LunaMei*

      I have a 5 year old and a 1.5 year old at home with me. At least the 5 year old has an attention span…she can watch videos, do crafts, get some simple food things herself, SHE’S TOILET TRAINED!! (a big one), but the 1.5 year old? I can’t contain her. She’s everywhere and into everything. She’s at least more capable than she was before she started walking, but she doesn’t talk fully, she’s in diapers, and she definitely can’t be trusted to do crafts on her own. Thankfully she and her sister like to play together, so they’ve been playing a lot in their room.

    9. nerfherder*

      My kids are teens, thankfully. But if they were toddlers during this pandemic, I think there’s about a 75% chance I’d have quit my job by now.

    10. MeepMeep*

      Yeah, I’m so glad that mine is not a toddler anymore at this time. Now we can just do some regular homeschooling and playtime and whatever. I’d go full-on bonkers trying to get anything done with a toddler.

      Also, LW (and Alison), keep in mind that the toddler is a person, and probably a somewhat scared person going through a trauma. They need their parents now more than ever before, to help them get through this trauma. Forcing an employee to neglect their child’s needs during a traumatic event is not a nice thing to do.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      Toddlers are mobile and active with the impulse control of a puppy on speed. They were both fun and exhausting years – the only time my spouse and I nearly got a divorce from being exhausted and feeling underappreciated by the other. Walking is only adorable until you realize you now have to childproof another 1-2 feet up.

    12. JelloStapler*

      It legitimately is, and plus they are often akin to an inebriated college student in terms of coordination and common sense, thus the need for more supervision. My kids are older (6 and 9) and I could not imagine trying to do this when they were little.

    13. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      We have a toddler and 3 parents working here, one essential but evening worker and 2 wfh. And it takes passing him between the three of us to keep up with his energy. Toddlers are hard even if you really outnumber them!!

  3. humans are weird*

    If these time-sensitive tasks are also detail-oriented or otherwise demand focus… there’s a toddler around! She may be hoping to find a time to be able to focus properly on these, but those times aren’t going to happen when the toddler is awake. And many people just do not have the capacity right now to work early in the morning or late at night when the kids are asleep.

  4. The Original K.*

    There’s a reason employers with remote employees often stipulate that remote work is not allowed to serve as a substitute for child care. It’s because it can’t.

    Folks with kids and jobs are really being asked to do the impossible right now. Folks with school-aged kids now need to home-school them on top of everything else. I have a friend with 3 kids who are 5 and under and she says things are “chaos.” She and her husband work in shifts. Hell – those of us who DON’T have kids aren’t producing the same way we were because we are all living through trauma right now.

    You just really need to cut your employee some slack. That’s it. There’s nothing else to be done.

    1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      I have a friend with ONE toddler and he’s finding it challenging. He does the morning “shift” with his kid, while his wife works. There’s nap time (amen!) and then he works while the wife takes over the toddler, supper and bedtime. They are both very stressed but are determined to make the best of it.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        My daughter is working from home with a 10 and 12 yr old and they are self-sufficient enough to let her work. She has co-workers with kids under 5 and it’s chaotic trying to get work done. So she is picking up extra work when the toddler times hits because she has more flexible time for sudden deadlines that can’t be missed because someone is having a bad day.
        What might work is designated one person to be a “floater” for when someone has a deadline looming and needs help for a few hours or days.

        1. Lizy*

          good for you for raising your daughter to help out like that during times like this. As I’m sure she (and you) know, moms need to know they’re not alone and sometimes someone else saying “hey – I got this” is a GODSEND.

          So thank you, and thanks to her.

          1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

            She remembers vividly her son’s toddler days. I would visit and be exhausted after one hour with him. They never, ever stop. Like a shark, they just keep moving and moving.

        2. Moving Anonymously*

          Thank you for this. I have three kids 4 and under at home and my husband has more meetings with administrators than I do. Because of this, it’s not feasible for me to keep a regular schedule, which is difficult.

      2. DW*

        My supervisor this morning did our weekly group video-chat with his toddler on his lap. He managed to keep his kid in daycare until the beginning of last week, and last week was rough for him, but it looks like he and his wife have figured out a schedule. The only guaranteed time we can reach him is still during naptime though.

    2. TimeCat*

      Yeah I would never do this under normal circumstances but this is not normal. I am getting my work done, though.

    3. DAMitsDevon*

      Yes, I don’t have to take care of a child, but I think we have to realize that the trauma is affecting all of us in some way, with a lot of us being less productive because of it. I had already been working remotely since the end of January while recovering from open heart surgery and I was more productive then than I am now.

      1. yala*

        Very much this.

        I was already not in a great place re: depression/anxiety (I was SUPPOSED to have a doctor’s appointment and some labwork done to try and get on a better medication but…yeah, not happening right now), and I was all raring to go WFH. But now I find that I’m just EXHAUSTED all the time. I don’t have a toddler (thank God. The people caring for children in the midst of all this are superheroes as far as I’m concerned), but just…everything is bad, and my stress response is to try and be unconscious until it’s over.

        My concentration is completely shot. And then I stress that I’ll be in trouble for not being productive enough. …

    4. Liz*

      Yes. While I don’t doubt its MUCH harder with kids, I don’t have any, and i’m finding it hard to work from home, going on my 4th week, and still stay focused and be productive. I generally hate working from home anyway, so having to do it with no end in sight isn’t easy. But i’m trying. I think my bosses get that none of us are going to be as productive as if we were in the office etc.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        I’ve worked from home for years (no kids), I love doing it (you’d have to offer me something extremely good to make me take an office job again), and I can honestly say I’d never found it this hard to concentrate and be productive. The circumstances are just not the same — not socially, not emotionally, not mentally.

  5. Phony Genius*

    This raises an interesting question. Does this make it OK to put more burden on employees working from home who are childless and/or live alone? If not, how do we avoid this?

    1. ElizabethJane*

      I don’t think employers need to put more burden on childless employees, I think they just need to be flexible all around. A report that would have been done at “end of day” in Normal Times is now done at 10:00 at night. And that’s probably fine. Let’s be honest, if I’m sending it at 5:30 most people aren’t looking at it til the next day anyway. So sending it at 10 after my child has gone to bed is fine. There’s not need to ask a childless employee to just take on more to get it done during work hours.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I agree. I have childcare right now, but honestly, the biggest issue for me would be all the additional conference calls/zoom meetings that are being scheduled right now. I would be able to work when my kid sleeps. And I can’t guarantee that he will nap when a call is scheduled.

        1. Anja*

          I had a Google Meet meeting with an internal team the other day where the project engineer had her kid (somewhere between one and two as she’s was back from mat leave but not super long) in her lap. She apologized briefly up front – her husband had a meeting at the same time and his was a presentation to external clients while ours was internal – and then we all just ignored it. Like if someone was losing their voice or if there was construction noise in the background. Sometimes we just have to realize when things are out of the control of the other person on the call.

          The kid was on and off her lap, occasionally making noise (she muted if not actively speaking). And it was fine.

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I had a meeting today with my one year old on my lap babbling half the time. It was that or he cried in the background, and I couldn’t mute my phone because I was talking. Everyone just pretended like they couldn’t hear it. It’s hard, but there are no other options right now.

      2. AVP*

        Yes, but that assumes that the clients and regulators and all the other people we can’t control are also being flexible, and that might not be the case, or fixable by anyone in the management chain.

        In those cases, someone somewhere is going to have to pick up the slack, or companies should consider what they can bring on temps for assuming they can finance that (there are certainly plenty of people available, although every business owner I know is terrified of increasing overhead right now).

        1. AVP*

          I don’t mean to say here that by default this should all be picked up by childless folks who may have just as much on their plate with family and their own health and obligations! Just that there’s some magical thinking going on in this thread about obligations and flexibility.

          1. Oof*

            I think I can say that – well, if you are someone who does not have that much on their plate, then yes, please pick it up. I’m also doing that in non-work things to help my community. I don’t think of it as extra or or as a balancing thing – I can, so I will. Heck, I’d help out a bunch of these AAM commentators if I could!

            1. AVP*

              That’s true! And there are certainly some projects that are taking a backburner because of the virus, so some help is around!

        2. ElizabethJane*

          I work for a government contractor. Our state government is basically the definition of “not flexible” and really my company has stepped up and said that’s for the leadership to work out. I have my workload which means some things get done late at night and some things get done early in the morning and some things don’t get done at all. And my childless coworkers have similar work loads. The only rearranging of things is that the stuff that must be done by a specific time (say a bank transfer that needs to be done before 2 PM) are handled by the childless coworkers but then I pick up one of their less time sensitive reports so the overall workload remains evenly distributed.

          And if our state pushes back on that our VPs handle them, because they are paid much higher salaries than the workers.

          I know not all companies are good about this, but this is how a good company should do it.

        3. The Other Dawn*

          “Yes, but that assumes that the clients and regulators and all the other people we can’t control are also being flexible, and that might not be the case, or fixable by anyone in the management chain.”

          I agree. OP doesn’t say what industry they’re in, so there’s no way to know how much flexibility there is for putting things on the back burner. I’m in a heavily regulated industry–banking–and there are many regulatory deadlines and requirements to be met. We can’t just not do certain things. *Someone* has to do them. So if my team member with young kids can’t get a filing done by the required deadline, which could be today, tomorrow, or a week from now, that means someone else must do it and she gets the easier things that aren’t a regulatory requirement. Or she does the filing and other less time-sensitive things get passed to someone else, whether that’s me as the manager or another team member.

          While OP’s question–“Is it reasonable to expect an employee to find a way to work her normal schedule even while she is telecommuting?”–was answered, there’s absolutely nothing advising what the OP can actually expect, do, say, etc. Obviously the employee shouldn’t be expected to keep up the same level of productivity or the same schedule, especially if she doesn’t have childcare (it doesn’t say whether the husband is working from home or was laid off and not working at all), but I don’t think the answer is that she shouldn’t be expected to do anything at all and OP should just let everything slide completely. There needs to be a middle ground, which means OP figuring out what is truly high priority and absolutely needs to be done; what should get done but maybe not by X date/time; and what can wait until after this crisis is over. OP then needs to talk to the employee to determine what she can realistically get done by when and what should be passed off to someone else or just not done right now. OP also should ask how she can support the employee.

      3. Liz*

        Agreed. just like when in the office, its not fair to make us childless employees stay later, come in on weekends etc. and not those with kids, just because we ARE childless. I think its difficult for everyone, although much more so for those who have kids, esp the younger ones who need more attention.

      4. willow for now*

        My sleep schedule right now is … not close to a schedule. It happens when it happens. I may get my boss that document at 2 am Monday, or 10 pm Friday, or at whatever time I happen to be awake. It’s killing me – not the sleep, just the stress of still having deliverables.

    2. SJ*

      I’m a childless/living alone employee and I can tell there’s some expectation that I’ll pick up more… but this situation is massively exacerbating my mental health issues and I’m struggling. (I’m doing telesessions with my doctor and will be okay.) This has led to some very awkward conversations with my boss, and my having to disclose more than I wanted to. But it’s very much a real issue and needs to be handled with care.

      1. covid sucks*

        Ha I just posted an almost identical comment below. I fear it will come to this for me as well – disclosing more than I necessarily want to. Best of luck to you.

      2. Bree*

        Yep – I’m childless and freshly single, and being completely alone has its own challenges, especially in intersection with other physical and mental health stuff. I’m helping my colleagues who have kids as much as I can, but it’s not necessarily a good idea to just shift all of that burden over.

        1. Mona Lisa Vito*

          I’m in the same situation – it’s really tough. And my CEO has kind of framed things as “keep up the same volume of work or we’ll have to look into pay cuts/layoffs.” I certainly don’t envy those trying to work AND care for a toddler at the same time, but assuming that childless people are able to pick up all of the slack feels really harsh.

          1. Senor Montoya*

            Your CEO is a freakin glassbowl. Keep it in mind when the pandemic is over and (hopefully) the economy picks up. When you leave for a new job, be sure to explain exactly why in your exit interview.

            1. Mona Lisa Vito*

              Yeah, I actually told my boss that people are going to remember this when things go back to normal…

              1. only acting normal*

                Yup. My company is not without its problems, but it is buying VAST amounts of good will with its humane and sensible handling of employees during this crisis.

              2. Iron Chef Boyardee*

                “I actually told my boss that people are going to remember this when things go back to normal”

                What was your boss’ reaction?

                1. Mona Lisa Vito*

                  Pretty much just, “I know.” We’re HR and it’s difficult to have all the recommendations we’re providing to management just go ignored.

          2. Observer*

            Your CEO is being an idiot. Smart companies are figuring out what they can cut without making threats because that puts them in a better position to rebound when all of this is over.

            You don’t need me to tell you that he’s a jerk, of course…

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          It also puts us in danger of accidentally taking on too much – which is what I’ve managed to do to myself over the last few weeks. The thing I had to drop? Participating in a subgroup intended to find ways to make sure everyone’s workload stayed manageable. Whoops.

      3. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Same, Same, Same!! I was already a remote employee before this crisis. I have a great home office setup and am generally highly productive at working from home. I also don’t have kids yet, so I’m theoretically distraction-free and my situation hasn’t substantially changes since before this pandemic. And yet my anxiety is through the roof and my productivity is at an all-time low. I can’t focus for more than a few minutes at a time, and I’m seriously spiraling. I also have a great therapist I see remotely–I’m not in crisis any more than your average person dealing with a traumatic global event. In fact, I’m far less in crisis than most (and SO grateful for that). But there’s no way that it’s possible for me to be as productive as I usually am right now. And employers need to understand that. This isn’t a normal situation for any of us, even those whose lives it hasn’t impacted as dramatically.

        1. Sally*

          Thank you, Anonymousaurus Rex. Me too. To all of what you said. My role is to help our colleagues work remotely, so I have been MORE busy than I would have been if we didn’t all have to work from home. It’s hard to keep up with my work without greatly increasing my anxiety. I already take medication and see a great therapist. There’s only so much that can be done to mitigate the effects of this very stressful time. I’m feeling guilty about not being more productive, so I think I will talk to my manager about it. She has been helpful in the past when I was sure my work was lacking, and she thought it was excellent. We also might have to have layoffs at some point, so.

          1. Sally*

            And unfortunately, I got laid off the day after I wrote this. Crap. I really loved this job, so it makes me really sad. I hope I can find someplace with a culture like my soon-to-be-former employer. And where I can make the same salary. Off to update my resume…

            P.S. It’s really helpful in times like this to have AAM and the AAM community.

      4. Lunchy*

        Thank you for this. Going from a bright, sunlit office to a basement with about half as much light in my house has really messed up my productivity, splitting it in half. My employer is offering ZERO flexibility on quota, and I’m immensely afraid of losing my job. Some essential employees still work in the office, so I went back for a day, but got a real scolding from my boss when she found out (I was foolish enough to email her and ask if she needed anything).

        I hate working from home. I need the “office” atmosphere, and I’m not getting it here.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Have you looked into buying a sunlight therapy lamp? I have three, and I swear they’ve saved my life in the winter months. Mine are from Circadian Optics and I bought them off Amazon for $49.99.

      5. Tau*

        I feel you. I’ve spent basically all my life since I moved out of home from eighteen trying to figure out how to keep my life from crashing and burning on me due to giant terrifying executive function problems. The last few years had actually been going really well, and a key part of that was the external structure imposed by work combined with the strict separation between work and my private life and the regular interaction with colleagues.

        Ha. Ha. Bloody ha.

        I immediately moved back in with my parents when I realised which way the wind was blowing, which is probably the only reason this hasn’t spiralled into disaster yet, but I know I’m less productive than I was in the office and that that’s probably going to get worse if anything. Reeaally hope I don’t have to disclose anything to my boss, but it’s a possibility. And yeah, I am sorry to the parents in my team but there’s just no way I can take on part of anyone else’s workload right now.

      6. Quill*

        Same. In office I’m kind of a rockstar because my job involves beating excel up and essentially devoting more time than the rest of the team to troubleshooting. Working from home once or twice a month just meant that I futzed with schedules so I had bigger blocks of time to, say, make intricate spreadsheet templates when I was home.

        Now there’s too much trouble to shoot and also there is a FOOL who wants a HOUSE TOUR in the middle of a PANDEMIC because I am currently living in a house my parents are trying to sell.

    3. Important Moi*

      I worked for someone who stated they did not know that single, non-parent people have familial and friend obligations (or any obligations) outside work because they are single and non-parent.

      1. librarian*

        I once had a patron express surprise that I declined their invitation to spend Christmas morning at their home because I had plans with my own family. Yes indeed, even having not birthed a family I was birthed into one. Hard for them to comprehend.

        1. The Original K.*

          I say “Did you think I emerged fully formed from Zeus’s head?” when people express surprise that I have a family. I also refer to my “family of origin.”

      2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I’m still working (essential) and I live alone. But today I got a call from a family member that requires me to go out and do errands for them. We’re in lockdown here and it’s necessary, the only good thing is that it can be done while on my way to work. So before I go I will call my elderly neighbours to see if they need anything so I can combine my outings. Single doesn’t mean alone.

        1. Liz*

          yes. my elderly mom is close to me, and normally has grocery delivery. BUT she can’t get it due to the high demand, and some have even suspended it, so Iv’e been going every couple of weeks for her, bringing it to her, at a safe distance, and leaving it.

          and even though her local store has resumed delivery, i’m still going to shop for her since i feel more comfortable doing that. Where she lives staff is shopping for the independent living residents, like her, but snice she has me, i told her i’d continue to shop for her and leave the staff for those who don’t have anyone to shop for them. So yeah, we have obligations too.

      3. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        I had a manager who was understanding about needing to take time for one’s kids but very bad about grasping that one might need to take time to help out a parent with physical/mental problems. I found out later that this manager had all kinds of issues with her own mother, which probably led to this attitude.

        1. Liz*

          Oh wow. that wouldn’t sit well with me at all. nope. since I have a parent with some physical limitations.

    4. Jem One*

      I think businesses and managers need to accept that some stuff will just not get done (at least not on the normal timeline) and work out what the business priorities are. Some people without kids may be happy to take on more work to pick up the slack, but a lot may also have other commitments (elderly relatives that they’re still caring for, volunteering with local medial services etc.) that it shouldn’t be expected. As Alison says, these are exceptional times. Any business or manager expecting normal productivity on an individual or collective level is sticking their head in the sand and failing their employees.

      1. Girliusmaximus*

        Agree wholeheartedly. The LW would like the employee to better manage her situation when it would make more sense for the LW to manager their expectations and priorities.

      2. Lisa*

        I don’t think one needs to have an “excuse” to not do extra work they aren’t being paid for. Yes, in general I have no issue picking up some slack for someone going through a temporary rough patch. But if temporary turns into semi-permanent, and the person whose work I’m covering is paid a good deal more than me, eventually there’s going to be a problem. And actually most parents literally did choose to reproduce (despite the horrific damage the overpopulated human race is doing to the planet). If you want other people to do your work for you, better be prepared to put your money where your mouth is.

    5. covid sucks*

      I’ve really been struggling with this. I am the only person on my 5 person team without children, and I live alone, with no other significant responsibilities (I’m also the youngest/most junior on the team). I’m trying to do the best I can, but the pandemic has brought up some unexpected mental health issues that are making things difficult for me. I was already being treated for depression/anxiety, but it’s halted a lot of progress…. I feel a lot of guilt and shame about not doing more given my “easy” situation compared to others.

      1. Important Moi*

        What does not having significant responsibilities mean? I am assuming you must have expenses associated with living and transportation expenses among other things. Those are significant. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that having children and living with other people are significant and other situations are not. You should have no guilt for this. I hope you are able to continue treatment soon.

        1. Fsociety*

          Society pushes those of us who are childfree to feel like we are “less” and not as “worthy” as parents, day in, day out. Not surprising that leads to guilt, especially for women as we are viewed by the patriarchy as nothing but walking wombs.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I also don’t have kids (yet), and my husband is currently away working on the fight against the pandemic, so I’m alone in the house. This doesn’t mean I don’t have responsibilities. I have responsibilities to keep myself from getting sick, to keep myself from getting others sick, to feed myself, to get exercise, to work, to keep my house clean, etc. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but I also don’t have anyone else to help out with this stuff! I don’t have chronic mental health issues, but even without those, the stress and situational anxiety can definitely get to me, as can the loneliness. We’re ALL struggling right now. Please don’t feel guilty.

        1. Quill*

          Taking care of *me* is a full time job that I can balance with work during normal times. This is why I don’t have any pets right now, though I desperately want a dog.

      3. Mayati*

        Your situation isn’t easy! You have disabilities others may not, and they’re exacerbated by this situation. I know when I’ve had anxiety and depression flareups, I’ve felt like my mental health concerns didn’t really “count” as legitimate obstacles compared to other people’s struggles, but that’s just the nature of anxiety and depression — they are liars. When you’re in a better mental place, one day, you’ll look back and go, “wow, I was unduly harsh on myself, and I did really well considering what I was going through.”

        Remember that self-compassion is a huge ally in any mental health struggle. Getting down on yourself for having a different kind of struggle than other people’s, and for struggling in ways you might not perceive others struggling (because these struggles are frequently invisible), is counterproductive. You might feel like you have to beat yourself up, but that’s the depression talking. It’s not some objective truth about your merits as a human being. I’m not saying you should feel bad about feeling bad, either — just build that self-compassion muscle little by little, whether you feel like it’s merited or not, and it will get stronger.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Particularly depression.
          Depression is a mofo from hell.

          I was diagnosed with clinical major depression at age 12, I am 57 now. I’ve done alll the treatments and alll the drugs…and still it creeps.

          Especially in circumstances that are trying and these are trying times in a way none of us have ever experienced.

          It’s hard though. Just the other day I caught myself telling myself to “snap out of it.” We all know how effective that is…

          Yes even after 45 years of this crap I still sometimes blame myself. We all need to stop doing that!

      4. blaise zamboni*

        I came here to echo this same sentiment. No one on my team has children that are that young, but still, many people I work with are caring for children or ill family members. In comparison, I have it very “easy”.

        I’m also one of our most productive and driven team members. Lately my productivity is WAY down. It’s not because WFH makes me lazy. I still have good days at home, and I’ve had some very unproductive days when I need to go in the office. It’s because I sometimes find myself staring blankly at the wall in a numb anxiety, or breaking down into tears from worries that I didn’t know were weighing me down so much.

        I imagine the challenges would be different if I had children/family to worry about–the social aspect sounds nice as someone struggling with being isolated from my partner and very close friends, but I know that comes with the stress of being responsible for the care and well-being of others–but I think everyone is struggling in some way right now. We’re all impacted by this. Some of us are relatively lucky, but no one has it “easy”. It does us all good to remember that and be compassionate.

        OP, you in particular are able to help your employees by giving them some flexibility and leniency. What really needs to be accomplished right now? Where can you reduce or shuffle tasks? If you can’t hand something off without over-burdening another employee — maybe you could take it on for the time being? These are not normal times and your employees deserve some support through this, especially if they’ve been high-performing and reliable in the past.

        1. Liz*

          Yes. i live alone, am WFH, helping out my elderly mom, and not able to see my BF. its tough. we talk constantly, but its not the same as being together. same with my mom. I’m also not normally anxious, only in certain situations, but this has thrown me for a loop. i find myself having “anxiety dreams” wehre i need to do something, and can’t. i get stressed out of the blue, and had a mini panic attack a week or so ago, checking out at the grocery store. Even though it was failry empty as they only let a certain number in at a time, clean the checkouts after each customer, etc.

      5. covid sucks*

        I just want to say thank you everyone for the kind words. It’s good to know others are struggling with similar things (although I wish we weren’t!) Luckily my therapist and psychiatrist are doing remote appointments and I have a wonderful partner (who lives down the street so we can see each other w/ minimal risk). Reading these comments has really helped me. I wish you all the best during these awful times.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Do you have elderly family members that you’re worried about?

        I live alone and don’t have kids. Yeah my day to day life is easy AF tbh. But then I talk to my parents, who are both in the high-risk age group and have almost daily panic attacks over them staying safe. Guess who’s 70 year old cancer survivor dad decided that he’d take a trip to the store? Even though I keep screaming at them that I can set up home deliveries of anything they need [BFE has delivery now, right in time…] Nah, couldn’t possibly “trouble” me by doing that but can trouble me by putting themselves in harms way *face desk*

        Who’s going to pay your bills if you get sick? Who’s going to take care of you if you’re sick? We single folks have a lot of things to worry about right now, you are significant.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Frigging dads.

            Mine doesn’t even like going to the store…until it’s literally unsafe AF. Typical, dad moment kind of stuff!

            1. The New Wanderer*

              My 70+ mom is now immunocompromised and she told me my 70+ dad is going to the grocery stores (multiple stores) 5x a week as his new way to get out of the house, now that his other hobby outlets are shut down. Their area isn’t bad yet, relatively speaking, but argh! They live on the other coast so I can do less than nothing.

            2. Quill*

              Literal saturday text to my mother “I do not have the bandwidth to argue with you about masks right now, cover your face because it’s better than nothing.”

              Monday text from my mother “The house needs to be clean, you’re having a showing!”

              Me “In the middle of a fucking pandemic, really? Who is this fool?”

        1. Doc in a Box*

          I think about this a lot. I’m in health care, still working although doing 80% telemedicine (“Doc in a Box” is a really appropriate moniker right now!) with 1 day per week in-person for issues that can’t be dealt with on a video visit. I’m terrified about getting sick. I live alone, no family within a 5 hr drive, moved here relatively recently and haven’t formed a local support network yet.

          We’re being encouraged to keep a cheery attitude to avoid scaring patients (most of whom are already scared anyway, plus a minority who are clueless and yell at us for shifting to telemed), which makes my internal anxiety even worse. At least they agreed to give us all 1 mask per shift….

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Before the pandemic, I already had my first real scare of living alone away from my family after taking a spill out of the shower and screwing up my knee really bad. Basically my mother and I have a pact that she calls me every day to just confirm I don’t need a well check!

            I’m shivering thinking about all those in healthcare right now. The story of the nurse who died and her young child was with her body for over 12 hours is screaming through my mind on a daily basis.

            1. Blueberry*

              I’m shivering thinking about all those in healthcare right now. The story of the nurse who died and her young child was with her body for over 12 hours is screaming through my mind on a daily basis.

              oh my god I hadn’t heard about that. I need to sternly tell myself not to go find out more.

        2. MeepMeep*

          Yup. Keep in mind that some of us have both children and elderly family members. I’m thanking every possible deity I can think of that my work is part-time. My 4-year-old requires all my attention right now (she’s going through a trauma too), and whatever time and attention I can spare is directed to yelling at my elderly parents and trying to get them to stay home, and setting up all the technology that they need to be able to stay home (I do their Instacart grocery orders, I set up their Skype calls, and so on and so forth – hours of tech support).

          At this point, the entity that’s least stressed out and most able to absorb the stress of this time is the corporation that’s employing all these people who all (single or not) have a lot on their plate right now.

      7. DefinitelyWorking*

        I relate to this comment a lot. I have ADHD that i manage very well at the office, becuase I’ve learned how to do that. But being thrown into an at-home environment, along with being ill last week, as well as a complete change in the work i’m doing itself, means that I’ve definitely dipped in productivity. All i know is that it took me over 20 years to learn how to self-manage ADHD, and so I really can’t expect myself to just totally adapt to the new circumstances.

      8. Kitrona*

        My girlfriend is also feeling guilt and shame, and major anxiety, even though she’s actually doing more than most people at her job are able to do right now (hard to work the library circulation desk when the library’s closed, but she does the website stuff so she *can* and has been working).

        It sounds to me like your situation isn’t easier, just less visible because it’s Not Done to talk about mental health struggles. Everyone’s having a hard time, and managers need to understand that just because someone doesn’t have a specific circumstance that’s making things harder doesn’t mean there aren’t other circumstances rearing their ugly heads.

        I wish you as much peace and healing as you can get right now.

    6. LDN Layabout*

      By being open and understanding to everyone’s current situations and knowing that we’re in very strange times. By prioritising what has to get done vs. what can be delayed/pushed back.

      Also by making your headcount reasonable and not having people work ridiculous hours in BAU times so when emergencies hit you actually have resources available.

      1. LQ*

        Ok the make your headcount reasonable stuff is really weird. We were absolutely overstaffed for the work we had 6 weeks ago. We were making up work for most people throughout the department. We need 10-15 TIMES the number of staff we had 6 weeks ago to do the work today. No one wants the government to overstaff by 10 times or greater in case of emergency. And no one is ok with us “prioritizing” because everyone thinks that they deserve the services. (WHICH THEY DO!) People are threatening our lives because we are prioritizing.

        It’s all fine to talk about it like this if the work you do doesn’t matter. But if the work you do matters then, the work not getting done matters.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true, but there is ABSOLUTELY a limit to that. The work you do matters but not all of the work matters the same amount. And, guess what? Government CAN cut some corners, too, if they need to. Like even in NYC, home of bureaucracy, inflexible agencies and a mayor who had to forced to acknowledge the situation, City agencies are definitely allowing corners to be cut. Like people are being allowed to recertify without a physical visit to an office and with many other hoops cut out.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            It’s also where having good regulatory agencies is a bonus, or indeed a good interconnected governmental system in general.

            I work for a healthcare regulator that’s been stripped of our staff with clinical experience because there’s a higher need for their skills out there than with us right now. Since we’re not there to make a profit, it’s also easy for us to tell the people who are volunteer/part-time paramedics “yes you can do it full time and we will keep paying you”. Our call centre and contact staff? Are also being used to support NHS 111 in addition to their usual work. A large number of people are being seconded out to where their work is going to have the largest impact instead of keeping on BAU.

            Our work not getting done matters. Our usual work not happening will impact people. But right now the size of our overall network means that strategies and plans can be pivoted in a way that’s not possible with a barebones operation.

          2. LQ*

            Part of that limit comes back to us as citizens/voters/constituents too. Right now there are a lot of people pushing on the government. Don’t push on them to demand more from people. Don’t push on them to do things with a level of perfection that isn’t possible. Don’t push on the government to be what you are demanding the private sector not be. Push for government to – for you as a consumer of government – be more flexible and honestly talk to your government officials about supporting government staff.

            When you call your governor, congressperson, etc to complain that your IRS check isn’t in yet, or your UI benefits aren’t completed yet, you are making this a problem. Because not a single politician cares about government employees right now. None of them. They don’t believe we are humans who deserve respect, support, or anything. It’s not the administrators, it’s the politicians who want to get re-elected who think that calling and yelling at the administrators, the ones doing the work, is going to fix things.

            (And not just government too, health care, grocery stores, etc etc)

    7. The Original K.*

      No, it’s still not ok to put the burden on childless employees – the flexibility should apply across the board. Everybody is dealing with stuff; that was true before COVID-19 and it remains true.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This. I’m really fortunate that, even though I’m single and child free, my manager hasn’t asked me to do anything more than what I was already doing before all hell broke loose. And he keeps checking on me, asking how I’m doing outside of work, to make sure I’m not slipping into a slump. I sounded very “off” a couple weeks ago, and he was like, “Are you sure you’re okay? I’m here to talk if you need anything.” If he suddenly was like, “Okay, I need you to start doing X, Y, and Z on top of your regular work to help out the wider team since A, B, and C have kids and are working from home now with them and can’t get it done,” we would have problems, lol.

        1. Nessun*

          Hooray for reasonable bosses! Mine told everyone on the team “I expect you all to function somewhere around 79% of normal – get done what you can, take time when you need it, reach out if you need help (including mental health resources, which we have lots!), and don’t feel guilty for putting your family first- that’s the right thing to do.” …there was no mention of whether you live alone or have kids, just an understanding that we’re all doing our best to get by and Times Be Weird Yo.

          1. London Calling*

            Lucky you. Our department head has been MIA for two weeks and the rest of the management in my department seems to expect the work to be churned out regardless. I started at 7 this morning and hit the wall at 4.30.

          2. Liz*

            my boss checks in with us regularly, and we had a call last week with my VP who said TAKE TIME for lunch, breaks etc. don’t kill yourself working more than you normally do in the office. take care of yourself. which is nice to hear. of course i know what needs to be done and what can slide a bit, so that helps too.

        2. pamplemousse*

          My company has been great about this whole situation in a lot of ways, especially given that we work in a field that’s actually busier right now and where a lot of the work is essential to the public. One thing I really appreciated was that when they created a new PTO policy for parents working from home that was essentially “we’ll work with you, do what you can,” they also made explicitly clear that pushing the work onto those without caring responsibilities was not an acceptable option, and the only choice was to prioritize ruthlessly and flag to higher-ups if core areas could not get done.

    8. Another Preschool Parent Doing Her Best**

      I think we need to cut EVERYONE some slack. Some of us have kids at home, some are worried about elderly parents, some are running errands for friends and neighbors, some are dealing with anxiety and depression… we all have something. It’s a rough time for everyone.

    9. Bunny Girl*

      As someone without children – absolutely not. There was already a lot of ill will created from companies who were/are only allowing parents to work from home and making childless couples or single employees stay. I know these are difficult times, but I would both resent my boss and my coworker if all their work was dumped on me because “I don’t have children so I must not have anything going on.” The manager needs to adjust their expectations and be flexible for everyone and re-prioritize what they would like to see done – not punish people for making the choice not to have kids.

      1. Xarcady*

        I’m single, no kids. At the moment, I’m taking care of my upstairs neighbor’s cats and parrots because she had to go and stay-at-home with her parents—it was the only way to keep them from going out to the stores daily.

        I’m also running errands for a 91-year-old family friend who doesn’t want to go out, but who’s two children both work in hospitals and therefore don’t want to take the risk of infecting her. As a result, I am now running errands for several of the other residents in her senior citizen apartment building. With reduced store hours, this isn’t as easy as it used to be. And almost all the stores here have set limits on the number of people allowed in-store, so there’s more lines to wait in and everything just takes a little bit longer.

        So, yeah, I have larger uninterrupted blocks of time to get work done then someone with kids. But I don’t have the bandwidth to do double or triple the amount of work I usually do. I’m constantly getting work other people can’t do put on my schedule. And I’m just as constantly making my supervisor determine what gets priority. I get the feeling he isn’t happy with that, but the fact is I can’t do the work of 4 people, especially when it’s stuff I don’t usually do, because all the new-to-me stuff takes longer.

        1. Bunny Girl*

          Exactly. And even if you aren’t taking on a lot of extra personal responsibility that you normally don’t, a lot of people are struggling mentally or just don’t have the bandwidth right now to take on extra people’s work. I get that parenting is a struggle, that’s why I don’t have kids!

          But opinions like this are also just a reflection on Normal Times as well. Many childfree people are asked to cover for their parenting coworkers or expected to be at any and all office functions, even though, Hey we have stuff going on too! I have six animals, a family, a boyfriend I like spending time with, school, and my volunteer commitments. Unlike what a lot of managers think, I don’t just get off work and twiddle my thumbs because I chose not to have kids.

        2. nonegiven*

          Yeah, and if 3 of the seniors need TP and 2 need paper towels, and all the stores are limiting paper products to one per person per day, you have to go to one store to get the biggest TP you can find and break it open to distribute it and two other stores for paper towels, you’re gonna have to prioritize. Plus my store limits bread and milk to 2 per person per day.

          I had to go get milk and bread, among other things. I usually get a loaf of bread, a pack of hamburger buns and a pack of hot dog buns and I usually go once each week. So if the hot dog buns turn green we have to put off hot dogs because I was limited to two and got bread and hamburger buns.

          I usually get two chocolate milks, a whole milk, a quart of buttermilk, and a pint of cream. I was limited to two, so I have to go to the grocery store at least twice a week instead of once. Isn’t that doubling my risk? I’m 63 with diabetes, high blood pressure, and CHF. DH is 69 with diabetes, high blood pressure, and RA, for which he is on a drug that affects his immune system. If one of us should stay home, I vote him.

    10. PB*

      Honestly, all employees need a little extra grace right now. I am child-free and pet-free, but I do not have the mental energy to devote to work that I normally do because we’re in a global pandemic. Dealing with the stress and exhaustion of that while also working 40 hours a week from home is a struggle. I just don’t have to do it while also raising/education children.

      If something is truly time sensitive, then right now, it may need to be done by someone without children. If that happens, then something else will need to come off of their plates. We can’t ask child-free people to work 80 hour weeks because their colleagues with children can’t put in a full 40. Above all else, as much as possible, this is a really good time to relax expectations.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        When this is over, snd eventually it will be, the whole “dump the extra work on child free coworkers” thing will have become so ingrained that it will become SOP going forward…

        Even though there wont be a global thing happening. Better to not let it get a foothold at all.

    11. OrigCassandra*

      This divorced childless woman had to take a cat to the vet today during business hours. (Cat is fine! Needed a non-optional shot.)

      Fortunately, where I am as long as I make meetings and work gets done — or I send up a signal if it can’t — it’s all good.

    12. Lemon Ginger Tea*

      No, workers without kids shouldn’t be expected to pick up the slack. We’re all experiencing trauma right now and while people with kids have specific challenges in the situation, everyone is struggling. This is the time to cut out the non-essential tasks and strip down to the bare minimum.

      I think the only area where things should be different is if you’re WFH and don’t have kids, the expectation would be that you’re available generally the same hours as if you were in the office.

    13. Malarkey01*

      I don’t necessarily think it’s okay to put more of a burden on others, but just like people usually pitch in and help when a coworker is sick, caring for a sick parent/family member, on maternity leave, etc I think it’s one of those “everyone give what you can moments” realizing that what people can give varies.

      I think the best way to avoid this extra burden is for managers and companies to realize this is not a normal situation and the same amount of work cannot be accomplished. Resetting priorities and coming up with critical work products versus something it’s nice to do will help rebalance the work for this period (you don’t expect people outrunning a wildfire or flood to also complete their monthly projections, treat this somewhat similarly).

      1. JustaTech*

        Exactly, “Give what you can”. Not everyone *can* give the same amount. And there is a world of difference between offering to take on some extra work and being asked or ordered to do more.

    14. DCGirl*

      Amen! I had some major dental work (two extractions, the start of one implant, and three areas of gum surgery done the last day before my dentist’s office closed. My office had already gone to telework. For the first 10 days post-op, it took every ounce of will power for me to simply do my own work. There’s no way I could have picked up anyone else’s.

    15. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      No, it doesn’t make it okay. Not having kids not having mental health struggles/aging or ill family/other circumstances which make working from home more difficult. And most managers don’t (and shouldn’t) know those things about their employees. The best thing managers can do now is break their team’s tasks into Urgent, Needs Doing But Maybe Not This Minute, and Eh This Can Wait, and then communicate that very clearly, and really LISTEN when people say they’re swamped.

    16. Nanani*

      No, it does not. It’s never ok to have different treatment based on parental status, what even the hell?

      If you have work that needs to get done, and a portion of your workers are unable to do it because of pandemic reasons (which could mean homeschooling/childcare, or could mean lack of access to stuff because they are quarantined) consider maybe hiring more people?
      I hear a lot of people are out of work right now, the managers hassling their employees could maybe give them a call.

      1. NerdyKris*

        It’s not that simple to hire people during a pandemic. How are you training them or getting them equipment? Does the company even have the money, or is it desperately trying to keep from having to lay off the employees it has?

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        I dunno, I think it’s perfectly possible to accept that my needs (as a person who doesn’t have kids and lives alone) are valid without believing that they are literally equivalent to being responsible for small humans (or elderly humans). Ordinarily I’d agree that family status shouldn’t matter, that it’s a wash, but this is a life-and-death crisis.

        1. Avasarala*

          I agree. Of course we shouldn’t determine workload by family status, but in terms of things like “who handles this important time-sensitive task,” it doesn’t need to be equal, but equitable. Let the person with no dependents/time-sensitive emergencies handle that task, and have the person with dependents chip away at the non-time-sensitive stuff. We can be puzzle pieces to help each other.

          Or think of it as building a Pokemon team. You don’t want all fire type, even though they’re quite strong and fast, because they have an obvious weakness. You need some water and grass to balance it out. Right now we’re in a flood and our fire types are struggling extra hard, maybe have the water types help them out, and grass types this is your time to shine. Give everyone some flexibility and we all pull together.

    17. ShwaMan*

      Alison is absolutely right about expectations. Thank you.

      I think managers can have good conversations with such employees about how to best OPTIMIZE work given the circumstances. Can you do A and B today but not C or D? I’ll get X to help with C, and I’ll advise Y that D will be delayed. Would different core working hours help you? If you can’t get something done / need help, just try your best to communicated it. etc. etc. etc.

    18. CatCat*

      My thoughts as someone without a dependent at home or anyone else nearby requiring regular attention is that I am happy to pick up some of the slack that my colleagues with young kids literally are unable to pick up. I don’t mean this in a, “Oh, CatCat can go ahead and work 60 hours and weekends now” kind of way, but more like, “CatCat, I know you normally do X, do you have capacity to do Y as well right now?” In some ways, that isn’t really any different to me than when a colleague is out sick or on vacation and something needs to get done and the usual person to do it just can’t. But then, my immediate supervisor is also really good about triaging (he has already said to us and those higher up, “at this time, getting ABC thing we would normally be doing isn’t going to happen”, making things a dialog, figuring out where there *is* capacity, and allocating work accordingly. (He also is the one who will put longer hours on himself before asking anyone else to do that… so if he were to ask it, I would know he had been thoughtful about it and that it was actually urgent.)

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I completely agree with this. I don’t have kids and I have an adult partner. We have elderly family members but they’re all in different states. I am dealing with a ton of unexpected stress and anxiety, but it’s not at critical levels and I’m managing reasonably well as long as I set boundaries. My workload is project-based and I anticipate a quiet-ish week. One of my co-workers has two young, extremely energetic children and her husband is considering essential so he still has to go into an office. Her boss is… needy, to say the least, and expects her to manage her kids while she stays on the phone with him practically all day. Luckily she is comfortable with just letting her kids run around outside, but even so, it’s been insane at her house. I am happy to help out, and I offered my help to her this morning.

        However… that doesn’t mean I plan to do her entire job right now. I need my space and to preserve my energy. And I don’t expect her to ask me to take anything on, because she feels enormous pressure to “do it all.” And if I were crazy busy, I wouldn’t even offer. But I’m happy to pitch in in these very strange times.

    19. angrycat*

      Because my children are teenagers not toddlers I am expected to do more and pressured to not work from home since I was told “they are almost adults.” Let me just tell you, three restless teenagers at home trying to keep up with zoom classes is pure chaos as well.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I don’t know about you, but sometimes having older kids is worse because they know what’s going on and they understand the situation better than a baby.

        1. Lies, damn lies and...*

          They can also make their own breakfast and lunch. It’s hard on all parents right now.

        2. Agnodike*

          In the same way that it’s not fair to say “boomers don’t care about quarantine” or “Gen Z are the ones not obeying the rules,” it’s not really fair to say there’s one age group who’s got it easier or harder. My unbelievably energetic almost-four-year-old is a menace to my productivity; her cousin, who’s two months older than she is, will happily sit for two hours and colour or play quietly with his stuffed animals while my sister is on a call. Similarly, my sister, phlegmatic and practical from birth, was very easy to handle as a teen. I, anxious and argumentative from the jump, would have been way worse than a toddler in a pandemic.

          As with all things involving humans, it’s extremely individual, which is why managers need to evaluate goals and work plans on an individual basis right now.

      2. Josephine Beth NotAmy*

        We have several staff with very young children and a cohort of us with teens/young adults. While my supervisors are overall flexible and being extra sensitive to the parents of the younger ones, there’s some weird expectations for the rest of us. People seem to forget that a) teens still need time and attention, potentially more right now and b) my teen has special needs and overall requires more support. I regularly need to remind them that all the help we count on in typical times is not happening right now and is on my husband and myself to handle.

      3. nerfherder*

        I’m by and large extremely grateful to have tweens/teens instead of toddlers right now, but they’re DEFINITELY not adults. Even my eldest, a straight-A, rule-following kid, needs some structure and reminders. And I’m fielding emails constantly about my youngest, an ADHD kid; online learning is a terrible fit for him, his anxiety (super common with ADHD kids) is through the roof, and he’s not getting 1/100th of the exercise he needs to baseline cope. He frequently responds to all this by acting up in zoom sessions, and I’m expected to drop everything and magically fix it for the teacher, as though the problem is that I simply have not given him the right lecture about behavior rather than EVERYTHING IN HIS LIFE being terrible and counterproductive right now.

        1. Midwest writer*

          Lots of hugs from afar, fellow parent. Our school district has intentionally avoided becoming a 1:1 school because it is not always a great fit for kids who have all sorts of special needs. And suddenly it’s been thrust on everyone.

          1. Jayn*

            Ours is moving to pass/fail for the last semester rather than giving out actual grades. They’re also trying to provide instruction through other methods (print outs are available for people without good internet, there’s videos both on demand and airing twice daily on cable, etc.) to ensure people have access.

            My kid is young so it’s mainly been “here’s stuff to keep him stimulated, do as much as is reasonable”. Unfortunately what my kid needs is the social environment, he’s doing great academically but struggles on behavior.

        2. anonymous this time*

          Solidarity! My super-social, super-active ADHD first-grader is a wreck right now. He’s terrified, under-exercised, and lonely (all of which comes out as anger at us) and I can see his attention span deteriorate through the course of the daily Zoom class (which is during his peak period for being attentive and learning, but doesn’t actually have any instructional material – it’s a social check-in. Which is important for him too, but then I’ve lost that magic hour of teaching him reading and math). We spoke to his teacher about the accomodation plan we had worked out in the fall, and how it’s incompatible with distance learning, and the response was discouraging – she’s sympathetic, but there’s literally nothing she can do.

    20. nnn*

      It might be useful to talk to employees in terms of simply “What can you do right now?” given the specifics of the current situation, without basing it on household structure.

      For example: “We need someone who can receive the requests that are going to come in at 2:00 and turn them around by 3:00. Is there anyone who’s able to commit to being online and ready to work right at that specific time?”

      It might also be useful to ask people “Here’s what needs doing, what can you do?”

    21. Oxford Comma*


      We’re all in hell and chaos right now. It’s just different types of hell and chaos. Maybe the employee doesn’t have a child or lives alone, but that doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t have other things they have to deal with. I live alone, but I have elderly relatives I’m having to check in on/get stuff to/help. I’ve got my own mental health issues. I’ve got my own health problems.

      These are extraordinary times. Employers need to cut their employees some slack.

    22. Mama Bear*

      Childless people may still have concerns. Not having a kid at home doesn’t mean they don’t have parents to worry about, or are feeling incredibly isolated, etc. Anxiety and depression are running high in these challenging times. I think everyone needs to be flexible and give each other a lot of grace.

    23. Nita*

      I don’t think so. I think employers just need to be understanding with everyone. Some of my coworkers are struggling to work because of kids. Some are struggling because they don’t have a very reliable connection. Some are struggling because coronavirus has hit their family. Some are just plain stressed. Some are charged with keeping the rest of us employed in a situation that changes multiple times a week. No one has it easy right now.

    24. MissGirl*

      I think communication is really key in this situation. I am willing to put more hours in right now because I’m healthy, have limited obligations, and work distracts me from my anxiety. Please, add to my plate. However, I recognize other people do not. I also realize my circumstances can change.

      A good manager should be meeting with her team often to strategize the workload. Some days someone can take more on from someone who can’t and the next week that changes. Also, priorities have to be clear and constantly verified. Time to triage.

      My company is in healthcare consulting and we’re developing virus solutions so just putting work off isn’t an option but prioritizing is essential.

    25. Sunset Maple*

      It’s not okay, but companies that shift the burden to the childfree were already doing it before the pandemic, i.e., “Jane has to leave early for dance recital, so you have to stay late to do X.” We’re just seeing the wound fester a bit more obviously now.

      1. pope suburban*

        This. It’s an ongoing cultural problem for a number of workplaces, and all this current crisis is doing is holding a magnifying glass up to it. In my case, the colleague whose slack I pick up has felt entitled to such for years; she feels that as I don’t have any responsibilities, she can just drop her duties onto me, as her out-of-work life is more important/valuable/”real.” Frankly, I’m having a much easier time without her in the office being rude to me, but I know it’s still not a great way to be, and it’s not derived in any way from CV-19.

      2. AnonPi*

        Yup, I’ve had to cancel vacation every year because someone else scheduled for the same days and to “make things easier” I’ve been told to cancel my vacation since it’s not like I have any family (because I don’t have kids). Hell I was told to take on a coworkers entire workload with no notification ahead of time for several weeks while he was on parental leave. When I needed to be out for most of two weeks while my mother was in the hospital and could have potentially died I was told I could take off only as long as I kept my work up.

        And now me and another coworker are pissed because this same guy is barely working (yet claiming work hours) and getting cut slack because he’s got two kids (even though the grandparents are still watching them). My coworker and I are grilled about how long we’re taking to complete stuff and side-eyed constantly in case we may be cheating on our time. The two most productive workers in the entire office (more so than even our boss). And yet they’re surprised we’re both looking for other jobs.

        1. F_society*

          Yep, this is the plight of the childfree and childless, often expected to bend over backwards by SOME parents (not all). Thankfully I have a wonderful boss who has the same expectations across the board irregardless of whether employees have kids or not. This is the way it should be – equality, not preferences\ given to those who choose a particular way of life

    26. CupcakeCounter*

      I think there are a lot of people who don’t have the extra burden of providing care for someone else out there volunteering to take on extra in order to help out their coworkers/fellow man but it shouldn’t be expected or even asked of them right now. Even without a kid around there are a lot of reasons that productivity will be less than 100%. Internet and VPN issues, necessary feedback from someone who IS providing care for someone else and working unusual hours, having to share resources with other people working from home, etc…

    27. Person from the Resume*

      I think it is fair as long as the ~more~ burden is not unreasonable. “Childless employee is doing more work during this isolation than employee with toddler” is okay. “Childless employee is now being assigned work that takes more than expected normal work hours (<– problem) because they are picking up slack from employee with kids" is not okay.

      But it is human for situations to not feel fair. All these people posting about how to occupy their suddenly free time make me jealous because I'm working normal hours I want a bunch of free time to clean my house and closets and binge watch TV series everyone is talking about. When I working from home during lovely weather, but I see DC is closing early because of snow, I wish I could end my day early too. That's human nature. We need our brain to override our emotions so that we can tell ourselves, it is okay and fair given the circumstances.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        Agree, Person! I have relatives home from teaching jobs who have all this free time. Meanwhile in the mortgage world, things are chaotic and I’m into overtime.

        1. Amy Sly*

          But as someone who’s trying to close on her house on the 15th, we really appreciate you working!

    28. hbc*

      Absent significant evidence, we have to assume that what everyone giving us is their best, each hold ourselves to give our best based on what’s possible, and state as clearly and non-judgmentally as possible what effect the decreased output has on the schedule, income, etc..

      Personally, I’m killing it at home given that my kids entertain each other, I don’t have to leave at x:00 sharp for activity chauffeuring, and I thrive on having tons of little work emergencies to deal with. I would never expect that of anyone else, even someone in a situation that would look much better on paper.

      Even if there’s an employee who takes every opportunity to slack and is predictably not doing much right now, this is not the time to take a hard line on anything, or assess how much they could/should be delivering.

    29. Renata Ricotta*

      I don’t think it’s ok for the employers to push this burden, but …

      I strongly believe that in this emergency situation, those of us who Can should go out of our way to make life easier for those who Can’t. Even if it wouldn’t be “fair” in the regular world. People are really struggling right now (some due to mental health, others from joblessness, falling sick, or juggling childcare). I don’t have kids, my mental health is fine (I’m distracted by the news but that’s about it), and my job and health are currently in tact. I’m doing quarantine on easy mode and consider it my responsibility to help people who are doing it on hard mode.

      This includes taking up slack for my coworkers who Can’t because of childcare issues. I am genuinely happy to ease their burden as much as I can.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +1000. I’m one of those who Can, for the record. And I admit to feeling a bit scatterbrained and less productive because of the pandemic situation. But I’d be willing to help out those of my teammates who have a more labor-intensive situation at home than I do (mine is just needing to remember to feed the cats…) to the extent that I can. I know I would have appreciated the support if this had happened when my children were young. This is not AT ALL like “can you stay late because I need to leave at 3 for little Petunia’s recital, and I’m a parent and you are not”.

    30. Temperance*

      Not “more”, but different. I’m childless, so I don’t have to navigate Zoom learning with a kid/kids while trying to work. My boss does. Because of that, I try to be more available when I can.

      I take a lot of calls and schedule things around her kid’s schedule. It’s easy for me to do so. However, I do also set some boundaries with my own time – for example, getting outside to walk/play Pokemon Go in my quiet neighborhood during the day instead of taking a lunch, or video chatting/playing Switch for a half hour with my nieces and nephews to give my sister and my friends a break.

      1. Jady*

        +1 to this.

        There’s also the factor of dependent work. Most of my coworkers & team have kids, so of course they are working slower. But that means I’m going to work slower too, because I can’t do the majority of my job until they have completed certain things.

        Sure, I’ll help out others when I can, but our work is still team-oriented projects, so ‘my’ work results get delayed significantly.

    31. Mockingjay*

      These are not normal times, in which the usual “treat all employees equally/fairly/the same as everyone else” mindset doesn’t hold.

      My children are grown, so yes, I have the bandwidth to pick up extra for my colleagues with kids. Do I mind? Absolutely not. We are truly a team and we help each other out. In fact, I think we’ve been more productive because we’re paying much more attention to prioritization, ensuring assignments are very clear, and shifting workload as needed.

      If you want to look at karma, last year I took a month of FMLA. It was a difficult situation made easier because each of my coworkers completely had my back and took care of all my assignments while I was gone. I am very happy to be able to help them now.

      1. Anonymous Canadian*

        But it’s also not ok to just assume someone has the bandwith to pick up slack just because they don’t have children or their children are older. If I can’t is an acceptable answer for someone who has kids it also needs to be ok for those who don’t. There are lots of reason right now why someone may not have the ability to take on someone else’s work (or even a portion of someone else’s work) on top of their own.

        1. Rob aka Mediancat*

          Indeed. I will pick up slack at my job if I feel mentally and physically capable of doing so, but as someone prone to general anxiety, I may not be able to at any given time , even without any nonwork responsibilities beyond “pet cat.”

          1. Kiwi with laser beams*

            Yes. I have an anxiety disorder and New Zealand went from “we only have a few cases, so go to that mass event; just wash your hands” to “uh oh, time for a lockdown” during about the same week and a half that I had an intense deadline and was working major overtime. That week and a half was HORRIBLE; I was having anxiety attacks every couple of hours and feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone because so much of my situation was non-covid-related. I couldn’t change that deadline, so I sucked it up for those 10 days, but if my colleague becomes unable to do as much work as usual, then I’m going to say no to client requests until I’m back in reasonably healthy territory, not pull a double workload indefinitely. And since my boss is a good boss, he’ll support me in that.

            1. Kiwi with laser beams*

              And now that I’ve typed that, I think there’s a big-picture point in that – that it shouldn’t only be the employees being flexible in those situations. The company might have to be flexible too, since ALL of their employees are human beings and probably all of their employees are having a not-so-great time right now.

        2. Liz*

          Yes. I agree 100%. everyone has different challenges. whether you have kids or not, or others you need to take care of. or anxiety or other issues, or all of the above. I;m doing ok but have my moments of anxiety where maybe i’m not as productive as I am at other times.

      2. Beth*

        On an interpersonal level, it’s definitely a time to help each other out where we can. If you have a coworker who you know is drowning and you have a little flexibility to help out, it’s an excellent time to offer to take something off their plate.

        On a management level, determining who has the ability to take on more work based on child-having status is a terrible plan. You can’t know what kind of pressures someone is under or what level of flexibility they may have just based on a single trait like that (any more than you can know based on marital status, or gender, or health, or any other single trait). It’s one thing to ask your team broadly to step up and offer help to each other where they can; it’s wildly different to intentionally assign extra work to employees who don’t have kids, or to single them out and pressure them to ‘volunteer’ to cover for others.

    32. Sunflower*

      I think Managers need to have a realistic conversation with all of their reports about capacity regardless of their martial, child, whatever status. Everyone handles stress differently and people have preferences of work flow during this time. At my company, some people are super busy and some aren’t so we’ve been trying to shift work around between teams that would normally not help out.

    33. Jedi Squirrel*

      No.I don’t have children or pets, but I have two elderly parents who have been quarantined for a long time, because they are both in highly susceptible populations. I haven’t seen them for weeks. I drop off food in their garage, spray it with disinfectant, and then get out of there.

      I still have to go into work on occasion. No one in my apartment complex is practicing social distancing properly. An elderly person just down the road from us just died of Covid-19.

      This morning, I emailed a list of links where my parents can get help in case I go under.

      My anxiety is palpable. Everybody needs a break.

    34. WellRed*

      I don’t think most employees, regardless of circumstances, should be expected to work as normal, with their same set hours and same level of productivity.

    35. cmcinnyc*

      Bad companies seem to be finding a way to disadvantage everyone–ride those w/young children too hard/too rigidly, and overload the singles/childless on the baseless assumption that they have nothing else to do. Good companies are finding a way to accommodate as many situations as they can.

    36. professor*


      Do NOT make such demands. You have no clue what is happening in your employees lives. I may have no kids, but I have an anxiety disorder that is wrecking havoc with my productivity (I’m immunocompromised too, so anxiety is not even irrational which is worse).

      Just wait until your employees get COVID. Or have relatives dying.

      Less is going to get done. Work is going to have to deal with that.

    37. Obfonteri*

      Can’t speak for others, but I’ve definitely been picking up a bit of slack from my co-workers who are stuck at home with kids right now, and I absolutely don’t mind. You gotta do what you gotta do. Yeah, all things being equal, I shouldn’t have to just because I have no kids, but let’s face it… when 5pm hits, I get to log off, pop some spaghetti on the stove, and fire up Netflix and relax. Their kids are still there and they can’t get a break like I do. So yeah, I can deal with a bit more work if it makes their lives easier.

    38. Coverage Associate*

      I think it would be appropriate for managers to ask teams who can do what, especially after a few weeks of all remote work. For example, our secretaries are usually assigned to a group of attorneys, but maybe they should shuffle work so that one secretary is working on everyone’s letters, another is doing all the filings, etc. I imagine I have fewer distractions than my teammates, who have school-age children, so maybe I take more detailed work, and they do shorter tasks. I am not doing more work than my teammates, just different.

    39. Lora*

      Well, shout-out to all my people *without* children at home, who are also debating “do I take mom out of the nursing home temporarily where people are dropping like flies from COVID-19, or is it too late or what do I do here?” And to everyone who found out that they will definitely be taking their elderly parents somewhere else because the entire nursing home is a hot zone, or has been requisitioned specifically to care for COVID-19 elderly to keep them away from everyone else…not like we are all busy ourselves or anything…

    40. Tessa Ryan*

      No. I can say this as a single person living alone, that it does not make it okay. At all. My boss now has a few people (most people who are single, or people who have teenagers) accomplish more tasks than what we would be expected to do in the office! It’s not just picking up the slack of other people who are understandably busy with caring for children. We are also being assigned extra busywork. It’s this, “We have to make sure you are working your full hours, so here are a bunch of random things that popped into my head for you to work on along with your other projects” mentality. This had lead to me having a panic attack in the last week, since my workload just came to the point that it was unbearable. My direct manager was great about it, but my boss doesn’t understand at all. When I asked my boss what my priorities are (should I get A, B, or C done today? I can’t get them all done in one day) my boss said that they are all priorities. And when I pointed out that we are not only doing our normal workload from home without the same resources, she says that these are difficult times for everyone and since we are home anyway, it shouldn’t matter if we work an extra two, three, four, five hours. And it’s not unreasonable to be available for every message. It’s utterly demoralizing.

      1. Liz*

        oh wow. i’m sorry your boss is so horrible and unreasonable. Our VP specifically told us that we shouldn’t try and work significantly more than we do IN the office, and to quit and take time for ourselves. Which we all appreciate greatly. Since working from home means my office now overlaps my “sanctuary” so i need to be able to stop and move onto “me time”

      2. Blueberry*

        Your boss is actively making an already terrible situation worse. I wish I could give you something more than my sympathies, but you have all of those!

      3. Starbuck*

        “she says that these are difficult times for everyone and since we are home anyway, it shouldn’t matter if we work an extra two, three, four, five hours.”

        Wow, what total bullshit! Sorry you have to work for someone who is so unreasonable. Expecting people to be MORE productive under quarantine is just bananas, especially for people who aren’t providing essential services. If I tried to do 13 hours of my work in one day, I’d be an unproductive brain-dead zombie the next, and my apartment would soon be overflowing with dirty dishes and laundry.

      4. Observer*

        There is an enormous difference between asking those who have the bandwidth to pick up the slack for others and throwing busywork at people because they must be “taking advantage”.

        The former is generally reasonable, the latter is NEVER ok. Even in normal times it’s not ok. Most especially not in times like this.

        Your boss is an idiot and also just a ridiculous person. I don’t think this is someone I would ever want to have a personal relationship with – she sounds like a jerk.

    41. spock*

      I don’t think it’s ridiculous to pitch in a little more if you can to help those who can pitch in less. But that applies to everything, not specifically children. We should all try to be accommodating to an extent, and children at home vs no children at home is one facet but not the be all end all. And in the overall assumption should still be that fewer things get done because almost everyone is dealing with *something*, just maybe some folks are dealing with more.

    42. J.B.*

      Realistically I know I will be unable to work full time until my kids are back in school. That’s just how it is. If I were in a situation where I weren’t already on a part time schedule and couldn’t take leave, I would string things along as best as possible but wouldn’t be happy about it. Some managers would expect others to take up that slack but they shouldn’t.

    43. Tired*

      Absolutely not!! I’m childless, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have obligations. I’m doing grocery and pharmacy runs for elderly relatives and neighbors, I’m sewing masks for my nurse friends, I’m providing tech support for loved ones who are struggling to work from home. I’m stressed, anxious, tired, pulled in a million directions – and if my boss is expecting me to pitch in on my coworker’s jobs on top of that, he’s out of his mind.

    44. Gazebo Slayer*

      I feel like a lot of people are going to be volunteering to go above and beyond without it really being acknowledged- I have no kids and live alone, and I worked 12-15 hour days most of the last couple weeks to maintain my normal level of productivity while also doing everything necessary to shift my job – which requires handling lots of physical goods – to WFH *and* also turning my 175 square foot studio apartment into storage space for work. This was… partly me volunteering? And partly my boss’s expectations. But I did my best to meet them, in part because I know it would he harder for my coworker who does have a child.

    45. Anon attorney*

      I am single and child free. I have elderly relatives but I don’t provide them with direct care as they live out of state. I have volunteered to pick up stuff that co-workers with young kids are struggling to cover, because I have the capacity (at the moment) and also I haven’t forgotten that many of these folks covered for me when my late husband was in the hospital and then died and I couldn’t do jack for months. It’s the element of choice that matters. If it was expected of me, I would likely push back a bit. I am already very weary of the assumption that “we” are all wrangling kids or getting ticked at our husbands during lockdown. But I work in a functional team for the most part where we do genuinely try to help each other.

      1. Observer*

        But I work in a functional team for the most part where we do genuinely try to help each other.

        I think this is important. In functional teams people pick up the slack for each other. I’m ok with picking up slack for some coworkers who have young children at home – but these are people who pick up slack for others when they have more bandwidth.

        In a reasonable workplace, what goes round comes round. And in a not-reasonable workplace, that tends to happen too but in a different way.

    46. Beth*

      No. Everyone has reasons that normal productivity (much less above-and-beyond!) isn’t possible right now. For some, that reason is childcare; for others, it might be not having a good setup for work at their home, or having noisy roommates, or being on-call for deliveries and other necessities for a friend or family member who’s quarantined, or struggling with intense anxiety about the pandemic. I think most people are dealing with at least a couple of these.

      In normal circumstances, when one person is struggling, someone else can pick up the slack. But this isn’t normal circumstances. Everyone is struggling right now. I think two things need to happen in response to that. First, there needs to be increased flexibility (does this really need to be done by end of day, or is post-kids’-bedtime okay? does this have to be a scheduled meeting with a dozen people present in real time, or can it be an email that people can read when they have a couple minutes?). And second, there has to also be recognition and acceptance that low priority tasks may get pushed back for a few days in favor of more urgent or time-sensitive work (or weeks, or even months, depending on how low-priority it is and how this situation continues to develop).

      If there are business needs that absolutely have to be met beyond what current staff are able to do under these circumstances, the business should look at hiring some temps or new employees at least for low-level tasks that can be picked up without much training. There are so many people getting laid off or furloughed lately, there’s no reason to burn out your employees trying to eke out every last drop of productivity under such stressful, traumatic circumstances.

    47. JayemGriffin*

      I don’t know if it’s okay, but it’s happening anyway. I’m the only person on our four-person team who doesn’t have kids, and I’m essentially doing the jobs of four people right now. We work in IT, and we’re an essential part of our 20K+ organization’s COVID-19 response. My coworkers aren’t able to respond to the genuinely urgent, highly time-sensitive tasks that come in primarily during work hours because they’re taking care of their families. We’re in a very specialized field, so cross-training isn’t an option, and we’ve also been put in a hiring/contractor freeze, so that’s not going to happen. Not fulfilling or postponing tickets is completely off the table; it would be roughly the same as saying “sorry, we can’t pay you on time, we don’t have the resources” (not exactly what we do, but similar).

      I’m gonna hit a wall soon. I don’t know when, but at some point, the stress and overwork is going to make me sick, and I’m going to have to work through it, because my coworkers can’t neglect their kids, and we can’t just stop taking tickets. It’s nobody’s fault, and there’s not really another option – it just sucks.

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      I got irritated over OP’s letter, and wanted to applaud Alison’s response. What is with these managers and companies expecting things go on as normal under extraordinary circumstances?

    2. FormerTheatreArtist*

      I’m flat out crying. I just needed to see that understanding from someone, spelled out. Alison is great.

  6. anonymouse*

    This question terrified me because the employee is me and I’m so scared that my boss is wondering the same thing. This is exhausting and the expectations are so out of sync with reality, people who don’t have small children or have stay-at-home partners just don’t seem to get how impossible this is. Every time I push back, I feel like I’m being difficult and my manager and coworkers are reinforcing that feeling. It’s adding to an already impossible plate and I don’t know how much longer I can hold until I either ask for PTO, leave, or quit.

    1. DonnaNoble*

      +1, I was going to say the same thing. My child is 18 months old and my husband who usually works from home anyway has meetings basically all day (his company is extremely unaccommodating), so it’s up to me to watch her from 7a-5p.

      1. theguvnah*

        i do think your husband could push back more though, and needs to (the collective “you” in a similar situation). Surely there are other parent (especially mothers, let’s be honest about how this crisis is exacerbating existing gender roles and expectations) he works with who are experiencing harm by the inflexibility and he should be part of the pushback so it isn’t all on you.

    2. Sparky*

      I saw a letter to Reddit from someone newly working at home who can hear the neighbors little kids screaming and crying asking if they should ask the neighbor to keep the kids quiet. Most posters said something about getting noise cancelling headphones, some parents said that if a neighbor politely requested that they keep their kids quieter they’d burst into tears. The Reddit relationship threads and the Am I the A**hole threads are bursting right now because of the effects of the quarentine. Everyone is coping as well as they can. Everyone has new stressors. If we can’t make things better for others at least we can try not to make things worse, for parents working at home with small children and for everyone else. I’m glad Allison was more restrained that I would have been while still getting the point across.

    3. PrgrmMgr*

      Hugs to both of you. I’m still not 100% clear on my manager’s expectations (and it helps that I work for an agency where we are very much office oriented – I’m in the minority with a work issued laptop and I hear some people are working with tablets, so I hope expectations are low). I’ve had luck proactively letting my supervisor know that I need to coordinate daytime availability for calls with my husband and meet other expectations during whatever hours I can. I’m still struggling with how to serve clients well, but I’m doing the best I can.

    4. Lily Rowan*

      I’m so sorry. My job has been amazing in reinforcing that these are not normal times, and people should take time off if they need to (we also have generous PTO). If you have a toddler, maybe you need to take half a sick day every day and just do some of your job. If you had time off planned, take it if you want! Etc.

      1. ABK*

        I’m confused by the suggestions to lean on PTO. If I have 2 weeks of PTO and use it to help me take half days, I’ll burn through the PTO in 4 weeks. I don’t think this situation will be any better in 4 weeks, so then what?

  7. glitter writer*

    I am having enormous guilt all the time now over my failures as an employee during this crisis, but I have two young children and the youngest, at 1 1/2, demands CONSTANT supervision. Absolutely constant. You literally cannot leave that child unattended, even in a closed, child-proofed room, long enough to use the restroom.

    I feel like I am letting the entirety of working motherhood down, but also I did my part! I secured childcare outside of the home, to be sure I could be productive. Now that has failed with no alternatives, because we can’t bring anyone in to babysit and we can’t send the children anywhere, not even a park or playground. So something has to give, I’m afraid.

    1. Another Preschool Parent Doing Her Best**

      I hear you 100% – I am someone who is otherwise very committed to my career, and the guilt and inadequacy I feel right now keeps me up at night. My manager is being pretty supportive, we all just need to do the best we can and support one another. You are doing what you can do, and that is okay.

    2. PollyQ*

      Please try not to feel guilty (I know—easier said than done.) You’re making the best of an extremely difficult situation, and if your employer is reasonable, they’ll be of Alison’s mindset and understand. But you’re definitely not letting down “working motherhood” in any way at all.

    3. Caroline Bowman*

      18 months is the absolute eye of the storm for ”needing to be on 24/7 unless they are sound asleep” parenting. It 100% is. Obviously 2,3 and of course younger babies need lots of attention too, but from about 9-10 months till around 2-2.5 is when they are at their most inquisitive and with zero understanding of any form of ”that might hurt” that even slightly older kids have.

      You have my sincere sympathies! I hope they nap at least a bit or at least go to bed early and that there is another parent around who can pitch in.

      1. glitter writer*

        Alas, both my children were/are very hostile to napping. This is my own doing, in a roundabout way; my parents’ admonition, “Someday you’ll have one JUST LIKE YOU” appears to have borne fruit, lol.

        But yes, that window from 10 months through either 24 or 36 months is absolutely the most hazardous.

        1. Nita*

          My kids have a history of dropping naps completely by 18 months. Yesterday my 16-month-old refused to nap for the first time, and she was up from 8:30 AM to 9:30 PM, happy as a clam. Great timing *headdesk*

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            May this be merely a sleep regression and not the end of naps! One can hope.

      2. LunaMei*

        My 1.5 year old naps great at daycare (a full 2.5 hours) but she wakes up earlier, since we have to get to daycare. Now that we’re all sleeping until about 7am, she’s only sleeping maaaaybe 1 hour at the most. So pretty much all my afternoon meetings go off the rails.

    4. TimeCat*

      My 14 month old managed to unplug my computer keyboard and get it around his neck in seconds. I was trying to work at the time and he was literally under my feet (all other cords were tied up but this one couldn’t be. I now type on my laptop keyboard instead). If I hadn’t been right there he could have been seriously hurt.

    5. Nita*

      Sympathy! I’ve got three kids, and the older two could be left alone for five minutes. Or I could set them up with some toys and work next to them – I’d get in a solid 20 minutes at a time. The baby… OMG. She’s probably my husband’s payback for all the things he did as a kid (I’ve heard lots of stories). She cannot be left alone for five seconds, and if I’m in the same room and I take my eyes off her for an instant, she is no longer where I left her when I look back at her. She’s either hovering next to the bathroom hoping someone left the door ajar (she can throw stuff in the toilet AND then flush), trying to open the oven, throwing useful objects in the trash, pulling actual garbage out of the trash, or balancing on a toy bin (yesterday I caught her three times as she fell off it head-first). Right now it takes two adults to watch her, not to mention, handle the older kids’ remote schooling. We’ve been letting her color on the walls with crayon to catch a little breather, because that’s the least bad alternative of all the things she’s capable of.

    6. Sunflower*

      I’ve been seeing this quote that I keep reminding myself of. Hope your managers see this situation the same.

      ‘We aren’t working from home. We are at home during a crisis trying to work’.

  8. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    If you want to keep your great employee and ever have her go above and beyond again, it’s your turn to go above and beyond for her.

    This is exactly it. Exactly. People go above and beyond for workplaces they trust to go above and beyond for them. OP, it’s time for you to earn that trust she’s given you by repaying her in kind.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      And to expand a bit, OP — “just find a way to make it work” is the purview of lousy managers. What, exactly, do you expect her to do to “make it work”?

      In ordinary times, she would be in the office, able to devote her attention fully to work. In ordinary times as a remote worker, she could expect to have the child in daycare or to have a carer coming over to watch the kid. These are the ways people “make it work” and they are categorically impossible at this time. If your expectation of this employee is that she is going to pull some magical solution out of thin air, you are not being a reasonable manager.

      Anytime you are going to expect someone to “find a way,” it would stand you in good stead to sit back and brainstorm a little bit about what ways they might find. As an exercise, it can help give you some sense of scope about what exactly you are actually asking of them.

      1. Picard*

        “”Anytime you are going to expect someone to “find a way,” it would stand you in good stead to sit back and brainstorm a little bit about what ways they might find. As an exercise, it can help give you some sense of scope about what exactly you are actually asking of them.””

        So much this. How EXACTLY is she supposed to find a way? Do you have kids?

          1. PollyQ*

            True, but people who don’t have experience with what it’s like to care for toddlers full time are more likely to not understand how overwhelmingly needy they are.

            1. Name Required*

              This. I have a great, childless manager. He assumed I’d be just fine working from home after I got into a “routine” with my 4 month old just because he didn’t know any better. *laughs and cries simultaneously*

    2. LDN Layabout*

      The thing is, I’d argue it’s not even going above and beyond as a management to manage projects and resource. It’s literally their job.

      Is it harder with a global pandemic on? Yeah, so are a lot of things for a lot of people. Thinking you can cover the same level of work for the majority of cases is…blindness.

  9. crushed*

    Thank you, Alison. Even without kids, I am finding it a challenge to ignore all the needs of my household now that I’m here full-time.

    OP, if you are expecting your employee to work her regular office schedule at home with a child, you are setting her up for failure. Let her work during the hours when she’s best able to concentrate, and you should see a big difference.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Exactly. The entire point of going above and beyond during normal times is to earn latitude and flexibility for when it’s needed, which is now! The OP cannot reasonably expect the employee to continue working above and beyond. The OP can hope that the employee has the capacity to address the most urgent things (and allow the others to drop for now), while also respecting that sometimes the most urgent thing is the toddler.

  10. Secret Squirrel*

    Can you prioritize the most important things that need to get done, and hold off on the less important stuff?

    You seem to think that working in the office is the same as working at home cooped up with your entire family for days on end. They just aren’t the same conditions.

    Almost all of the people who report to me have children and with good communication and realistic expectations we’ve been able to make it work.

    1. Liane*

      “You seem to think that working in the office is the same as working at home cooped up with your entire family for days on end. They just aren’t the same conditions.”
      And this is before we get to the fact that even single people who weren’t already working remotely are unlikely to have a home “office” and equipment that’s as ideal for their duties as they had in the office. Company couldn’t ship everyone laptops right away. Their apartment has the worst soundproofing and/or most inconsiderate neighbors ever. Local ISP is overwhelmed…

    2. High School Teacher*

      To your second sentence, yes – I’m in my late 20s and live with my partner. We have no children. We are lucky that we have the tools we need to work and plenty of space. I still am finding it hard to be productive. I’ve always been the type of person to work hard at work and then totally veg out at home. I am trying my best but just working from home is much harder than going to my workplace. Everyone needs some leeway!

  11. Malarkey01*

    Rather than think “shouldn’t employee find a way to make this work”, take just 60 seconds to brainstorm how someone could find care when they cannot leave their house and cannot have anyone else in”- within 20 seconds you should come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no option other than other spouse quitting work (which obviously is not a real option). There literally is no option here as Allison points out.

    The best thing you can do is talk to employee and help prioritize her work so that she can focus on your most important work and realize that she will not have the same productivity as normal.

    1. no name today*

      I know I am going to get flack for this, but there are people who are hiring out of school college students to come live with them after a 2 week isolation period. Or they are moving the kids in with other family. For enough money/incentive, there are options. Many essential workers aren’t able to decrease their productivity if we want to have a functioning society. This includes many working on site (pharmacists, grocery cashiers) but also some who may be able to work remotely (supply chain folks, electric grid operators). Their daycares and schools are closed too.

      If OP is in an essential industry, I have a lot more sympathy for her position.

      1. Frankie*

        Um, not really. My day care is closed and we are still required to pay close to the full amount for the duration. We don’t have money to pay anyone any extra, particularly if layoffs are around the corner. And we are not going to move in the grandparents and increase their risk of getting COVID.

        1. J.B.*

          Ick that’s awful! I am also skeptical they are paying their workers, and so it’s pure profit for the day care. If it’s one of the larger chains I would call up the ladder to see if there is anything you can do, at least a payment plan. Because paying to hold the spot if you then got laid off would be the worst outcome.

        2. AVP*

          Not sure about your state but I think that’s illegal in at least some of them. I know in New York State there’s been legal action towards a gym chain that was continuing to enforce monthly dues and regular hold/cancel fees (IANAL but something about it being illegal to charge for services not rendered).

          1. Katie the Fed*

            people in some areas are on waitlists for a year for daycare. If they stop paying, they lose their slots when things reopen.

      2. Eda*

        I would hope that we could all agree that the two examples you listed – employees living with their employers and literally sending children away – as ludicrous options.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Ah, many parents have sent their children to safe places without them throughout human history. See London and the Blitz. So was that ludicrous?

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Even during the Blitz, didn’t the King keep his children with him? My point is: Sacrifice comes from leaders first.

          2. Observer*

            Oh, so sending your kid away into a situation that is at least as dangerous as the one they are in so that Parents can work “above and beyond” is JUST THE SAME as sending your kids away to keep them from getting killed?

            Let’s get real!

          3. Batgirl*

            Many of those children were very seriously abused. Anyone familiar with modern childcare standards would not dream of suggesting it. We live in safer, more enlightened times.

          4. Avasarala*

            Great idea, let’s take a bunch of children, put them all on a crowded train together, and ship them out to the countryside, where they will live with strangers. Because warzones and pandemics should be dealt with the same way.

        2. Koala dreams*

          I’m not sure why you are so surprised over these situations. They have been common in many professions long before the pandemic. Living with employers, to mention a few examples: live-in nannies and farmhands, hospitality staff, or less extreme, hospital staff that work long shifts and can’t go home at night. Divers, ship crews, soldiers, and many others, have often had to leave their children with family since they couldn’t bring them to work.

      3. Us, too*

        These suggestions would break my regional requirements for social isolation. You aren’t allowed to bring people into your household who don’t already live there (even after 2 weeks) unless it is medically required and/or you are an essential industry employee. Do people still do it? Of course. Is it aligned with requirements? No.

      4. J. F.*

        My excellent, state licensed preschool costs me roughly $6000 per nine months. I have three kids. Nannies and babysitters here charge $15 an hour, and that’s for under the table, so you can’t use your fsa. That is $1800 a month for 30 hours of childcare, or $2400 for 40 hours. I already paid for 7/9 of a year. What’s left would buy me 89 total hours of childcare over two months.

        I don’t know what essential workers are doing- they should have subsidized care! Probably everyone should have this thing!- but paying this much for childcare sure ain’t it.

      5. Amber Rose*

        The reason you get flack for this is because it’s ridiculous. If a society needs to function by sacrificing everything that isn’t work, that society was never functioning to begin with.

        1. no name today*

          That’s what was already happening, though. If a critical supply chain management person or electric grid operator decreases productivity by 50%, there are others to pick up the slack. If *all* such people decrease productivity by 50% in the space of a week with essentially no warning, we no longer have functional supply chains or an electric grid. No industry was prepared for this, but people still want shelves stocked, water running, and lights on.

          1. Blueberry*

            *If* this is an essential but work-from-homee position, which we should note the LW did not say, then the company, and above them the government, should provide extra resources to deal with the additional challenges, rather than expecting 100% of the additional resources to be provided by the employees who are lowest in the hierarchy, likely paid the least, and have the smallest and most individual resource base.

            Also — hiring college students? sending small children to livewith other family members? This reminds me of when I was out of work and an obnoxious FOAF advised me to sell my computer (which I needed for, among other tasks, jobhunting). Finding utterly impractical but not quirte impossible ‘solutions’ and then blaming people for not implementing them is not actually helpful.

      6. Generic Name*

        What? I’m sorry, but being 100% focused on work is not so important that I would send my child away to family in another state, even if I didn’t have a court-ordered custody arrangement I have to comply with.

        These suggestions, while they might work for SOME families, will come off as really tone-deaf suggestions from a manager to an employee. Imagine how the conversation will sound-
        Manager: I’ve noticed your productivity is slipping because of your toddler being around.
        Employee: Yes it’s been really rough. Impossible really.
        Manager: Why don’t you send your child away for the duration? You know, so you can focus 100% on work?
        Employee: [updates resume]

      7. Malarkey01*

        If my employer told me to send my kids away for the next several months because I wasn’t getting my regular work done (and that work wasn’t literally saving the human race) that is a a company that is going to be blown up on social media in record time. Not only would that cost them their employees it will cost them immeasurably in PR costs.

      8. Risha*

        What the hell. The reason you’ll get flack for these suggestions is because they’re bad suggestions.

        Even if they’re allowed to by local regulations, what percentage of American workers do you think have the income necessary to both pay and support full time child care in their home? 5%? 2%? Assuming, and this is a massive assumption even for the well off, they even have a spare bedroom to move them into? Keep in mind that the median household income is just north of $63,000. I last made that little in… actually, I never had a household income that low, because I and my ex-husband together made more than that when we graduated college in 1998. We lived in a one bedroom, three room apartment with paper thin walls and had one vehicle, and scraped by with the help of credit cards until we got a couple of raises each.

        And not everyone has family available to take over the entirety of their child care responsibilities. What, I should move my hypothetical child into a one bedroom basement apartment with my 70 year old, partially disabled step-father? My brother on the other side of the country with two small children and two parents also working from home in a small house that’s bursting at the seams? Please.

      9. Third or Nothing!*

        The only reason I’d even remotely consider sending my daughter away is if one of us was on the front lines getting exposed every day and we wanted to protect her.

      10. Tinker*

        I’m guessing that in a lot of cases it’s going to be less expensive to hire more people to do the work than to pay existing workers to move their children out of their home (!!!!!) in order to enhance their productivity.

      11. Arial*

        1. “there are people who are hiring out of school college students to come live with them after a 2 week isolation period.” This is impossible for most, illegal in many areas, and dangerous on multiple levels. I feel like the reasons why ought to be obvious, but you seem to be sincere, so here are some reasons: The cost would be 100% impossible (do you know how much live-in help costs? are you Lucille Bluth?) for the vast majority of workers. Finding someone you don’t know to come live with you and your family at the last minute is a recipe for disaster. “Out of school college students” are not licensed childcare providers and do not have the necessary training, which isn’t a ‘nice to have’ thing. Relying on desperate, underskilled labour to satisfy managers is morally wrong. Adding people to your home is illegal under the terms of many shelter-in-place orders. There are laws around live-in workers, including requirements for their own needs, which most people would not be able to adhere to if they didn’t already have live-in workers. Those are just off the top of my head – I can give you more.

        2. “Or they are moving the kids in with other family.” What, like grandparents, who have been told over and over again that they shouldn’t be taking care of family? Siblings, who are under the exact same stressors if they have children of their own, or under different pressures if they don’t? Friends, who are going through the same? Nope. Some lucky few might have situations where putting their kids somewhere else, but…. seriously. Look at what you’re saying: that even the work of NONESSENTIAL WORKERS is more important than them staying with their CHILD during a pandemic.

        Do you really believe that? Do you truly believe that nonessential work is so crucial that managers should roll their eyes at parents who don’t want to be separated from their children? That those parents aren’t doing enough, are slacking, are making excuses?

        I’m not a parent. I never want children. I’m still a human being capable of empathy.

        You were prepared for “flack”, you say. This isn’t “flack”. This is fury and disgust, frankly. And a rebuttal based on facts. I await your similarly fact-based response.

        1. no name today*

          I am pushing back on “there is absolutely no option other than other spouse quitting work (which obviously is not a real option)” by reporting a few approaches I’ve seen. I am saying that essential workers are being forced to figure out options that aren’t one spouse quitting work. I am saying that some non-essential workers are choosing to keep their income through other sacrifices. I am not saying any of these are good options. In some cases they have been executed well – for example two essential-worker parents, furloughed aunt and uncle, kids are now with their cousins. In other cases, less well.

          I am reminding all of us that every basic normalcy we are current enjoying – groceries, trash service, mail, water, electricity, internet, etc. – is being arranged for by adults whose kids’ schools and day cares are just as closed as those of their peers. Of course no one wants to figure out how to maintain two parenting adults at full or close to full productivity, but pretending that no one is denies reality and the sacrifices many are currently making.

          1. Arial*

            “I am saying that essential workers are being forced to figure out options that aren’t one spouse quitting work. ”


            1. Arial*

              Reading this again, I’m sorry for using ‘black’ as a literal synonym for evil. That was messed up and racist of me, even if I have been reading a lot of Milton lately.

          2. Arial*

            And slightly calmer: Essential workers are not being forced to manage, they are forced to either work (and die, in huge numbers, for hysterically less pay than “non-essential” CEOs get in ten seconds of doing literally nothing) or get no money. So, get screamed at, not have enough PPE in any capacity, put themselves in danger, struggle, desperately pray their children don’t burn down the house while they’re at work, and bring home $50.

            If we point at them and say “but they’re managing”, we are evil. Point blank. End of story.

          3. Observer*

            OK. So since it is technically possible for human beings with sufficient income to SOMETIMES do this, that becomes a reasonable approach?

            No. It is not.

            The fact is that for 99.9% of the population, these are NOT actually reasonable, realistic or appropriate approaches. Using ridiculous and mostly not actually possible “solutions” as “push back” against something you don’t like is not a good faith argument.

          4. Risha*

            A lot of the time that “option” they’re figuring out is leaving their seven year old home alone, in defiance of common sense, child safety, and law. Leaving their two year old in the care of their 10 year old brother. Leaving them in the park all day (since the libraries are closed). Having them hid away in the back room at work with a cheap tablet, headphones, and orders to stay quiet. Having them cleaning hotel rooms alongside mom. Unlicensed daycares run by god knows who in conditions that wouldn’t pass muster in a normal place. People “figure it out” as best they can, and a lot of the time what they figure out is a horrible idea but is literally the best they can do and still feed those kids, and it’s absolutely unacceptable (and yet utterly unsurprising) that people will put it forward as an example to be followed.

          5. Ann O.*

            In my state, daycares that provide care for essential workers are allowed to stay open. I don’t know how common that is. But it does mean that where I am, essential workers do have a possibility that non-essential workers do not.

      12. Murphy*

        Yeah, I think bringing strangers into my house during a pandemic, or shipping my child off to grandparents (both sets of which live in areas where COVID is worse) is a great idea!

      13. Observer*

        Actually, a lot of “essential” workers ARE cutting back their productivity for just this reason – they are NOT making enough money to do the kinds of things you are suggesting, or it is just not an option for other reasons. Which is one of the reasons why so many “essential” businesses are cutting back hours and so many others are doing things like trying to call people out of retirement.

        In NO case is it reasonable to tell someone “just make it work” unless you have some way of actually making it work. Is the OP going to pay to have someone go into quarantine in “Jane’s” house for two weeks and then pay the differential between normal child care costs and having someone live in Jane’s house and be a full time carer? And that assumes that this is even possible.

        As for suggesting that someone should send their kid away from home so they can “keep their regular schedule” and and continue to “go above and beyond“, anyone who could suggest that should never have the slightest scrap of power over ANYONE – or any living being, for that matter.

  12. Enough*

    You say time sensitive but what does that really mean? There’s a big difference between I, your supervisor, want something by 3 pm and if this is not done by 3 pm we lose money, an account,etc. Figure out what the real deadlines are and talk to your employee about what she can do. Maybe 11 am isn’t reasonable but 3 pm is or maybe it will have to be 9 pm after the child has gone to bed. Just because you can still work a normal 9-5 schedule doesn’t mean you can demand this of your employee during this time.

    1. Just J.*

      Exactly. We’re all in the same boat. If I’m not meeting expectations right now, then you can bet my clients are also not meeting their expectations to their clients and so on up the line. (And no, I’m not in healthcare or anything like that.)

      1. NW Mossy*

        THIS. My division translates customer requests into tickets, and our volumes right now are running at about 50% of what they would be normally in the day-to-day areas and 150% in the areas impacted by our customers’ financial distress. Our priorities are not what they normally are, period.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          Yep, and my friend who works for a puzzle manufacturer is completely BESIEGED with order and complaints and calls for eight solid hours a day. The world is different right now, and possibly for a long time.

    2. Alton*

      Agreed. I think we all need to be conscious right now about adjusting our expectations of what really needs to be done, and how critical it really is.

    3. Kes*

      I think what’s important is a) knowing priorities and deadlines, what can slip and what can’t b) understanding what the employee’s availability is, eg are there shifts where she is available while husband is responsible, or is she trying to make it work all day but distracted with a toddler the whole time, and then c) figuring out a compromise so that the important things get done. And c) is the manager’s job and may require the manager taking on certain tasks if they fall in times the employee won’t be able to get to them, or the employee flagging things at a certain point in advance of the deadline if they need help on it. Just expecting the employee to do everything exactly as normal is unreasonable because this isn’t a normal situation, but this is time for the manager to step up and help figure out a solution that will work and ensure things that need to get done do get done on time.

      1. J.B.*

        And to whatever extent possible, parents trading off can help. Getting 4 much less interrupted hours is much better for me than getting 8 constantly interrupted hours.

  13. AwfulDragonfly*

    Excellent advices as usual. Allison alludes to it, but I just want to make sure you really hear it OP – this wonderful employee will definitely be taking note of how you treat her and how understanding and reasonable you are in these unprecedented times. If you’re expectations are not reasonable (and they currently aren’t), you can be pretty sure she’ll be job hunting as soon as possible.

    1. Liane*

      Not only will this employee be taking notes, so will her coworkers, &–just possibly–your superiors. It might take longer for others to notice since everyone is WFH, but it will get around. What do you want your other reports and your bosses to be thinking about you? “Wow OP really has our backs–one of the best managers I’ve ever had” and “OP really stepped up to the challenge of managing a team never meant to be remote, and kept up their morale” would be great, right?

    2. Arial*

      Your clients, or customers, will also notice. Your employees might not be able to say anything now, but there are a lot of lawsuits waiting to happen, a lot of job-hunting waiting to happen, a lot of spreading the news about how Company X behaved waiting to happen.

      I, and pretty much everyone I know in business, is making a list of companies we’ll never work with again under any conditions. I’m pretty sure most moral people are.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    Please be like my boss and offer flexibility and understanding. Right now most people feel like they suck as parents and employees.

    Help her out. Don’t make it harder.

  15. Just J.*

    Even those of us without teens, children, toddlers or infants are having a fall-off in productivity. The news is scary. Being at the grocery store or pharmacy is scary. We have had some of our projects put on hold or outright cancelled. Job security is a worry. It all preys on your mind. And it is depressing as heck to be stuck at home even when you are not working.

    I am a hyper-productive worker and I have noticed my productivity is off, perhaps by 20% or more. It’s just not possible to be 100% right now.

    Please cut your staff some slack. Remember you are not the only employer around. Your staff will remember how they are treated now and may make the decision to stay or go depending on how they are treated through this crisis.

    1. Triplestep*

      I could have written this. I have no kids at home, but I am so often worried about my adult son in NYC, my old mother with COPD and my job, I know my productivity has dropped.

      I am not comparing this to having a toddler at home by any means! I remember those days and I don’t know how parents are coping.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, this. I have been pushing back wherever I can when I see some people in my department focus on the impact on people with kids at home (which includes me) and talk about how everyone deserves flexibility and understanding right now. Living alone right now is its own form of misery for many people. Anyone can have high risk conditions themselves, or be worried about friends and family members. Many people’s normal coping strategies, like some forms of exercise, are cut off.

      My experience of crises pre-kids is that I tend to live on Twitter and my concentration gets shot to hell, while my current kids + work arrangement forces me to keep my head a bit more on what I can control and gets me out riding bikes and playing games with the kids. I think I’m actually faring better than some of my single friends and colleagues who live alone, all things considered, as hard as it all is.

    3. Pilcrow*

      Came here to say something similar. There are also going to be delays just for pure technological reasons like network bandwidth restrictions on either end. Even before this, I noticed a lag in response over the VPN connection and sometimes Outlook has a delay in send/receive (as in there can be an hour+ difference between the send time and me seeing it).

      Keep in mind that everyone is working without the resources an office provides: only a single monitor at home vs. two (or more!) monitors at work, no printer/copier (or a greatly reduced printing capacity), reduced storage/filing space, longer time getting a hot beverage (really! I could just get myself a cup of hot water from a spigot in the breakroom, now I need to boil the water first). It all adds up.

    4. Scout*

      So, so, so well said. I don’t have kids or really any major responsibilities outside of taking care of my pet, but it is so hard to focus right now with everything going on. People are more impacted than they know.

  16. Girliusmaximus*

    What does this manager do when, under normal circumstances, the employee is off work? Does the manager not shift priorities around and re-balance the workload where needed? I can’t imagine that this employee is the only person who needs accommodations for challenges arising from this pandemic (be it child care, elder care, technology issues or whatever). Why focus only on her? LW, how are you working with other employees? I think the you need to be more supportive and flexible given the situation. This is not the status quo, and employees need the benefit of the doubt.

  17. Roz*

    It may be helpful for the OP to hear about how others are handling this. My organization has been great. We provide an essential health regulatory function and have a number of colleagues who are at home with toddlers. Here’s what has been working for us.

    First, leadership has been very clear numerous times that flexibility is a must. If you cannot work your standard hours, then flex them. Make sure things are covered and that your team is aware of your hours but overall manage your time yourself. Here’s how my manager with a 2-year-old at home is doing it. My Manager takes every other morning and her husband takes the afternoons. So they flip who takes him mornings and afternoons so every day there is an overlap between her hours and our team’s hours. This way we can connect if needed. She then makes up the time in the evening or over weekends if needed. Her plate was very full before the pandemic and we are managing a number of high profile initiatives so it’s been hard on her but she is managing, as are the other parents in our org by being very clear on what she can and can’t do, what hours she is available and truly being there for the really important things.
    Our director and CEO are being very supportive and it’s working really well. We are on week 4 now of this.

    Max flexibility and realistic expectations combined with excellent communication are key.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      On my team, there’s two I know of.

      One has 2 kids, ages 3 and 1. They are mid-remodel, so are temporarily living with his mother in law. Also joining the house are his wife’s sister/brother + spouse + 2 kids, ages 2 and 9 months. So, in one house, they have 5 adults (4 of whom at least work full time), and 4 kids, ages 3, 2, 1 and 9 months. They have drawn up a schedule of who has the kids when. When it’s your shift with the kids, that’s all you’re doing.

      Another coworker has 2 young kids under 5, the younger is around 2. His wife also works full time. He’s starting working around 4am, then they’re desperately tag teaming during the day around each other’s meetings, then he’s working until 11-12 at night once the kids are in bed.

      1. Ranon*

        A 4am to midnight daily schedule is insane and will definitely lead to burnout, soon. I would definitely not use that as an example of anything going well! I hope your company figures out a more sustainable workload for him soon.

        1. theguvnah*

          yeah there”s a lot of magical thinking happening in this thread about how parents are making it work. the answer is not “they are nonstop between dawn and midnight.”
          we can do better.

        2. Observer*

          True. And even with this insane schedule, his productivity is not what it normally would be, I expect.

          Which is to say that expecting normal productivity is unreasonable.Expecting HIGH productivity is delusional.

  18. DataQueen*

    OP, i’m a manager with several employees in this situation and i applaud Alisons answer – if you think of it the way she’s framing it, i’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion.

    I make sure i got out of my way to let my employees know i do NOT expect the same level of work, that i DO understand the childcare issues, and that i appreciate ANYTHING they are able to get done. Because trust me – the employee is more conscious of this than you are and im sure this is killing her, especially if she’s a normally conscientious employee.

  19. Blisskrieg*

    Great answer from Alison! All the working from home guidance in terms of childcare is thrown out the window because there. is. no. childcare. I have been talking with other people in the company who answer my questions and have to turn in the next breath to answer a math question for their young child. Even though the people reporting to me have (somehow) managed to craft quiet on the time we’ve talked on the phone, I have told them to please not worry about background noise from children when I call–I understand. If they are talking with a client, I’d prefer for them to minimize noise, but please–I don’t want them to stress. Being trapped 24 hours a day with your offspring (however well loved) is no one’s idea of fun and is certainly not their choice.

  20. Annony*

    It sounds like what you need to do is seriously look at the work you are giving her and the time frame she has to do it in and figure out how to work in flexibility. Then talk to her about what she CAN do. For example, if you give her at least 24 hours notice of a time sensitive task, can she work that in? How many non time sensitive tasks are there? Maybe you shouldn’t give her many time sensitive tasks right now. Is there a way she can work out a schedule with her husband so that there is a dedicated time you know she is available?

    You say that she is a great employee during normal circumstances, so have an upfront and honest conversation with her about what she can and cannot do right now and try to work around it. If there is something in particular that you need you should tell her and work out how to get it (not that you need her to work her normal schedule). This is temporary and you don’t want to lose a good employee because you couldn’t adapt in these really unprecedented circumstances.

  21. Quaremie*

    I am the OP’s employee (or at least I could be)! I can only get about five hours of work during a normal workday, between splitting the childcare with my husband and working while she is napping. However, coupled with the incredibly slow Internet, and the fact that most of my working hours are spent in meetings, I feel like I am being minimally productive. I try to work until midnight but that also affects my productivity the next day. The situation feels completely unsustainable.

    1. glitter writer*

      Yes, working outside of regular hours, after the exhausting job of parenting all day, is also extremely challenging. My children wake up by 6:00 in the morning and without day care available, I’m “on duty” with them until the oldest finally stops fighting bedtime and falls asleep sometime after 9:00 in the evening. By that point I’m barely functional and the paltry amount of work I can get out before I fall asleep face-first on the keyboard is also not peak quality.

      1. Frankie*

        That’s what not everyone gets. It’s not just that you’re busy during the day–it’s that the cognitive load of parenting makes it really hard to do focused, quality work.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Five hours? As far as I’m concerned, that’s amazing. If you were my employee, I would praise you for getting that much done.

      1. Quaremie*

        I guess I mean that I am probably in front of a computer for about five hours during the workday. 3 to 4 of those hours are usually in meetings, where I’m trying to multitask and failing. The rest is usually responding to urgent emails while making sure my one and a half-year-old doesn’t hurt herself, wash her hands in the toilet, or eat a handful of Vaseline. All actual work gets done after 9 o’clock at night.

        I am trying to prioritize, cut nonessential meetings, acknowledge emails relatively quickly even when I can’t fully respond to them, and try to check something off my to do list every day (even though multiple items are getting added!). Most of my managers are pretty understanding and haven’t complained, and I am also a manager and have given my team a lot of flexibility and leeway as I would hope I can have as well.

        1. Ada Doom*

          I don’t know if it helps to know, but you are absolutely not alone. I am with you 100%

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          I feel so bad for snorting at your description of your kid’s antics but it sounds so familiar!!! I swear if I have to say “You’re finding lots of Nos, let’s look for a Yes!” ONE MORE TIME…

    3. Human Jellyfish*

      Hello, me! I have an active and inquisitive 4 year old at home, my spouse and I work FT, suffer from clinical anxiety, are managers, and there’s no way that we can be 100% productive. Someone commented earlier about flexing time and making up hours during the time when dependents are asleep (nap, after bedtime). Though I wish I could, I can’t do that.* Same as you, if I work ’till midnight, I am useless the next day. Part of it is that if I have an hour to myself, I’m going to take it to refill my metaphorical cup. Not to work. I’ll be more useful to my child, my spouse, and my team if I am mentally present. I am not getting 8 hours of work done. I am attending my meetings, making sure the time-sensitive stuff is done, and then chipping away at the other things when I can make the time.

      My team are hourly. In this interim time, they can just put 8 hours on their time card, regardless of productivity. To me, if they’re generally available, I am calling that time worked. They could be [insert non-work activity] but as long as they give their email a glance and respond to anything urgent, that’s fine.

      *I work in the arts and culture sector. If I was in health, government services, or another essential service related to supporting folks during this crisis, my response to this conversation would be very different.

      1. Quaremie*

        I am in the health sector, although not directly related to the COVID19 crisis. But unfortunately it does mean a lot of my work is time sensitive, and there is a low threshold for mistakes. For that reason I try to shut off when I get too tired or too overwhelmed, because working through it is not going to help anyone.

  22. Gina*

    Thank you for that response Alison! It’s so hard juggling my 2 year old and working full time, while 36 weeks pregnant with my next, and I feel like I’m failing at both work and child care, but my manager has been amazing. She has told me to just get 8 hours in when you can, doesn’t matter if it’s during normal working hours or not. Trust me, we would all rather not be in this situation, but it’s where we are and are all doing our best.

  23. LDN Layabout*

    Also…there’s a reason management gets paid more. You’re meant to be managing. So if you’re aware your employees are struggling in what is a fairly unprecedented situation for the majority of people, you need to be the one looking at what the priorities are and how they can be shuffled.

    Your employee puts over and above what’s expected of her position when able to. You need to do what you’re paid to do and manage.

  24. NerdyKris*

    OP reminds me of the lawyer who went viral on Twitter over the weekend saying that it’s fraudulent to work from home while also caring for a child, and that WFH policies require childcare. Yes, normally, but this isn’t a normal situation! Who’s going to be caring for the child, the closed daycare or the sheltering in place sitter? There’s going to be pets, kids, family members, all sorts of things. This isn’t a normal work from home scenario.

    1. LSP*

      My company’s WFH policy requires childcare, but now that’s not an option for a lot of people, they are saying that they expect us to work our full hours everyday, despite their own policy acknowledging that one cannot do a full day’s work while caring for a small child. It’s bonkers!

      1. NerdyKris*

        I don’t think it’s that bonkers to relax the policy a little while asking people to put in their full hours despite not having to be in the office. This doesn’t suddenly prove that it’s okay to work from home without childcare. If anything it’s going to prove to a lot of people why in normal circumstances it’s required.

        1. K.K.*

          If you work in a billable industry, bonkers part of this is being asked to bill your normal amount of hours even though there’s no way you were a normal amount of productive. That can lead to a ton of guilt, paranoia about losing established contracts, etc.

          1. LSP*

            I work in a billable industry, and my company is expecting everyone to either bill their normal hours or burn through all their PTO (which is part of compensation). Even if everyone used all their PTO, and went into debt on PTO, it STILL won’t be enough to cover the time. We will be in this position for many more months, and even though a lot of white collar workers haven’t been hit to badly yet, it’s coming, and it’s going to start with parents of young kids who simply cannot keep up the impossible feats being expected of us from our employers.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          Yeah, our WFH policy in normal circumstances requires that an employee attest to the fact that they will not have childcare responsibilities during the time they’re working from home (for a regular scheduled WFH plan, rather than a one-off “the kid’s sick, I can’t come to the office” day). But during this time, since everyone is WFH all the time, our upper management and HR have completely waived that. And they’re asking people to put in the time they can, but not expecting everyone to be capable of full time every day.

        3. LSP*

          I wasn’t saying it’s bonkers to relax the policy. I’m saying it’s bonkers for companies to suddenly think that people can work a full day from home while caring for a child when their own policy acknowledges that is not something that can reasonably be done.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I didn’t see the Twitter post or the viral (!) response to it, but based on your summary I can sort of see the lawyer’s point even if I don’t really agree: They pay you (generic you, obviously) your normal salary and you produce 60% of the work. What would it be like if you did your normal workload/productivity and they paid you 60% of your salary because they were in a “not normal situation” due to extenuating factors affecting the company?

      The argument to this is usually that companies have more resources, are more resilient to get through things like this than any individual employee. Not necessarily true actually (especially with multiple employees likely to be affected by the same issues about childcare etc).

      1. Avasarala*

        Well, but that happens though. Companies do cut salaries and cancel bonuses when the company/economy is doing poorly, and employees are not working fewer hours or being less productive.

        And of course the company is more resilient than an individual employee. The company is an entity that seeks profit. The employee trades their time and labor for the ability to survive. The company can afford to be less profitable for a time, and worst case scenario go out of business. Employees less so–worst case scenario, they run out of money and starve. These are not on the same moral scale, because companies are not people.

        1. Arial*

          Thank you for this – it’s the kind of comment I’ll send people to because I can’t think of any way to say it more eloquently than you have here.

      2. Ann O.*

        It’s a very logical point for a situation that is not a global pandemic. In a global pandemic situation, we all just need to do what we can, and companies need to be aware that their employees are people thrust into a situation for which no one was prepared and for which there are few options.

  25. Sara without an H*

    It is frustrating to hear “I can’t” do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace. OP, it undoubtedly frustrates her, too. Because she’s not in the workplace, there’s a global pandemic like nothing that’s been seen for a century, and she has a toddler underfoot.

    You’re going to get piled on in the comments today, so I’d like to get in early with some management advice. The best thing you as a manager can do right now is some serious thinking about what is absolutely essential in the current environment. There may be a few things that need to be done NOW come hell or high water, but in the real world most of the things you are calling “time sensitive” can probably be put on hold or done on a stretched schedule. (Hell, even the IRS has put back the tax filing deadline.) Many deadlines are just arbitrary. You as a manager need to review all your priorities and renegotiate any timetables that can’t be fulfilled under present circumstances.

    1. Alton*

      I think that considering the employee’s perspective here is good. If she’s a great employee, she’s probably conscientious about her work, and it probably does frustrate her that routines that have worked for her are no longer possible.

  26. Llellayena*

    I had someone on my team recently working from home with a toddler. I scheduled meetings for during naptime (with flexible starts for “kid’s not asleep yet and screaming”) and offered to jump on late evening to answer questions because that’s when she got the most done, after toddler was asleep. If there are tasks that can support that flexibility, that would be a good way to go. Discuss options with her if there are things that are time sensitive. Maybe there’s a 2hr window where hubby is watching the kid that can be dedicated to a specific, mentally intensive task. In general are there things that can wait until post-covid (not just with her workload) so current critical tasks can be redistributed? Trade some non-intensive tasks from someone else with her intensive tasks (temporarily and equally!)?

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Swapping tasks around is another good thought. Are there other coworkers who could handle more of her time-sensitive functions, in exchange for her taking some of their less time-sensitive ones?

      Think flexibly, OP.

  27. Toddlermom*

    I am not sure if the LW has kids, but toddlers need almost constant attention. IMO are harder than babies. Babies (who aren’t mobile), can seat in a bouncer or swing and be somewhat entertained, they take multiple naps etc (of course this is child dependent.) Toddlers are mobile, who want to tell mommy every fun thing they see, do or create. Who decide its fun to jump off the back of a couch. Who neeed a snack all the freaking time (yes I have 2.5 year old right now). And some don’t nap or take one nap. So be flexible right now. If her productivity is down, there is a reason for it. She probably is mortified over this, I would be. Right now I am essential so I still report to the office.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      totally agree, until a baby is properly mobile, they generally nap at least some of the time / can be put in playpens / in bouncy seats / worn for short periods and work – at least to an extent – can get done, particularly if there are two parents.

      Once they’re fully mobile and into being a toddler, it’s game ON. I am profoundly thankful my youngest child will be 7 this year, and yes, of course he needs attention and help with home schooling and breaks and reading and all that, but having a toddler would be nightmarish.

    2. Ginger*

      I would also add toddler are MORE needy right because their schedules have been flipped upside down. They don’t understand, they can’t communicate their feelings calmly and you can’t exactly explain the nuances of a pandemic to them.

      -signed mom of an 18mo old and 3 yr old who are EXTRA EXTRA today.

      1. Toddlermom*

        Oh my goodness yes. My 5 year is really missing her friends and constantly asks me to play with her. I don’t mind every now and then but I can’t play constantly with her. My 2 year old misses her alone time with her babysitters for sure. My 9 year old is coping the best, but is def starting to feel the impacts of social distancing this week. I can tell she misses her time away from her crazy little sisters. Its all very hard.

    3. Re'lar Fela*

      Yes THIS. I would kill to have an infant or baby during this time. Instead, I have a highly social, ridiculously energetic 3.5 year old who doesn’t have her usual outlets (gymnastics, story time, playgrounds, etc). I’ve been instructed to self-isolate due to a presumptive positive for COVID-19, so we literally haven’t left the house in a week. My employer isn’t required to provide the 14 day paid quarantine, so I’m just over here trying to survive one minute at a time. It’s so mortifying. I was on a Zoom call this morning and my kid decided to join. She was cute and said hi for like 30 seconds…and then started SCREAMING because I couldn’t play with her. Luckily, I was able to mute quickly and get her off-screen, but I completely missed what was being said to me as the call was ending.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I hope you don’t have the virus – please rest and take care of yourself.

    4. DarnTheMan*

      Amen. I don’t have kids but one of my co-workers does and it’s turned out he has a sixth sense for when she has to speak on a call because that’s always the moment he decides he needs her attention. So it’s just become a regular thing that he either sits in on calls now or we skip to the next person and come back to her when he’s been corralled by dad and/or distracted by something else.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      Yeah, even with a play pen it’s bonkers. Giving thanks right now that my kid is college-age and working on his own work.

    6. Third or Nothing!*

      OH MY GOSH YES TO THE CONSTANT SNACKING!!!!!!!!!!! Why? Where does it all go??

      Our toddlers are the same age. Solidarity, fellow toddler mom.

  28. Heidi*

    If it helps to think about it this way: Employee has a full-time job. Child care is also a full-time job. All of the options for covering the child care during work hours are no longer available. Therefore, your employee is now essentially responsible for 2 full-time jobs. This employee is not going to prioritize her job activities over the care of her own child, which is what the OP wants to ask her to do (and what we are begging the OP not to do). It’s fine to be frustrated with this whole horrible situation which is not OP’s fault, but being so unfair towards this employee at this time would be OP’s fault.

    P.S. Don’t imply that her husband can do all the child care. For all you know, the husband’s employer is telling him that his wife should be doing all the child care. Neither is fair. They both are responsible for child care.

  29. KWu*

    I know we don’t want to turn into a LW pile-on or pit parents against non-parents, and credit to LW for asking for another opinion. But…whoa I’m concerned at the lack of trust in an great employee. LW, I hope you’re able to adjust your mindset to be more empathetic, because your great employee will either stay only resentfully or end up leaving.

    “pleads child care issues” – she’s not making an excuse, she’s telling you about her reality.
    “putting off some time-sensitive tasks” – are you making sure she knows what’s most important and urgent to work on first, such that her limited time and focus are put to the best use?
    “find a way to work her normal schedule” – No. If you get even 60%, I guarantee your employee is sacrificing sleep and mental health to make it happen.
    “It is frustrating to hear “I can’t” do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace.” – yes, it is. Consider also how frustrating it must be to be held to the same standard if you were suddenly tasked with two full-time jobs at the same time.

    These are tough times. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

  30. Just some internet rando*

    THANK YOU! I feel like the OP’s employee. I feel like my management expects productivity as usual while I am home trying to homeschool an elementary age child. It’s like having a manager insist on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we are starting to sink. Look around! Things are different. Cut your employee some slack, and help them prioritize realistically.

  31. TimeCat*

    Parent of a toddler here. My employer is letting me work anytime between 6 AM and midnight and on weekends to make my hours. However this only works because my spouse has a flexible schedule too and we alternate. So I take childcare in the morning, he takes afternoon and we both work during nap and after bedtime.

    You have to be flexible. Toddlers have to be supervised, they can and will get into anything. My toddler figured out how to open the baby gates this week.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Solidarity. Mine figured out how to climb over them. We live in a three-story condo.

      1. LSP*

        My 15 month old just likes to climb on the ottoman, and sit there grinning at me as he topples off because he has neither balance nor coordination. Fun, fun!

        1. Ada Doom*

          Literally just got a text from downstairs from my husband, who is currently responsible for the 2yo with a photo of said child passed out asleep face down on his bean bag (he’s able to get air, it’s ok). Double-work time has begun!

    2. Sara*

      It bothers me that it is considered flexible to be allowed to have to get exactly the same amount done with no more time in a day and to not get any break. I don’t understand how people are doing this.

  32. LSP*

    Thank you, Alison! I expect you’ve received a lot of similar questions from working parents (including one from me) but I think it’s so much more impactful to respond to a manager about this issue. I’m fortunate that my husband is an essential working so we are still able to use daycare for my 15 month old, and my husband and I are able to share homeschooling duties for our 6 year old. But daycare may close any day, and if/when that happens, there is NO way I’ll be able to work at the level my manager and coworkers have come to expect from me. I’ve done my best to prepare them, but my company’s president actually said on a call that parents might have to change their schedule to, “work from 7 pm to midnight” to make up time lost during the day, as if it’s sustainable to have parents waking up at 6 am to care for their small children all day, working maybe 3-4 hours, then putting them to bed and working another 4-5 hours, sleeping 5-6 hours and doing this every day for what is likely to be months on end. That’s insanity defined.

    1. Re'lar Fela*

      YES. My employer started talking about “flexibility for parents,” but it turns out that means letting us work in the evenings and on the weekends so we just never get a break ever. It’s fine; I’m fine; everything’s fine….

      1. F_society*

        And what the non-parent staff? Any flexibility for them or are they expected to keep rigid office hours?

        1. Re'lar Fela*

          Unclear. At first, rigid hours were being enforced. Now they’re encouraging frequent breaks and self-care, but there hasn’t been guidance on what that looks like in terms of core office hours, etc.

      2. Chilly Delta Life*

        This! We’ve been told we can flex our time as much as we want, which is great in theory. But it’s taking me about 12 hours a day to get 5 hours of work done because I have an infant at home.

        Honestly I’ve worked so hard to not get “mommy tracked” even taking a shorter maternity leave. But I’m burning through my PTO only “working” 5 hours a day and I’m not sure what will happen when it’s out.

        OP’s great employee is probably also worried about losing their standing with manager over this. Someone else may become the “one that goes above and beyond” during this time and they’ll become known as the troublesome employee who can’t get her work done. I know I’m worried about that.

    2. Mandy*

      Ugh agreed! Plus my youngest has been sick and waking up multiple times a night. My husband and I both dropped down to part time because otherwise we would have completely burned out already. We are extremely lucky that we are financially able to swing that.

    3. Anonya*

      This absolutely makes my blood boil. I’m barely keeping it together as it is. A round-the-clock work situation would have me quitting my job.

  33. Mellow*

    Awesome response, Allison.

    I don’t have children (well, mine are 4-legged) and even I totally understand that those who do are trying their damnedest. No question.

    I mean, we are swirling in a paradigm shift. Allison is right, LW: you should be spending your time and energy figuring out how to support your great employee. It’s really a no-brainer.

  34. Anon Anon*

    Well said. This is an ordinary time. The other option is for the manager to have that employee take the paid FMLA recently approved. If that occurs then he/she won’t have anyone doing that work.

    I think this is a time when we all need to extend each other a little grace and flexibility. Childcare is one major issue. But, so are people who have never worked remotely (or rarely) trying to work at home in perhaps spaces that are not ideal for work. Or perhaps not having the right kind of equipment. And, even if they do have the right kind of equipment and space that they struggle without the in person contact. I can’t remember if it was Allison who noted this, or someone else, but this isn’t a case of the majority of employee’s just working from home rather than an office, but this is a case of people trying to live through a public health crisis and trying to do some work.

    1. kristinyc*

      I recently looked into doing the recently approved FMLA because I have a just turned one year old, and since I’ve used 12 weeks of FMLA in the last year, I’m not eligible. That’s true for anyone who used FMLA in the last year for having a baby. The people who children are youngest and needing the most attention can’t use this benefit.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        WAIT… check with your employer on how they define the 12-month period. Because some use a calendar year! INAL but I’ll put a link to the Dept of Labor in the comments. It’s an older link though (2013) so if anything’s changed, someone please correct me.

        1. kristinyc*

          I did check. Mine does it based on when you first use FMLA (but yes, employers have a few options in how they handle it). Since my FMLA started March 19 last year, I have about 2 weeks I’ve “gained back,” but they informed me that the first two weeks of the new FMLA policy is…unpaid.

          1. Girl Friday*

            The first two weeks is unpaid but you can use the EPSL (emergency paid sick leave) for it as well. If of course you are eligible for that.

  35. Caroline Bowman*

    A practical suggestion for the OP is to really think seriously about what exactly is genuinely essential and what the real time line must be. Of course the world doesn’t stop turning and yes, the OP is also getting pressure from above.

    Once you have identified the top 1-2 things that MUST be done in the following 24 hours, tell your employee clearly. Then say ”if there is miraculously time after those things, then the next 1-2 things are X and Y” with another couple of days to do them. Prioritise for her in other words, like a manager should be able to, even if that employee hasn’t needed much oversight in a long time.

  36. Hedgehug*

    OP, it is not possible to expect ANY of your employees to be at top productivity right now, kids or no kids. People are stressed out as hell in these very chaotic and uncertain times. Have some compassion.
    Do you have any idea how much your employee is probably ripping her hair out at home right now? Stressed “above and beyond”? She probably wants to cry herself to sleep every night, but can’t, because SHE HAS A TODDLER.

  37. Mannheim Steamroller*

    It’s challenging enough with both of us working from home on one computer. If we had children, we would get almost nothing done.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Never mind if the employee can afford it – the EMPLOYER needs to provide equipment.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Geez, my husband’s work gave him a pretty crappy laptop that crashes a lot, but at least they gave him one. I feel like workplaces should not expect people to WFH without providing them equipment to do so — what if you didn’t have a computer? A lot of people only have tablets and phones now!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        And if you do have one, your school-aged children are likely using it for home learning.

  38. Re'lar Fela*

    THANK YOU, ALISON! This response legitimately made me cry. As the single parent of a three year old, I’ve been beating myself up for weeks over my lack of productivity. Having someone whose opinion I genuinely trust and respect provide this reassurance is hugely helpful. I feel like I have permission to give myself a little grace now. Thank you!

    1. Lizy*

      You have a 3YO. What’s “productivity”?

      I know I’m not Alison, but permission to give yourself a LOT of grace is granted.

      1. Re'lar Fela*

        Thank you!! Alison’s readers/commenters are excellent by association, so it totally counts :)

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      I feel you so much. Every time my daughter begs me to play with her a little longer and I have to tell her “Mommy has to get back to work” I die a little on the inside. She’s not used to having her parents around but unavailable.

      1. New ED*

        My five year old told me today “I wish you didn’t have a job” when I said no to reading the book she wanted.

  39. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Thank you! !

    I’m on week 4 of ‘WFH’ with my 5 year old. Between listening to the nonstop stream of horrific news, trying to keep up with my 5 year old’s remote learning material sent from school / also keep spirits up / expend all that 5-year-old energy each day, attempting to work from home, and yunno, not coming apart at the seams while trying to explain *gestures wildly* all this to both my kindergartner and my confused grandparents in their 90’s… GAH.

    I’ve been able to keep up with the little daily work tasks, but I have a few big projects that I haven’t been able to focus/concentrate on. I don’t think I could even if I didn’t have a kid. I’ve told my supervisor this and she completely understood, so thank goodness for that.

  40. Not a Blossom*

    The most important thing is for the manager to make a priority list, either for each day (do X, then Y, and if you have time, work on Z) or by project/piece of project (X must go to the client by Y time so do that first, etc). Give the employee a full day’s worth of work each day in case they do have time, but, and this is the crucial part, don’t expect it all to get done each day. The list should have the few absolute top priorities and then a list of “if/when you have time” projects. In addition, she needs to keep an eye on that and help shift things around when priorities change.

    Oh, and although you should shift work around the team as needed/if possible, don’t dump everything on childless people. Everyone is worried and stressed. If you need someone to take on new work, either take something else off their plate (which is ideal) or at least move something from their priority list to the if/when list.

  41. Anon-mama*

    Here are how my fellow working parents are dealing: one is in the unfinished basement in fleece-lined pants while the spouse can listen to webinars or dash off an email while the 2 kids under 4 play, and then do email and other things after the spouse logs off (they have to be online/phone during business hours. Another is actually going to part-time because her job requires more investment than passive things/core hours before 9 pm. The single parent somehow figured out a safe way to get a live-in nanny (not sure how she guaranteed an isolation period beforehand) after discovering she just couldn’t do her work with her toddler around. Unfortunately, those options are not open to every circumstance, so if your employee says she can’t work around it, believe them. Some toddlers take the huge shift in routine to: eliminate their only nap and then spend “rest time” loudly trashing their room (ask me how I know), regress in potty training so you can’t trust them to sit through a couple of shows without needing anything, and other habits that need attention. Please follow Alison’s recommendations and those of the other commenters: triage tasks for everyone (not just parents), be flexible on deadlines as much as possible, and lower expectations.

  42. Phillip*

    Last week I had a client ask me for a frankly pretty pointless update right when I got back from a “quick” 3 hour grocery run. Basically like, an update on Monday morning for something that was requested Friday evening, aka nothing to report. OP, admittedly I know nothing about your line of work or how mission critical things are day to day. But I think a lot of folks are holding onto illusions of normalcy as a coping mechanism. I am pretty sure my client was.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Internal client/project partner called Saturday morning with an urgent problem. My team addressed the best we could on Saturday. (It’s really a 3rd party vendor issue, and you only get so much on a weekend.) Emailed/texted/Teamed me first thing this morning, complained about not being able to reach an specific engineer because he’s not on Teams. He’s on Teams. We called him right then and he picked up. I’m tired of the expectation that there is an identical level of responsiveness when no one even knows people’s current work hours. (Ahem, my work hours are never Saturday.)

  43. Part Time Poet*

    I found this on the internet and it very simply states where a lot of us are.

    ” You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work”.

    I am working from home, (property management). My child is grown. I have two older, but annoying cats. I am finding it very difficult to give 100% every working day because I am worried about my daughter and granddaughter and my friends. I am filled with a constant feeling of dread that makes working and being productive difficult.

    1. pancakes*

      I’m happy someone mentioned this – I saw it too and think it’s an important point.

      I don’t have kids and have worked from home since last summer, but am finding it difficult, very difficult at times, to concentrate on work. This is an incredibly challenging thing to live through, and I’m very concerned about my own (immunocompromised) health and about my friends.

  44. Lucette Kensack*

    This is what employers need to hear right now: “If you want to keep your great employee and ever have her go above and beyond again, it’s your turn to go above and beyond for her. That’s the only way managers can rise to the occasion right now.”

    1. Wintermute*

      Exactly, plus… one day this gets better. And people have long memories. This event is going to change the world and the face of business and the economy. People are going to remember how employers acted when things get back to normal.

      The best-case scenario is that there’s a few lawsuits and industry gossip marks the worst offenders. The worst-case scenario, this is a situation where the balance of power shifts in terms of labor and employers that were less than charitable find themselves without workers because workers now have options and are competed over.

  45. Corin*

    “It is frustrating to hear “I can’t” do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace.”

    It’s more frustrating to hear you say that! It shows you have not engaged with the reality of the current situation, that you are not being realistic about what’s achievable in this new reality, and that you have not done your job of prioritising and managing your employee’s workload appropriately. You are failing as a manager. You need to take a serious reality check, right now.

    Your employees deserve better. Be better. Listen to Alison. Learn. Grow. Admit your mistakes. And. Be. Better.

  46. Governmint Condition*

    Having watched the Ten Commandments movie this weekend, the idea of “find a way” right now reminds me of the scene where Pharaoh orders the slaves to make bricks without straw, or glean straw from the fields. Either way, their tally of bricks must be exactly the same.

    Working in government, we’re being told that the amount of work we do from home must be the same as any other time. And we can’t work extra hours, otherwise overtime kicks in, and we’re not approved for it. We were all declared to be “essential” employees, and all of our work was deemed “essential,” even though only about 25% of what we do could be linked to virus response. Everybody I’ve talked to said that their boss is informally giving them plenty of slack, anyway. Except my boss.

    That’s all I can say for now. Gotta go glean some straw.

    1. The Drawstring Bag*

      My gov’t agency just started offering wfh. BUT, you must maintain the same
      productivity or it will be back to the office or take leave time. I’m not trying the wfh because I know I won’t be able to maintain productivity and I don’t have any children at home. I’m waiting to see how it works for those who are trying. Our systems are all very old. Basically they don’t want anyone to wfh, but they were getting pressure from HR and the union.

  47. Julie*

    I have a friend who is really struggling with this right now. She is trying to work at home, but she has a toddler and two school-age children who also have to be doing schoolwork at home. Her husband is an essential employee and still going to work, leaving her at home with the kids, though he is coming home on his lunch break to try to lend a hand. She cannot afford even the “reduced price” childcare option being provided for children of essential employees, and in any case, it would only be available to the school-age kids and not the toddler. She works for a small business and is the only staff member who has children and yet does not have another parent at home to assist her. She is working very early-morning and very late-night hours to try to get her work done, to the point where she is getting very little sleep. She hates having to be inflexible when the rest of her colleagues have more flexibility. Please cut people some slack. No one wants to be in this situation.

  48. Ann O'Nemity*

    There’s a part of me that totally agrees with Alison’s answer, and all the pleas to be understanding and flexible. But there’s also a part of me that knows that for some businesses, this is not going to be sustainable. If parents are working less, and non-parents should be allowed the same flexibility, who is going to do the work? And if you answer, “do less work,” then where is the revenue going to come from, at a time with revenues are down anyway? And if you answer, “the company’s cash reserves,” please remember that some businesses just don’t have massive cash reserves or other assets that can float the business and all its employees for months and months. I’m glad the government has been expanding SBA loans for businesses, many are going to need it.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      No one is saying no one’s going to do the work, it’s about businesses prioritising what has to be done and when. It involves flexibility on everyone’s part.

      So when I volunteered to take on work I knew my colleagues couldn’t do with children at home, I knew I would have some days with longer hours. Last week I did 1.5 days of contracted hours on Monday, because it was what was best in the situation and I could spare the hours. What our team’s manager then did is not tell me to catch up on BAU tasks on Friday afternoon when the project was quieter, but told me to take a half day.

      That’s the kind of give and take necessary. And if there’s no give in your business model whatsoever? How do you handle PTO, sick leave, bereavements, accidents, anything?

    2. Anon Anon*

      I would argue most businesses have critical work activities and non-critical activities. For example, there are some things in my organization that must happen. There are other things that work on that will either pay off down the line and/or are added bonus projects, that we have to put to the side right now. Because the focus must be on the projects/items that must continue to move forward to keep the organization running. I think most organization’s have work that can wait 3-6 months. The organization’s that will suffer the most during this crisis (well the organizations that aren’t shut down 100%) are those organizations that keep on expecting their employees to do more and more with less and less.

    3. NW Mossy*

      The real answer to your question is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. As a planet, we’ve not been asked to distill our collective work effort down to the most essential before. We can reasonably anticipate that many businesses will go bankrupt and many will lose their jobs, leaving a wake of ruin.

      What we don’t yet know is what will be rebuilt from those ruins. I feel confident enough in humanity that something will rise from it, because as a collective, people are industrious and motivated and smart. New things will emerge, and some will even be improvements over what went before. This is not to diminish anyone’s suffering or pain in this moment, but merely to say that there will be an after and it’s too soon to know its form and character.

    4. Miri*

      The situation is very bad for everyone. There are no good answers.

      But I think we need to prioritize people’s health over businesses’ health right now.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I hope the government safety net expands. That may be the solution. Things are looking very different in some European countries, with governments pledging to support businesses and keep people employed.

    5. Batgirl*

      It means that businesses will go under because people’s lives have rightly been prioritised over business.
      That doesn’t mean people should not strive to prevent going under; but you’re not going to do that by teasing your employees for something they can’t give.
      You assess people’s capacity and prioritise on that basis. You keep morale high by understanding and accepting realistic limits. You plan financially for a bunch of outcomes and different legnths of quarantine and you might look at changing your entire business model in the short term.
      If anyone can pitch in extra they will; people are aware of what this all means for their jobs.
      But I completely agree with you about government support.

    6. AdLady*

      I was wondering the same thing. I do not have kids and have the utmost empathy for those that do. But what is happening now is that parents are barely working, clients are demanding a ton of new projects (which is great) on crazy timelines (not great) and our account team is agreeing to said timelines. So because I do not have kids, I’m working like a freakin maniac to cover for people who do have kids. I’m very grateful to have a job. But at the same time, it’s not right that I have to carry everyone who has kids’s weight just because I don’t. And please dont say talk to leadership about better client communications. No one is going to say no to revenue in this climate.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the problem here is that you have a stupid account team and stupider management.

        Smart companies are NOT agreeing to crazy timelines – even in normal times that’s a really bad idea. In such times?

        To repeat – the problem here is NOT the parents, but the account team and the management that supports this.

        No one is going to say no to revenue in this climate.

        Nope. Not true. Smart companies understand that you don’t agree to projects that require miracles.

  49. Jedi Squirrel*

    You need to treat her as a human, not a work-producing robot

    This line particularly struck me.

    This is true in the best of times. It’s even more true now. Thank you, Alison.

  50. AnotherAlison*

    This post was very frustrating. I don’t have small kids, but with grown-ish kids, I certainly remember trying to get anything done with little ones was a challenge. People also have to do regular household things with their kids at home. There are only so many hours when kids are asleep or occupied.

    As the weekend evolved, I’m just finding my soul being crushed by this. I am the only person working normal hours in my home. Although my son is in high school, he’s just not capable of teaching himself chemistry and Spanish. He didn’t have good grades in these subjects before this. My husband has never taken chemistry or Spanish. The whole scenario is not good for my son, and I have to put in a lot of effort to 1.) get him out of bed, 2.) help him with school, 3.) maintain my sanity.

    My tri coach put out a FB post today on how to cut yourself some slack and essentially said kids’ schoolwork was busy work. Nope. Maybe for your elementary-age kids, but not for my high schooler. I feel like everyone is judging what people should be able to do. MYOB. You don’t know our lives! Take people at their word that they are doing the best they can.

    1. pancakes*

      Hopefully your son’s school will cut him—and all the students, and their teachers, and everyone else who works for the school—some slack. Take a few deep breaths, leisurely spaced out, and try not to worry. He will be far from the only student who can’t teach himself challenging subjects!

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Thanks – we did get an email that they are getting a chance to retake the quiz he got a 1/10 on because everyone did poorly. I would love to hear more teacher’s perspectives, but one week in, I sort of think the set up our school has should have worked on paper, but it’s probably not going to work that well. There is such a range of subjects, teacher styles, students, and resources. Our state has an online school curriculum, and I imagine that was set up much differently with self-selecting teachers and students. Trying to fit a regular curriculum into an online format in 1 week was a tall order, and they did their best, but holy cow it’s a lot to deal with. Here’s hoping things are normal by August!

        1. Batgirl*

          Honestly as a teacher I don’t really have any standards aside from effort because I don’t know what kind of conditions they are working in. Asking kids to work without teacher guidance is pretty rough. We know that the clearest worksheet in the world is misunderstood multiple times in the first five minutes of a lesson. So, instead of clearing it up in five minutes the back and forth may take longer if you need a student to redo something. That’s ok.
          I wonder if those subjects have any free apps or games they can recommend. It’s a way of getting the child much quicker feedback when you’re getting something wrong in a particular skill.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Bless you! Exactly what you say–I at least understand my kid’s work. He’s difficult, but I can help.

            Nope, no credit for effort. We’re over here making sure the significant figures on the molar mass calculation are spot on. No games, but some teachers are giving them video lecture resources. My problem is juggling Skyward, Canvas, Google Classroom, and DeltaMath. 8 classes! My son should know where all the resources are, but I am doing through it too, to make sure he sees everything. He has a lot of missing work when left alone.

  51. 123456789101112 do do do*

    OP, I often come to work after a weekend and nearly kiss the floor of my cubicle. Parenthood is really really hard, and my usual teleworking setup followed the rules and had my kid in school and childcare so that I could be productive on projects that I prepared while I was in the office. It was set up to maximize productivity. Now I can’t prepare work, I have a kindergartener who is climbing the walls, I don’t have anywhere to escape to, and I am trying my best. That’s my mantra right now – I AM TRYING MY BEST. THIS IS WHAT MY BEST LOOKS LIKE TODAY. Please be the most flexible and empathetic you can be right now.

  52. Bookworm*

    I’m not sure what work you do or what you expect from your employee but as someone who doesn’t have kids (but works/has worked with people who do)–you need to cut people slack. On top of childcare, there’s also the logistics of grocery shopping, possibly supporting family members who *cannot* work from home so either have fewer hours or are scrambling to find work to fill the income gap, etc. Kids will also have extra pent up energy that they can’t get rid of because it’s highly likely they have to stay inside OR don’t have the the space to roam, no recess, etc.

    These are extraordinary circumstances. If you want this amazing employee to stay, you really need to reconsider your approach and what’s important. That also includes any partners, clients, etc.

    Lots of people are watching what businesses are doing and how they’re going about this. Obviously there are certain things that can’t be changed or managed or shifted. But how you treat your employees certainly is.

  53. Rebecca*

    I’m working from home, no one except my elderly mother is here. I have to deal with internet issues (they’ve smoothed out somewhat, so I’m not getting kicked off the VPN so much now that many in my company have been furloughed), and because of furloughs, I’m handling clients I’ve never had contact with before, so for me, many things involve a lot of detective work. I can’t talk to my coworker about it, because, they’re not here and they’ve been furloughed and I’m not permitted to reach out with questions. I’m working at a much slower pace. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying my best, and I’m happy that my manager is cutting me some slack.

    Last week my mother fell and broke a glass lamp upstairs. She wasn’t hurt, but I had to clock out and rush to help her, clean up glass, etc. I just clocked out and clocked back in, left a note on my Skype, and everyone dealt with it. I can’t imagine having a toddler here!

    I love Alison’s response. We need nothing additional to worry about right now when just going to buy food or find medicine could be life threatening.

  54. Matilda Jefferies*

    Oh my goodness, OP. I have a 9 year old and a 12 year old at home – they’re not toddlers at all, and they still need a lot of attention! Please give your employees as much flexibility as you can under the circumstances, whether they have children or not. This is difficult for all of us, and even changes like using different furniture or being on the phone all the time are taking up mental bandwidth. Literally everything is harder than it was four weeks ago. Figure out what absolutely must get done, and communicate that, and let everything else go for now.

    Also, your employees will remember how you treated them during this pandemic response. If you keep driving them to produce exactly the way they did when they were in the office, that’s going to really tank their morale, and possibly their mental and physical health. And if they have any options at all to leave – they will.

    I know you’re doing your best to maintain a sense of normalcy, and business as usual as much as possible. I am too, and so are your employees – every single one of us is doing our best. It’s just that under the circumstances, our “best” is going to look a lot different than it did before, and that’s okay. Take care of yourself.

  55. kristinyc*

    Thanks for this post, Alison. I have a one year old and am normally a strong performer. I’m not right now.

    The Federal FMLA does have a new rule where parents who now have to take care of children and can’t work because of childcare can take up to 12 weeks of FMLA at 2/3 pay. I was strongly considering it, but then I found out this wrench in my plans: If you’ve used FMLA in the last 12 months, any amount you’ve used is subtracted from the 12 weeks that are now available and partially paid.

    So, since I had a baby last March and then used FMLA March-June of 2019, I’m not eligible for more weeks of FMLA right now (slowing “accruing” time each week…). This would be true for anyone else who used FMLA last year whose company starts the 12 months based on when FMLA is first used. So, parents whose babies are one year or less aren’t eligible. It’s nuts.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I didn’t realize that restriction. I’m in the same boat – baby last March with FMLA through June.

      1. kristinyc*

        I learned that it also depends on how your company does FMLA. (Calendar year vs. from time of first use). Mine does from time of first use, but if yours does calendar year, you could probably use it.

        Also, happy 1 year to your little one! :)

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I didn’t realize that was new. I was under the impression there was always a 12 weeks per 12 months restriction on FMLA in general.

      1. Kristinyc*

        That part’s not new. The part where it’s paid and can be used to take care of children because school and daycare are closed for a pandemic is new. My point is that most parents are eligible, but people who had a baby in the last year are not, and their children need the most direct attention out of any age group. I can’t just hand my one year old a tablet or put on tv for him. He wants to practice walking or be held or just have me sit and play with him all day since that’s what he’s used to at daycare.

    3. Ters*

      According to HR where I work, you can take the leave “intermittently.” So if you just need to reduce hours, the leave would pay for the reduction (i.e. working 30 hours vs 40 hours, leave pays 2/3 pay for 10 hours each week). Maybe you are accruing fast enough to get some reduction in hours? It might help.

  56. NW Mossy*

    I’m both the manager and the employee in this situation – I have two kids (3 and 8) at home, and I’m managing a team of 12 with varying care-for-self-and-others commitments. A couple of my employees are thriving and will likely ask to be permanently WFH when this is all over, but most are finding it challenging in some respect. Personally, I hate trying to wear the mom hat and the competent professional hat at the same time, and the news this morning that my company’s just extended mandatory WFH until the end of May kind of crushed me a little.

    My message to my team, my own boss, and myself is this: kindness and compassion, first and foremost. We have the choice to extend grace to ourselves and others, and if nothing gets done other than that, it’s a big victory in itself. Everyone needs to feel those small moments of common humanity in these times of extreme stress. When all else fails, be kind. It’s my management north star, and just writing this out reminds me how much I rely on that nugget of guidance in this “I have no idea what the f*** I’m doing” phase.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      …kindness and compassion, first and foremost. We have the choice to extend grace to ourselves and others, and if nothing gets done other than that, it’s a big victory in itself.

      This, so much. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.

      1. Arial*

        Definitely. Today has been a very hard, very tragic day in my community and reading this made me cry.

  57. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    In addition to everything Alison said, you also need to cut everyone some slack due to the fact that people are under more than normal amounts of stress with everything happening in the world right now, and being at home ALL THE TIME is also affecting everyone’s mental state.

    In addition you have people with small kids who need constant supervision, people with school age kids who need assistance navigating online work, people taking care of family members, and even those who are only taking care of themselves. You are most likely not going to get the same amount of production out of everyone as you would in the office under the best of circumstances.

  58. What the What*

    There are three options here:

    1. Tolerate decreased productivity due to the childcare situation.

    2. Put her in paid family leave and get reimbursed by the government for it.

    3. If you’re exempt from paid family leave, lay her off so that she can claim unemployment.

    1. AnnonRecruiter*

      And then she loses her healthcare that she may be carrying for the family during a time of global crisis. Yea, good plan

  59. A Simple Narwhal*

    Wonderfully said!

    These are not normal times, and as much as we’d like to, we can’t operate as normal. It’s not just people with kids (though my heart absolutely goes out to them, I can’t imagine how challenging it is right now), it’s the people who live in a studio apartment and have to figure out how to keep the walls from closing in, it’s the people who have multiple roommates sharing limited space, it’s the people worrying about making sure their high-risk relatives stay safe and have food – there are infinite non-children factors that affect our ability to work right now. We all need and deserve leeway as we get through these trying times.

  60. Barb*

    The reason that parents of young children need different treatment right now is because the structure of society has changed dramatically without warning.
    There is no school. There is no daycare. There are no babysitters.
    These children need care and supervision and the parent has the obligation to provide it. There is no other choice.
    Of course people like myself who don’t have children to care for have their own needs and stresses, but the immediate needs vulnerable young people have to come first. That’s what civilization is for.

  61. Aggretsuko*

    I’m giving props to my friend’s employer. Her husband had a stroke last week (great timing there, eh) and he’s letting her figure out her 8 hours where she can instead of it all having to be done between 8 and 5, period.

    Lord knows my office…I wouldn’t count on it. I have one coworker with an infant who’s been out on family leave and she’s “supposed” to return next week and I severely doubt it. The most we get is the head boss saying “you didn’t hear this from me and I will deny it, but I don’t expect constant work.”

  62. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


    I do not have the issues that OP’s employee has – my children are adults and only one is still at home, moving out soon – in fact, for me, working from the office felt more like trying to work with toddlers bouncing around than WFH does – but I have been there and am extremely thankful that I was never in a position of having no childcare and being stuck with my toddler/preschool kids while working from home. This is a one-in-a-lifetime situation. But the way OP handles it now will determine a lot of what their employees’ morale and loyalty will be going forward. If they are being told to “find a way” to work as if there isn’t a toddler when there is, then they’ll find a way to go work somewhere else when the childcare is back or when their children are grown.

  63. Chili*

    People need to stop considering all this just “working from home.” Employees are doing their best to continue working during a global crisis. Even without kids or particularly large obligations, it is hard to stay focused and adjust to this “new normal.” A lot of resources people usually have are (especially school, childcare or other caregiving resources) out of the picture, a lot of the outlets people had to decompress from work are gone, a lot of the ways people would get in the right mindspace to do great work are no longer accessible, and people’s family and loved ones may be in danger.
    There are some industries and workplaces that actually do need to still be operating at 100% (or maybe even 200%), but for everyone else, I think from the top down there does need to be an adjustment of expectations for everyone.

    1. James*

      This is more comparable to working during a war than “working from home”. The situation is highly fluid, supply chains are in disarray, plans are a joke, and we’re all hoping that we and our loved ones don’t die randomly, slowly, and painfully. People are doing everything they can to keep going.

      Expecting folks to maintain previous productivity in a war zone is insane.

      1. Arial*

        THANK YOU. People are trying so hard to talk about this like it’s anything approaching normal – I recognize that that’s probably a defense mechanism against their own terror, but your freedom to deal with things your own way ends where it turns into genuinely debating discipline for otherwise top performers during a PANDEMIC.

        Or much worse. This isn’t bloodless. This isn’t a situation where we can reassure ourselves that we were “only doing our job”. That turns out very, very badly in a war zone.

      2. allathian*

        Agreed. I’m living in an area where a state of emergency is in effect. My region has been isolated from the rest of the country. All public indoor places are shut, including churches and other places of worship. That was never the case even during WW2. Fortunately we’re not experiencing any serious shortages, at least not yet. We manufacture a lot of TP, so at least we’re not going to run out of that!

  64. Storie*

    OP, if you were my boss and I realized you were questioning my commitment this way, it would definitely affect my loyalty in the future. Please look up some videos on YouTube of toddlers and play them full blast while you try to work. This will be a fraction of the interference young kids provide while you’re trying to get anything done.

    I guess it’s a good sign you were asking? But seriously what do you expect to have happen.

  65. Good Question*

    I am curious after this crisis ends how many employees reassess their working conditions and start looking for employment elsewhere. I realize that we are headed for a major recession, and so that may not be an option. But, I also know that I’m doing some soul searching, and re-prioritizing what is truly important to me. If my employer was being super shitty, you can bet that changing jobs or even re-training and changing career paths would be high on my priority list.

  66. Other Duties as Assigned*

    Also…a warning to managers/organizations everywhere: we employees are ABSOLUTELY paying close attention to how you are behaving toward us and others (clients/suppliers/customers) during this crisis. When this is over, we’ll all be making decisions about who we want to work for or patronize.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*


      Am I this employee? No. Am I ever going to have to juggle work and a toddler? Unlikely. But there are other ways I might have to ask an employer to extend me some grace, and how they treat my coworkers will strongly inform my expectations of how they’ll treat me.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      There’s a lot of companies trying desperately to survive at the expense of their employees right now.

      Many of them will not survive the aftermath of that decision.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yep yep yep. News travel fast in 2020. If they want to be known, for the next 5+ years after the crisis ends, as the company no one would want to find themselves working for, more power to them.

      2. James*

        I mean, I get it. If the company goes under, NO ONE gets paid.

        At the same time, if you drive your employees into the ground, they’re going to leave and you won’t have a company anymore.

        It’s a hard line to walk. But that’s why we get paid the medium bucks: to make such decisions.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          What’s more unfair to employees, and to the company, for that matter?

          Lay them off now, when there’s a lot of relief money coming, hopefully soon, or drag it out, and annoy them so much they quit later, when unemployment is even higher and the relief money is long gone?

          The reality is, when people are stuck at home taking care of kids because schools are closed and daycare is not available, you really don’t want to push them into choosing between family and job, because that’s not a touch choice at all.

    3. Rebecca*

      If something good can come out of this mess, it’s this. It’s long overdue for those companies who mistreat their workers to get their reckoning. If enough of us choose to spend our consumer dollars with companies who treat their workforce well, the crappy companies will go out of business and better companies will pick up the slack.

    4. Wintermute*

      Amen! This is going to change the face of our economy. Labor is disposable to the ruling class until suddenly it’s not. Now I’m not saying this is going to be like the plague, which basically created the entire idea of a “middle class” because suddenly how you treated your feudal serfs mattered because they found themselves no longer taken for absolute granted.

      But I will say there are going to be parallels, that’s always how epidemics are– those laborers you crapped all over are going to realize that they have value, and that gets ugly for people whose business model relies on treating them as disposable production units.

    5. gbca*

      Yep. I’m in a couple working moms groups on FB and I’m surprised at how many people are saying “f*ck this sh*t” and quitting due to jerky bosses with unreasonable expectations. (It’s a sad situation actually, because it’s becoming clear to me how much this whole situation is going to disproportionately impact women, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.)

    6. Shenandoah*

      100%. I will never, EVER forget how great my boss and grandboss have been during this. When I was freaking out about the situation, my boss told me that the expectation was that I would “do what you can, when you can”. It’s been my mantra during this crap.

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      The trouble with this line of thinking though is that you can only have a “long term” of your company if you get through the “short term”. For some companies the productivity hit of having people WFH and be less able as a company to meet client deadlines etc is enough to jeopardise the future viability of that company… no point worrying about how you’ll be perceived in the future if there is no future!

      Of course I understand the need for a long term view and often take a long term view of things myself, but the fact is that it only exists because of surviving in the short term…

      1. Observer*

        The thing is that if you don’t find a way to deal with this, you are not going to be able to survive in the short term anyway. If you’re going to crash, doing so with some decency makes a reasonable act 2 far more likely than if you first proceed to squash everyone in your orbit.

      2. Avasarala*

        Then clients need to be more understanding.
        If you can’t convince your clients to cut you slack during a global pandemic, then your business wasn’t able to handle any speed bumps, never mind this huge one.

        And honestly I’m OK if we prioritize people over companies right now. Companies will go out of business. That is better than people dying to keep them afloat.

  67. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    You can also work with the employee to develop reasonable expectations for when/how much she can work each week. It might be that she can’t work her ordinary schedule, but can commit to working at particular times each day — but she might not. The comments about providing clear priorities are also the right way to engage on this. Also keep in mind that the new emergency family medical leave that just went into effect specifically applies to employees who are unable to work due to daycare and school closures, it’s at least partially paid, and it can be used intermittently. It’s in your interest to work with the employee to be flexible and set expectations that are reasonable for you both, or you may lose the ability to have much say at all.

  68. Jane*

    It’s not reasonable to expect any of your employees to be as productive as they would be under normal circumstances. It’s not only the parents who are in crisis.

    I have no kids. I am mid divorce, living with a housemate who has asked me to move out because she is unwilling to socially distance and I asked her to, someone who has always avoided working from home as it doesn’t work for my brain, under normal times prone to mild anxiety, and someone with a mild fatigue disorder that I am able to disguise well enough through willpower to appear to be fully healthy.

    I’m also, based on my references and performance reviews, a very good employee. And none of the above is my employers business.

    Also, my industry is not humane, and tends to have brutal, algorithm driven expectations of employees.

    I’m falling apart, have not unclenches my jaw in three days, can’t focus, and under normal circumstances would probably file for fmla or even just quit to get my mental health under control.

    I have no idea what to do about billable hours pressure in a ducking global pandemic.

    So yes, it would be worse if I had kids, but also a large part of why I don’t have kids is that I live too close to my edge without them to think it’s a good idea.

    Please do not assume the people without children can pick up the slack.

    1. Rowan*

      Yeah, agreed. The expectations should fall for everyone if they’re gonna fall. Stuff’s just not getting done.

    2. allathian*

      Agreed. This situation is stressing people out in many different ways, and if you’re barely keeping your nose over the waterline in normal circumstances, this isn’t going to help.

  69. The productivity plague*

    Another thing employers need to realize is that if they push people that are WFH to find childcare, often the grandparents are providing the service. At least that’s what I’m seeing. And that is not healthy or advised right now. Everyone needs to step up to the challenge and realize that things are not ‘business as usual’ and that we all need to give each other room and grace. I promise the TPS reports will get done ‘in time’.

  70. TimeTravlR*

    This is difficult for everyone, OP! I would say, particularly for high achievers because they tend to want to get the job done right, no matter what. Cut your employee some slack. And is it really that high of a priority? Really?

  71. Magenta Sky*

    “Gone above and beyond” is another way of saying “has earned some serious credit.”

    You remember who she acted before. She’ll certainly remember how you act not.

  72. Emma*

    Yep. I have a toddler who is normally in daycare. I can answer some emails on the fly (have literally been answering emails in the shower before she wakes up, also answered some while she was swinging today), but I just don’t have the ability to do as much as usual.
    I get stuff done during nap time (1.5 hours), and before she wakes up (she wakes up at 6:45am but I’ve been letting her complain in her crib until around 8), after she goes to bed (7pm). Sometimes she’ll sit for 5-10 minutes of tv. I literally did a call with my direct report today for 30 minutes on a walk while my daughter was in a stroller.

    I’m sooo tired. And I still need to do things like feed myself. I’m doing the best I can. But there’s no way I can keep up my regular work. I’m literally trying to keep my toddler from dumping out the dog water and poking the dogs in the eyes. And from emptying all my cabinets.

    I’m triaging my work. It’s the best I can do!

  73. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

    I’m not ashamed to admit this, but your response, Alison, made me ugly cry in gratitude. Thank you!

  74. Your Neighborhood SPED Teacher*

    OP, I’m in the same boat as your employee.

    I’m a special education teacher. I also have two children at home, a 2.5 year old toddler and a 6 month old infant. Their daycare is currently closed, and my husband is an essential employee, so he’s still working.

    My state has closed schools effective until April 20th, but I anticipate we’ll be out even longer. Many of my tasks are super time-sensitive, and special education teachers in my state are still being held to hard deadlines, even though the buildings are closed. We are also expected to create and participate in distance learning on an online platform. I’m expected to be available to my students and their parents from 8:00AM until 4:00PM.

    I’m thiiiiisssss close to a panic. Last Thursday, I had 15 parent phone conferences all while having a toddler jumping off furniture and a teething infant on my hip.

    Normally I’m very productive and am able to meet deadlines, because I have a dedicated planning period at word to complete assignments without interruptions. That’s not the case when I’m at home alone with two children under 3 who need constant care.

    Thankfully, my employer is super understanding. She had exuded kindness, and has offered to help with my tasks. I’m continuing to work on tasks with major priority, but other stuff has to wait. Please give your employee the same grace. These are unprecedented times.

    1. Rebecca*

      Ooooh I feel you. I am teaching online right now! I work at a posh private school where the parents are expecting their money’s worth, even now.

      I am super happy to continue to be helpful, paid, and useful. I am super happy to have a schedule that has stopped me napping all day and getting depressed.

      But I have had to work super hard and re-drawing my boundaries. Every parent who complains about being a working mum gets a long ass story about what it’s like to teach a class of 20 kids with a pants-less 5 year old in the background. Admin is getting firm reminders about when I will be getting them the things they need (and so far they have listened and been fine!). Parents who dare complain about how slow I am in grading, posting, or responding to questions are getting some pointed reminders that I am also in confinement, 30 km away from them, and not magic. And the woman who texted me at midnight on a Sunday, using her crying daughter as manipulation to make me get out of bed and fix something immediately, got a righteous earful.

      I am lucky to work in a place where I am able to draw these boundaries and stick to them, but I really really wish people were reasonable enough that I didn’t have to.

      1. Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?*

        I wish people were reasonable about what is possible for teachers during a pandemic and during normal times!

        I used to teach at a posh private school. I loved my kids and what I got to teach, but when I took FMLA to protect myself when I had to have surgery to enable me to have a stable airway, some parents filed a petition to get me fired because they ‘didn’t pay $XX,000 to have their kids taught by video.’ I had worked hard on those videos and thoughtful assignments while I would be out. I had a parent COME TO THE HOSPITAL to try to get me to tutor her child when I was 12 hours post op in ICU step down. When I came back part time after 4 weeks, another parent texted me every day asking me to come in to tutor her child at 6:30 am. At the end of the school year in a post-exam conference, a parent accused me of “being gone for 18 weeks and not caring about my students.” I drew some hard boundaries but was ultimately not supported by administration in those boundaries after I came back from FMLA. I chose to leave after that year and now teach elsewhere.

        I am a teacher and a professional, but I am also a person.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch. With parents like that, you really can’t blame some kids for being entitled. They learned it at home.

  75. lost academic*

    I could easily be the OP’s employee but there’s no way my boss would ever have written in – doesn’t want kids, doesn’t like parents, and our company is entirely about “what have you done for me lately” with a total blind eye towards past performance outside of the last 6-12 months. Coming off maternity leave at the beginning of our fiscal year ~12 months ago to a slow ramp up (exactly like starting a new job) and then this…. too bad I can’t send this to her directly.

    And yes – everyone, in normal circumstances and these has their own personal challenges and yes, we’re all happier when our staff doesn’t let it affect performance and can somehow consistently deliver and rise above and beyond and be responsive at the drop of a hat 24/7, but you won’t keep effective staff if you don’t take a longer view of performance and development, and your reputation will eventually suffer.

    Good luck, toddler parents, the deck is already stacked against you and the reality is no one gives an eff.

  76. Rebecca*

    This reminds me of a conversation a little while ago where someone talked about ‘work from home privileges’.

    Working from home is NOT a privilege right now, it’s a necessity.

    Start from a place of feeling lucky you can get any work done at all, unlike, say, a massage clinic, and count every tiny bit of productivity after that as a bonus.

  77. Little Fish*

    Pardon me, getting this tattooed on my face and taking a million selfies and sending them to my boss. BRB.

  78. Lies, damn lies and...*

    Standing ovation! !

    It is hard to do quick turnaround with a toddler because I can’t hop on a call real quick while I’m making breakfast and just turned on the dishwasher and my husband is on a call in the next room or we exhausted our screen time earlier and I need to sit on the floor with Duplos while I respond to emails.

  79. LGC*

    One more thing – how time-sensitive are these tasks, really? I know there’s a set schedule, but I can imagine that the customer would be somewhat understanding (I’d hope). In addition, if you can assign her fewer time-sensitive tasks for the time being and more time-insensitive tasks (or at least ones where she doesn’t need to do everything RIGHT NOW), that might help your actual problem.

    (And yeah, I know LW is getting clowned, but…yeah, LW. I’ll assume the best and that you’re just frustrated with a bad situation, but – like – I haven’t read the comments, but have you ever been around a toddler? They’re not exactly known for their impulse control and impeccable behavior.)

  80. James*

    “Yes, your employee’s husband is also at home, but assuming he’s working as well, they are presumably splitting the child care.”

    This is the boat my wife and I are in. We handle it by switching off who’s primarily focused on the children and who’s primarily focused on work throughout the day. We try to work and watch the kids at the same time–our kids aren’t toddlers–but the focus is one or the other–our kids aren’t old enough to have NO supervision. That means that during our “watch the kids” phase we’re not nearly as productive.

    It would be incredibly insulting on my part if I were to go to my wife and say “Can you watch the kids from 9 to 5? I have work.” The reality is, so does she. And the kids are doing remote learning, so this would place 100% of that responsibility on her shoulders as well. And the lion’s share of the housework. This isn’t 1950, and I wasn’t raised to believe that men don’t help out around the house; hiding out in my office while she deals with all that simply can’t happen.

    As for schedule, what you have to realize as a manager is that your employees aren’t dealing with one schedule. I’ve got 3 kids, so my wife and I are dealing with 5 different schedules. I usually get started work at 06:30, because that way I can get some work done before the kids wake up. Once they do, I need to switch to tasks that don’t require long periods of focus, because frankly I don’t get long periods of focus.

    This is a trying time. The goal shouldn’t be “business as usual”, but rather “What can we do to get through this?” That includes flexibility in terms of hours and production.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve been wondering about that. Is it possible to split the day, with one taking morning shift w/the kids and one taking afternoons? That way you might at least get in a good 2-3 hours of focused time?

      Of course, our meetings and such don’t work that way, so you’d have to try and clear that with your job.
      There is no good answer unfortunately.

    2. James*

      One other thing I should add, which Alison didn’t get into detail on: The mental strain is astronomical, even for people who aren’t directly affected by the virus. “Working from home” means NEVER being off the clock when you have kids. EVERY parent that works talks about how nice it is to be in a situation where another human being’s life depends on your constant oversight and intervention. Doesn’t mater how hard the job is; a change is as good as a rest. Well, now we don’t get that change, so there’s no possibility of rest.

      This matters for your company. Someone who’s sleep deprived (ie, has a toddler) and under constant stress is not going to be as productive. If they are, quality issues will increase, which is worse than lower productivity in most fields. This isn’t just me saying this; OSHA and other worker safety institutes are increasingly aware of fatigue and mental health as a major source of safety concerns. (If you think that’s not an issue at an office, you’re wrong–my company does a lot of construction, environmental remediation, and other high-risk tasks, and our highest rate of injury is still walking on flat surfaces, even in the office.) Sure, as a manager you can’t do a lot to help this, but the minimum you can do is not make things worse!

    3. AnonMurphy*

      My husband and I work in our home office side-by-side (which we had not really ever done before this pandemic). I keep threatening to get one of those possession arrow signs they use at basketball games to signal to the kids which parent is ‘on duty’ at any given time. Having shifts is a great idea, but sometimes the work reality changes too quickly for even that to be effective.

  81. Frankie*

    1000%. My spouse and I are working from home with our toddler and it’s just insane. The kid is awake by 6:30 and doesn’t go down for the night until 7:30 or 8. That means our entire day is dedicated to swapping time and doing little bits of work in whenever we can. I can do some stretches of quiet work in the very early morning or the evening, but not day after day, forever.

    And that’s not even factoring in the stress of the pandemic itself.

  82. MissDisplaced*

    Yeah, these are not normal times or normal situations. Parents did not ask for schools to close and now, in effect, have to play the role of teacher during the day (because I guarantee kids are not gonna do that on their own). Parents did not ask for all childcare options to close down. I do not have kids, and even I can see that. WFH was never meant to grant parents time with their kids for a reason.

    But to be practical here, instead of thinking “just accept it,” with the employee/childcare situation, maybe there is a way to be flexible and adjust when some of these things are due? So often we get in that mindset that the “TPS Report” is due every Tuesday at 9am or else! Very often it’s not, but that what we’ve expected out of habit.

    I mean, ASK this employee what she needs?
    Is it off-peak hours? Different due dates? Heck, some employees might even welcome a short-term furlough until May right now if they’re pulling double-duty with parenting.

    To be honest, even without kids, and being somewhat used to WFH, I am finding this situation quite distracting. I try to set normal hours and stay productive, but with my husband home and running in and out, WFH is much more disruptive than it used to be.

    1. allathian*

      To be fair, there’s also a huge difference between kids. My 4th grader is committed to doing well in school and is pretty good at following directions from his homeroom teacher. This is his fourth week in remote school so he’s getting used to it. I’m mainly tech support at this time, but even that means interruptions.

  83. Batgirl*

    Always a fun attitude to encounter for those of us whose full time job is caring for and teaching little humans.
    Our job is not a sing-a-long. You can’t prop them in the corner for a bit while you do grown up things. It takes up every single moment, every bit of resourcefulness and patience. While you’re with a child, you are ‘on’ like an actor on a stage trying to prevent issues which would otherwise blow up in your face. Plus…raise them and give them the human interaction their brains need? You finish the day on bandy legs.
    On the flip side of what parents have been saying, my work has been superb without having to juggle it with supervising children! Resources that would normally be cobbled together before the children get in, or on a rare free session (bound to be interrupted by a distressed child) or in the evenings are now stunning in their pedagogical beauty. I think I’m on to next year’s scheme of work….

  84. Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?*

    I am at the age that most of my friends have babies and toddlers, and I am always astounded at how much toddlers need constant attention. I am exhausted after spending the day with my best friend and her son or babysitting for any of my friends. And I have a teenage step-son, teach middle school, and have taught high school. I’m used to children. Give me teenagers all day, every day.

    1. Batgirl*

      This is the part that bowls me down. You could possibly ask an older child to do something independently if you had something pressing to do. That could buy you oooh, half an hour, twenty minutes?
      But a toddler? You can’t say to a toddler “Hey I just need a minute, you don’t mind do you?”

      1. Zephy*

        Right? Even if you try to sit a toddler down with a quiet, independent activity like drawing/coloring, you get approximately 15 seconds before the kid has to come show you what he made for you.

        OldJob involved going over a lot of paperwork with clients, we were encouraged to make the meetings as short as we could so as to free ourselves up to meet with more clients, and sometimes those clients brought small kids with them. I kept markers and paper in my office and would offer them to the small kids to occupy them while I went over the paperwork with Mommy, and I think the best I ever managed was about two solid minutes before Child had to show us her art. The kids don’t know what’s going on, it isn’t their fault, but having small kids present in any situation does make doing basically anything way harder than it needs to be.

  85. Ranon*

    I see a lot of folks talking about flexibility in terms of doing things at different times but flexible also needs to mean allowing employees to do less, period. Two parents providing full time childcare while working full time split shifts from their homes during a pandemic is also absolutely not sustainable and will lead to burnout. Same for other employees dealing with other situations. This is not a short term situation, you cannot burn through all your employee’s resources and expect to have productivity from them long term.

    1. CatchingUp*

      Yes! I can’t work late and early while being on for my toddler for weeks on end, along with just the stress of what’s going on in the world right now

      1. MayLou*

        I have a friend who is a key worker, and so is her husband. They have a 3 year old. Husband’s work is more site-specific so he’s working as close to 9-5 as he can, while she looks after the kid. She’s spreading her part time hours over five days and working from 7am until 8pm, wrapping around the toddler wrangling where possible. I’ve seen her on Zoom chats a few times and she’s worn out. And we’re only a couple of weeks into what will be a minimum of three months like this (in the UK, where all the schools are closed and not planning to reopen until September). I worry about her ability to sustain this, especially since her workload is going to increase – she’s processing benefit claims. As a professional nanny who has been furloughed due to the lockdown, I’m acutely aware of how things have become incredibly unbalanced. In normal times, people with demanding jobs outsourced childcare and housework to people like me, who live alone and have time to take on side jobs. Now that’s not possible.

        1. MayLou*

          Site-specific should be time-specific, they’re both working from home. With the toddler.

  86. Stephanie*

    I was a stay at home mom, and it took my husband and I 2 months, no lie, to refinish the hardwood floors, strip wallpaper, and paint the walls in one bedroom when our daughter was 18 months old. When we started the project, I was sure that I would be able to work on it at least a little when my daughter napped. I was wrong. (It was too noisy, I had other things that I needed to do during naptime–like laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.) We could only work in shifts, on the weekends, with one of us always on kid duty while the other did some of the painting/sanding/staining.

    Toddlers are very, very high needs. You literally can not turn your back on them. My kids are grown (18 and 21), and I can’t express adequately how thankful I am that I am not trying to parent young children while also trying to get work done in this awful, stressful, completely not normal time.

  87. CatPerson*

    “For myself, I can adhere to my normal schedule while homebound”
    Well, aren’t you a lucky duck. And, do you want her to continue to go above and beyond when things return to normal? Cut some slack.

    1. Just a Thought*

      While I do not have a toddler or any children, I am not finding it possible to adhere to my normal schedule – and I am a very high achiever…. with high anxiety right now.

  88. Jedi Squirrel*

    Imagine your strongest, most belligerent friend, who barely speaks your language, is drunk all the time, is hyperactive, falls asleep at the oddest times but never when it is convenient for you, and is only 2-3 feet tall.

    That’s a toddler.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      What’s that line about parenting? It’s like trying to take care of someone who’s on way too many shrooms, while you yourself are on a moderate amount of shrooms. “I am not confident in my decisions but I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be eating that mousepad.”

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Lol! That sounds familiar, but I can’t remember who said it. It is highly accurate, though!

  89. CatchingUp*

    This question makes me sad and angry, but the response gives me hope. Working a full time job from with a toddler under these circumstances is extremely stressful. To feel that you are being harshly judged on your job performance right now is terrible.

  90. An Actual Fennec Fox*

    OP, my recommendation is that your managerial staff right now sits down and sees what are the tasks that keep your company alive. Which tasks would your company close its doors if you couldn’t achieve? This is your priority. Everything else has to be shifted and organized around it. This is what the company I work for is doing right now. Everyone, starting with the owners, who normally don’t even touch this task, is laser focused on the task that keeps the company running. Everything else is done when this task is taken care of/when we have a brief moment to do anything else. You may have to get really serious about that, as this situation still has at least several months to go, and you’ll need processes in place.

    1. Just a Thought*

      +1000 — people will get burned out trying to act like all is normal and the company will suffer in the long run.

      1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

        So true! We did try to do business as usual, but in a week, everyone was exhausted and stressed out! We had to adjust our priorities very quickly!

  91. BostonLibrarian*

    YES YES YES. Holy shit. This isn’t business as normal. This is staying home to be safe while there is a pandemic and also work. I have a six year old – both my husband and I work full time. We are now balancing WFH and deadlines plus attempting to homeschool a kid. It’s hard. It’s impossible to be everything to everyone. Everyone is doing the best they can while experiencing trauma. Support your employees and when the tables are turned I guarantee they will support you back.

  92. LunaMei*

    Thank you so much for writing this. I know a lot of people need to hear it, including those of us trying to work with small children around….we need to give ourselves a break as well.

    My husband was able to take 2 weeks pto and help me out (he works in IT and is considered essential, so he has been going in), which has been amazing, but those 2 weeks are about to end. So I’m looking at 3 more weeks of being alone with a 1.5 year old and a 5 year old.

  93. Archaeopteryx*

    Just to re-emphasize: she went above beyond For your company in the past. It’s YOUR TURN to do the same for her now. Some employers seem shocked that it might ever be their turn to reciprocate.

      1. Just a Thought*

        No – that is short sighted. It is an opportunity for a company to consolidate relationships with top talent. To burn staff out or burn all good will during this time limited situation will not pan out in the long run.

      2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        Letting? No. They are paying for it. It is a business arrangement, it is not a favor or a kindness.

        If they want stellar work from their employees, they need to give them stellar treatment in return.

      3. Dahlia*

        Last time I checked, businesses can’t run without employees. Employment is not a fun special privilege.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Can we retire the idea that our employers are generous benefactors and we are worthless scum that our benefactor allows to stay on their payroll for no reason other than out of the goodness of their benefactory heart? I don’t have the energy to even start going into why I think this is wrong and damaging on a myriad different levels.

  94. Ms. Green Jeans*

    I’m WFH with a college level teenager. Since my kid is not under 18, I don’t feel like I can refer to any parenting duties to my supervisor. But there are indeed parenting needs that come up during the day, and I’m not going to ignore my kid. So basically, I’m hiding my (fairly minimal but existent) parenting duties during the workday.

    1. allathian*

      Eh, what? What are you doing above and beyond with your 18-year-old that you wouldn’t do with another adult in the house? Your college-level kid is an adult and adults learn to defer their needs and wait. Surely nothing can be that urgent that you couldn’t handle during a normal workday break? I mean you do still eat lunch and go to the bathroom during working hours, right?
      Many young people your kid’s age are parents themselves and doing great at it.

      1. Mary Connell*

        When’s the last time you spent any time with a teenager? Eighteen is still a teenager. They need attention, guidance, affection, and the ability to make their own decisions and feel independent while still having a firm base of support. It’s not healthy for them to be alone all day every day like they might be right now in this enforced isolation, so if it takes a little bit of interaction with a parent during the workday, so be it.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Many young people your kid’s age are parents themselves and doing great at it.
        By this logic, any teenager age 14 and up should do just fine on their own and not need parental help, because somebody, somewhere, is a parent at that age.

      3. Kat M2*

        I mean, yes, they are adults, but a couple of things:

        1. Some parents of teens and young adults find they have to enforce rules of social distancing more explicitly. People of all ages are flouting these guidelines, but I think parents might be finding themselves enforcing the rules a bit more, rather than letting their kids have the usual independence.

        2. College students are experiencing a lot of loss right now and might need more emotional support to navigate it, to say nothing of preexisting disabilities or medical conditions that might require extra care anyway.

        3. Just because some young adults are parents and ready for it doesn’t mean all young adults are going to have the same level of independence.

  95. Forwhy*

    I agree with most of the commenters here and Alison about offering flexibility, I would just be making sure you offer the same flexibility to your entire staff. I don’t have kids, but a lot of the people I work closely with do, and I will say it sometimes gets frustrating when those with children are treated differently. Just to be clear I understand this is uncharted territory, and an insane situation, and because everyone is figuring it out as they go along and has a different situation you need to Taylor your responses to that. I guess what I’m saying is that if there are team members who don’t need the flexibility and are better able to pick up the slack, don’t forget those team members. While they probably understand it’s hard not to get bitter the longer the situation goes on if they’re being asked to shoulder the bulk of the work without recognition/compensation.

  96. Just a Thought*

    The best line I heard — can’t cite my source but it is not mine.

    We are not working from home. We are at home trying to work during a crisis.

  97. Generic Name*

    Thank you, Alison!

    My son is 13, so is ostensibly capable of being self-directed while learning from home, but let’s be real, sometimes he has a question about his schoolwork, so yes, that means that I will have to pause working to help him because he needs to get his daily work done by 2 or so. That means my schedule has to be more flexible.

    But beyond that, I’m finding myself SO DISTRACTED lately. I just can’t concentrate. I find myself putting in more overall hours because I feel like my normal 8 is just not focused enough. At the beginning of my company’s work from home edict, my manager sent a slightly smarmy email saying that even though we’re working from home we should keep our productivity up. And then leadership is sending out “helpful tips” on staying sane that involve taking breaks etc, but I feel like combined with my lack of focus taking lots of breaks means I have to work from 7:30 am to 6 pm to be “fully productive”. I work billable hours. Just ugh.

    1. Sparky*

      Oh,yes, this! I live with two immunocompromised relative (who will not stop bickering or show any grace to imagined slights just because there is a pandemic). I am terrified I will bring home the virus that kills both of them. I am newly working from home some days, and my employer is being creative about what counts for my job. I have a job like a custodian or security guard, normally I can’t really it do it from home but they’re letting us take training video classes and write procedures.

      I am the only one walking the dog now, and yesterday I saw a neighbor draped over his trash bin smoking. He told me he and his wife both have the virus. So now we know the alley isn’t safe for my relatives (not that it was before, but it felt safer).

      And I can’t focus. And I get pulled into home meetings about figuring out Instacart. One relative is celiac, and we’re having trouble getting truly gluten free food. And it’s just hard, hard for everyone.

      1. Mary Connell*

        I don’t know if you’ll see this, Sparky, but you deserve a medal. And hazard pay.

    2. allathian*

      I’m in the same situation. My son’s 10 and very self-motivated and diligent, but occasionally I have to step in (or my husband).
      Thankfully I can do it without feeling any guilt whatsoever. I don’t work billable hours for one thing.
      It has to be said, though, that we’re not even attempting to control his screen time now. He’s online for much of his school days, and if the only social interaction with his friends that he gets is playing online games, I’m not going to stop him…

  98. a clockwork lemon*

    I don’t have kids, and my partner and I have been able to transition from working from home fairly easily. My manager and my senior, not so much–both of them have young children and partners who are still working, so both of them are much less available then any of us would like. We’ve got a couple of time-sensitive tasks that we’re all able to block out time for first thing in the morning, but it’s resulted in my senior and I shifting our responsibilities so that I’m double-checking his work instead of the other way around so he can tag-team toddler-wrangling with his partner.

    Our company has been so phenomenally accommodating and flexible throughout this whole process and it’s generated an enormous amount of goodwill. I was casually job searching before this and the company’s response at every level, from our CEO all the way down, that I’ve decided I’m not leaving this company unless something absolutely forces me to. A friend of mine who works in a completely different industry vertical and wildly different role feels exactly the same as I do, and it really speaks to our corporate culture that we feel so valued and supported even as other companies in our respective industries going through massive layoffs and furloughs.

    Your employees are watching your response to this crisis and it will absolutely impact their decisions going forward. If you step up for them now, they’ll want to continue stepping up for you in the future.

  99. Madeleine Matilda*

    My employer has told all supervisors to be as flexible as possible with people schedules while working from home. Informally we were told not to worry if some needs to take time for family care during their work day and not to charge them with leave or anything like that. We’ve also been sharing tools for caring for mental well being right now. My employer has been fantastic since we went all remote work.

  100. Anon for this one*

    I am going to take a moment and defend OP in one thing….. I am a single, childless woman and if I did not have friends who have small children that I had spent days on end visiting – I would have no concept whatsoever of how hard it is to care for children! I honestly can’t even fathom trying to care for kids during all of this, but 3-4 years ago I was clueless about what caring for kids was like. I think Alison’s advice is spot on and the OP definitely needs to cut her employee some slack (for multiple reasons) and decide what is most important, etc, etc. But lets remember, not everyone has the same experiences as everyone else so even if they attempt to put themselves into someones elses shoes, they may not have the knowledge to do so effectively.

    1. Batgirl*

      No one thinks the OP is maliciously stigmatising a parent as lazy or less proactive just for the fun of feeling superior. Of course it’s merely naivete and ignorance.
      It’s also a really worrying level of ignorance for someone who is a manager. Sure, she might not have personal knowledge of exactly JUST how hard toddlers can be, but she knows her employee is trustworthy and she could have just asked her what was possible. She also has basic general knowledge, like the fact toddlers can’t ever be left unattended at all in public places or that they sometimes have epic meltdowns even while being fully supervised.
      The letter is also phrased like “I know what I can do, so shouldn’t she just make it work?” as opposed to “Of course toddlers affect productivity, but how much by on average?” The latter would have got a gentler response but the former is such a terrible misapprehension it needs a stronger nope.

      1. James*

        “It’s also a really worrying level of ignorance for someone who is a manager.”


        The thing is, childcare is only one specific aspect of a much broader issue. There are people dealing with elderly and sick relatives. There are people who can’t be at locations that they normally need to be at. There are people who had home improvement projects (such as bathrooms and kitchens) halt midway through, meaning they lack basic facilities. This isn’t so much an issue of children affecting schedules, but rather an issue of the pandemic affecting schedules. That this manager couldn’t foresee entirely predictable results–and that the manager doesn’t realize that major differences in living situations affect one’s capacity to work from home–is a very, very large red flag.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      ” I would have no concept whatsoever of how hard it is to care for children!”

      Seriously no concept? When I was single and childless I didn’t have a *deep* understanding but I had some. Look around. Listen. It’s not hard to be informed about this stuff. People talk about it. It’s not secret.

  101. Emma*

    Alison laid such a thorough and effective smackdown on this letter writer that The Rock’s theme music (from the Attitude Era if you wanna know) started playing in my head. Amazing

  102. EssentiallyExhausted*

    Lots of comments here but just want to chime in with some solidarity here. I really am feeling for the single parents in this situation – it must be incredibly stressful and difficult.

    Myself and my partner are both essential employees – healthcare and utility work. One of us is working from home, the other does not have that option. Our 1.5 year old child is making it almost impossible to get anything done at home. There is no option for sharing the burden and this situation is not sustainable. Add in the stress and anxiety of the whole situation and productivity on work items is drastically reduced.

    There are no hours of the day to make up work because the day is exhausting enough to the point that as soon as things are reasonably cleaned up at night it’s time to fall asleep. And the clock starts again by 6:00 the next day.

  103. Hmm why can't I concentrate*

    When I didn’t have kids, hearing specifics from people helped me be more patient. To that end, imagine trying to complete a task that requires extended blocks of uninterrupted concentration, but every 5 or 10 minutes you get:

    The teacher says there is a list of words, but I can’t find it.
    The link isn’t working.
    It says the browser is out of date.
    I’m supposed to have a class code and a username?
    Now it wants a password.
    That password doesn’t work.
    I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do.
    OK I’m done with that, now what do I do?
    What does “corresponding” mean?
    How do you spell “divide”?
    The cat is throwing up on your bed.
    I’m supposed to get someone to read me the list of words, can you do it?
    I’m supposed to fill out this page but it’s a PDF and I can’t type in it.
    This is stupid and boring and unfair, I want to go outside.
    I’m lonely. No, I am tired of FaceTiming with grandma, I’m tired of FaceTiming everybody.
    I’m supposed to send a video of myself doing this experiment, can you film me now?
    How do I upload?
    Some lady’s dog is pooping on our lawn!
    Zoom only works on your computer and I have a meeting with my class right now, can I have yours?
    I’m hungry, can I have a break now?

    This is what it is like to be online-schooling a smart, toilet-trained elementary school child who reads well, has good focus, has good support from school, and is invested in doing well and following the rules.

    In other words, I’ve got it easy. I can only imagine what it’s like when any number of factors make it even more difficult.

      1. willow for now*

        It’s nice to dream that when things get back to “normal”, parents who had their kids home this whole time will have developed some empathy (and sympathy) for the teachers, who have 15-35 kids at once they are dealing with. But I don’t think it will last.

    1. also no kids*

      Most of those sound like my aging parents. This pandemic (and honestly a lot of other things pre-pandemic) makes me glad I chose not to have kids on top of the caretaking duties I have for them too.

      1. willow for now*

        Sometimes (not recently, obviously) I have to watch a 7 year old and an old dad, and they both seem bent on destroying themselves and the house. And they always want to eat. Or have a snack. Or tell me something.

    2. PhillyRedhead*

      If I didn’t know any better, that list would make me think you’re peeking in my window! You pretty much described my life right now.

  104. I'm just here for the cats*

    Not to sound harsh but has the letter writer never been around a toddler before? I do t this k they have any kids or if they do they were not a stay at home parent or had a nanny or someone else who took care of the kids.
    I don’t have kids and I can see how problematic it would be caring for one at this time. Heck when I babysat I couldn’t even read for my classes because the littles just take up so much time and energy.

  105. Heat's Kitchen*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. My company is doing this really well … constantly reaffirming our priorities are as follows: family, team, customers. We are empowered to make our own schedules, make sure we’re communicating with our teams about any changes, and empowered to take time if/when needed. The biggest thing I can say is the tweet going around saying, “You aren’t working from home. You are working from home during a crisis.” I really needed to hear this. I normally work from home, but even when I had the kids in daycare during this crisis I wasn’t as productive. It isn’t reasonable to expect the same productivity. By anyone.

  106. No kids*

    All I see is my work load increasing because of a coworker who happens to have kids at home.

    I’m childless, (not by choice), but every time something happens in the world people with kids get a pass, but non-parents get stuck picking up the slack.

    It’s always the same excuses:

    “My baby needs so much attention! I can’t get my work done!”

    Well of course babies need lots of attention their babies (no brainier, but nothing new)

    “My partner doesn’t help with the kids!”

    That sounds like a relationship problem not a work problem.

    And so on, but if you don’t have kids than you’re stuck with extra work, because you don’t have an excuse. I can’t say:

    “Sorry boss I can’t do my work because my dog needs so much attention!”


    “My partner doesn’t help with my elderly parents!”

    Nope, I’m just told to suck it up.

    1. coffee cup*

      I think this situation isn’t anyone ‘getting a pass’. It’s us all trying to work together to help each other in a very weird situation. It’s not *quite* like a parent getting away with something the rest of us aren’t. They have kids. It’s not the same. In this instance, pick up the slack, be kind. And if you have your own commitments, that sounds like a work issue you need to address.

      I don’t have kids and I fully understand my colleagues who are parents needing a bit more help right now. I’m happy to do a bit more work to help them out.

      1. Obfonteri*

        Exactly! Yeah it sucks I have to pick up extra work. But from seeing what my coworkers with kids are going through right now, and how completely frazzled and overwhelmed they are (and *none* of this is their fault, they couldn’t have predicted this and planned for it)… yeah, I’m okay picking up some slack to give them a break. Why on earth shouldn’t we be a little compassionate right now?

    2. gbca*

      I’m sorry you’re not getting support for your obligations to your dog and your elderly parents. But as I keep telling my husband, there are no winners here. Your coworkers with children would surely prefer to be in the office, doing work without their kids around. As Alison said, this is no one’s choice and no one’s fault. Frankly if I had to choose between being in my current situation with young kids and going through this pandemic childless and picking up the slack for my parent coworkers, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Your coworkers with kids are not ok and the mental health impact of this all is going to be with us for a long time.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Actually, gbea, it is a choice to parent. (Yes, having a dog and caring for parents is a choice a well). It’s just parents always get mega slack when other life commitments do not.

        1. PhillyRedhead*

          So, parents were supposed to have foreseen a global pandemic, and made the choice NOT to have children?

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            Removed because I asked you earlier to stop this. – Alison

        2. James*

          Yup. That’s the way it goes. There is an innate biological imperative to protect the propagation of the species. Even a crocodile will grant special consideration to a mother caring for children. You are suggesting that humans should be more vicious and less caring than a cold-blooded killer that routinely cannibalizes the young of its own species.

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            You do realize plenty of humans cannibalize their own species, yes?

            1. James*

              Sure. I’ve studied anthropology to some extent, and anthropologists are a weird lot. Study cultures that engage in cannibalism (endo or exo) long enough and you get, well, curious. Makes for really fun conversations when doing archaeological oversight! I spent six months eating lunch solo when I started looking into that sort of thing, as I spent lunch reading books on anthropology.

              Oh, and most of those cultures seem to have eaten adults. Either as a sign of respect (endocannibalism) or to gain the power/knowledge/whatever of their enemies (exocannibalism). Maybe this is due to the young being too small and marshmallowy to be a good food source; maybe it was because young made better slaves than side dishes (these were not nice people). Don’t know. Doesn’t matter for the purposes of this discussion. The young were typically given special consideration even in cannibalistic cultures.

              When young are threatened most organisms–even those that typically view other members of their own species as a food source rather than potential friends–will defend their young. Protecting infants is a very ancient drive, older than Mammalia. It would be a very large mark against our species if we intentionally dropped that drive. It would also be the end of our species, very quickly.

        3. coffee cup*

          They don’t, actually. As I understand it, in the US there isn’t even a standard maternity leave, which strikes me as not much in the way of slack.

        4. Arial*

          That is not the fault of parents in any way, shape, or form. Your coworkers are not your enemies here: the policies and culture of your company, and many companies, is. I’m another person who’s childfree by choice and desperately happy about it but not with the BS that comes my way about it, in life and work, so I do sympathize. But hurting people who are parents is not the way to fix that.

    3. Shenandoah*

      They are not excuses. In normal circumstances, I pay a hefty sum of money for someone to give my baby the attention and care they need during the work day. These are not normal circumstances.

      Frankly, your problem is not with your coworker who is a parent and you shouldn’t lay the blame at their door. Your boss should also be extending you the same grace and adjusting priorities for all.

    4. Batgirl*

      That’s unfortunate that your caring responsibilities are being dismissed. My boss sent us a blanket email that she dies not expect the same level of work while we’re isolated/ill/anxious/caring for others. It’s really motivated someone like me (childless with not a lot on) to step it up without feeling anxious. No way would she dump extra work on me at a time like this.

      1. No kids*

        It just amazes me that parents are not realizing how difficult raising kids are, now that there are no daycares, nannies, and grandparents to handle the child rearing.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          That’s a really strange thing to say considering the circumstances. All of us, parents and non-parents, are in completely uncharted territory. I never thought it was easy to raise children and if I were a parent without my usual resources AND an expectation to work full-time… that sounds terrible to me! Are you really pulling the, “Well, DUH, this is hard, we all KNOW that, suck it up” card? Forgive me if I’m misreading you, but man, that sounds really unkind.

        2. James*

          Nonsense. Not just nonsense, but deeply insulting nonsense.

          The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is a truism for a reason. Humans don’t raise children in nuclear family groups; the idea that we did is pure fantasy, on par with Goldilocks or Tinkerbell. Humans have always, in all cultures, relied on extensive networks of support for childcare. These resources are how we handle the difficulties inherent in childcare.

          Having that support structure ripped away is traumatic, not because we’re being stripped of luxuries, but because we’ve been stripped of a normal part of human life.

          Here’s the thing: We all know this going in. Every responsible parent has discussions of how to handle this. But having a plan doesn’t make it easier. I have a plan for how to deal with arterial bleeding; not only that, I have experience at it first-hand. Doesn’t mean that if I get lacerated I can say “Oh, I realized this is going to hurt, it’s no big deal”. Knowing something’s going to be difficult IS NOT the same as experiencing the difficulties, and no plan survives contact with reality unscathed.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            All of this! Thank you for spelling it out for people who don’t get it.

            Raising kids with support is not an easy job.

            Raising kids without support is even less easy.

            Raising kids without support while also trying to ensure they are getting an education is even less easy.

            Raising kids without support while also trying to ensure they are getting an education while your boss is being an ass about productivity is damn near impossible.

          2. Batgirl*

            Exactly, it takes more than one or two people to raise a child. The idea that people should just suck up the fact that their children are not being educated or socialized as they usually need to be is odd because people…are?

        3. Shenandoah*

          No kids, parents know **exactly how difficult it is to raise children** because we live it it every day. The difficulty is caring for a child at home (a full time job) and working a full time job at home.

          If I did not have to work my full time job during this mess, it would be a normal level of hard to be a SAHM to my child. I could handle a normal level of hard.

        4. LiveLaughLurk*

          I don’t think any parent is *just now realizing* that it’s difficult to raise kids without daycare, nannies, etc. I think every parent knows exactly how hard it is to raise kids without those things, that’s why they spend so much time and money to make sure those very important tools are in place so they can do their job.

          I don’t have kids and my responsibilities haven’t really changed in switching to remote work, but that’s because I still have all my tools at my disposal. If someone were, say, to cut off my internet without warning, even though I pay for it, even though I had the presence of mind to set it up in advance of my remote work and make sure I had all the working parts, I would no longer have a vital tool to do my job and my productivity would drop drastically. Daycare and school and nannies are tools, too.

        5. Blueberry*

          Well, that’s helpful.

          Your employers should not be straining you to the breaking point because your coworker has children, but your palpable hostility towards the entire concept of having children is a little frightening.

        6. coffee cup*

          That’s really not what’s happening here. Unless you really believe all parents (and let’s face it, mostly this would mean ‘all mothers’) should do nothing except stay in the house and look after children, regardless of whether they want to or not, it’s usually necessary for people to have childcare at some point.

          And to be honest, even if they didn’t? Working during a pandemic at home is new territory for all of us, including parents, weirdly enough.

          1. James*

            Exactly. Even ignoring the strain on my productivity due to my children, my boss isn’t as available anymore, my clients aren’t (I need their signature on some things by law), my contacts aren’t (just try getting a contract negotiated these days), some places I need to work with are shut down. Networks are overloaded, we’re not allowed to sign into our VPN unless absolutely necessary. Shipments are delayed nearly everywhere for nearly everything. Try disposing of hazardous waste these days!!

            The goal can’t be “business as usual”. The only goal should be getting through this in one piece, as much as possible. We’ll deal with the fallout once the pandemic is over.

    5. Ranon*

      I used to pay other people for 45 hours of labor per week so my husband and I could each work 40 hours per week. That 45 hours is no longer available, which means our collective household workload has gone up 45 hours. It’s just math, I can’t change it. It’s not personal, it’s just reality.

    6. An Actual Fennec Fox*

      You have a crappy boss. And I say that as someone who has no kids and has grumbled at being saddled with work because someone else does have them. In normal circumstances, I did. Now, I’m just glad I still have a job and am not in danger of losing it, even if our coworker with kids is on vacation until we sort this thing out.

    7. LizM*

      I knew babies took a lot of time when I had a baby. I also had daycare and grandparents and a whole support system that just evaporated 3 weeks ago.

      So today, I got an assignment due at 5. My 5 year old (who has been basically watching cartoons non-stop for the last 3 weeks) is bouncing off the wall. We can’t go to the park. If I lock myself in the study and put in the full day that’s it’s going to take to meet this deadline, he’s going to break things, and possibly hurt himself.

      My partner is also trying to work from home. Is my job more important than his? He took time off last week so I could have the space to address an emergency, so he’s now behind on a couple of things.

      So what should I do?

      Could you please extend parents some grace and understand that we’re not doing this *at* you?

      I have a couple of colleagues that have older children and are a little more available during the day. I will forever be grateful where they’ve stepped in to address the time-sensitive tasks, and I’ve been trying to take on the tasks that have a little more flexibility and can be addressed in the evening after my son goes to bed. But that also means that I’m working until 11 at night most nights.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        You give child something to do that eats up time or insists he plays quietly. SUcks but it’s not right to extend parents grace unless you give that to everyone, child less or not. You have no idea what is going on in someone’s home. You have a child. Another may have a sick parent, spouse, furfamily, etc. Parental pain is not greater than any other pain.

        1. Shenandoah*

          Please read LizM’s comment again. No where in there did she suggest that grace should not be given to non-parents. She did not say she is asking non-parents to step up. She expressed her gratitude towards her colleagues who **have** been able to step up. (i.e. the ones who do not have a sick parent, spouse, etc.)

          And insist a 5 year old play quietly? LOL SURE.

        2. Ethyl*

          Ahahahahahahahah this is HILARIOUS. “Insist” a toddler play quietly! You should do stand up!

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            It can be done. If we can train an eight week old puppy to sit, surely a child, who speaks the same language, is not a different species, has intelligence, can learn the simple actions of playing quietly, coloring, reading a book, etc.

            1. Blueberry*

              There’s what a child can do and then there’s for how long they can do it. Does any puppy sit for 8 hours straight, or even 4?

            2. James*

              “f we can train an eight week old puppy to sit, surely a child, who speaks the same language, is not a different species, has intelligence, can learn the simple actions of playing quietly, coloring, reading a book, etc.”

              This is….not right. On many levels.

              A toddler DOESN’T speak the same language; that’s why they scream and cry, because they can’t express themselves.They are in fact learning the language, which is certainly not the same thing. Toddlers also can’t read, so “read a book” is a non-starter.

              Even older children aren’t masters of language; they’re still learning how to express themselves, and that leads to many problems. Some can read–certainly not all–but for how long? Depends on the child, but the average range is measured in minutes in grade school.

              As for being the same species, that is an important factor, one that destroys your entire argument. Dogs are born at a more mature developmental state than humans, particularly the brains. Due to the large cranial size, human infants are born very undeveloped; this means that an 8 week old puppy is more akin to a year-old child, if not older. Intelligence–if that can even be measured, which I personally doubt (yes, I know metrics have been developed; they are all deeply flawed)–simply doesn’t factor; it’s an issue of maturity. A baby–even a toddle–human is the equivalent of a fetal dog. This means that it’s far easier to train a young puppy than a young child. This is fairly basic anthropology, and has been used to describe a huge variety of culturally universal behaviors, such as living in communities and singing to infants. A 5-year-old human is akin to a very young puppy, one that’s weaned but still unable to be far from its mother (the analogy is a horrible one, as development is not consistent across various aspects of the organisms in different species; this is an important factor in evolution, one that’s been widely studied by paleontologists and biologists.)

              Your comments are factually untrue, dismissive, and disrespectful to parents. Please stop.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              What on earth? No, that’s not how how child development works. This is derailing (and incredibly inflammatory — and just kind of shitty to parents who are already under enough pressure right now), so please leave it here.

            4. Batgirl*

              ‘Can learn’ suggests that you’re theorising rather than speaking from experience. As does the fact that your theory doesn’t actually work in real situations.

            5. cmcinnyc*

              Zebras can get up and run shortly after birth, so yeah, what’s with all these babies *just lying around?*

              1. Sparky*

                I believe parrots and other pet birds calm down if a blanket is draped over their cage. Place the toddler in a cage and drape a blanket over it!

            6. Obfonteri*

              Do you have any parenting books written, by any chance? Please say yes. You are single-handedly solving every parenting issue ever. The world needs to learn from you!

            7. allathian*

              Some kids can do it, some of the time. But not all of the time. It’s obvious that you have no experience whatever of living with kids, so try to listen and learn from parents who do have that experience.

              That said, I could never, ever have a parent, or god forbid, an in-law suffering from dementia living with us. I can deal with incontinent children, but permanently incontinent adults, no thanks. Especially not with dementia, they can’t be reasoned with any more than toddlers can, and they’re only deteriorating, too.

              We’re having covid-19 cases in some nursing homes for people with dementia, and I’m sort of glad. I just hope they’re not suffering too much, but really, I don’t see the point of keeping people with advanced dementia alive.

            8. Ash*

              “It can be done”–ok, sure, why don’t you come over and show me how! You can have a full day with my 18-month-old (who is currently napping thank god) and show him how to play quietly with little supervision or human interaction.

        3. J.B.*


          Do you have children, or are your children adults now? Because this seems 10000% like the selective amnesia “treasure every minute” “MY kids were so much better”

          There are other options, but it takes some flexibility.

        4. Dee-Nice*

          “You insist the child plays quietly”

          If insisting worked on kids, this comment thread wouldn’t exist. Particularly with very young, pre-literate children, there’s not much you can give them that eats up time AND is safe for them to do unsupervised. Getting kids to learn to respect your time and entertain themselves is a years-long process; many adults I know still do not possess this skill.

          “It’s not right to extend parents grace unless…”
          No. Just because people at the top aren’t doing right by everyone doesn’t mean you pit workers against each other. You extend parents grace AND you show understanding to everyone during difficult times.

          1. Betty*

            Me and my 23 month old:

            Me: I insist you sit quietly and read a book.
            Toddler (who can’t read): Mummy read book!
            Me: No, Mummy not read book. Just look at the pictures.
            Toddler (who actually can’t speak perfect adult English, duh): Ook… Pik… Chuh…
            Me: That’s right. Look at the pictures.
            *Toddler decides to comply. Sits down with book. Flicks through pages, which takes under a minute, closes book and announces “THE END” and looks at me expectantly.*
            Toddler: Mummy read book?

            See also:
            Me: Why don’t you sit down quietly and do some coloring, daeling?
            Toddler: No colour.
            Me: Look, it’s a train!
            Toddler: NO COLOUR.
            Me: I insist! I exert my parental authority! I INSIST! YOU MUST COLOUR!
            *Toddler has a screaming meltdown and throws the crayons at the walls, marking them as he does so*
            Me: But I insisted!

            Honestly, I have a remarkably placid, quiet, weak-willed, book-oriented toddler, but “insisting” he do something quietly by himself for any meaningful length of time is just laughable. He actually is capable of playing by himself for half an hour or so… but on HIS timetable, not mine, so no wah could I plan anything to coincide with it.

            1. Koala dreams*

              I expect that’s why there are advertisements everywhere for those audio book services with children’s books. It’s amazing how interested in reading some toddlers are!

        5. Dahlia*

          “You give child something to do that eats up time or insists he plays quietly.”

          You don’t spend a lot of time with five year olds, do you? Learning to play “quietly” (5 year olds are only truly quiet when they’re getting into trouble) is a learned skill that takes a long time to develop. It is espcially not an easy one during a pandemic.

        6. LizM*

          I don’t think I said that having a child took precedence over other’s obligations.

          I would say more, but I am trying very hard to follow the rules to be kind.

          I’m sorry you feel like your family obligations are not being taken seriously. Grace is not a zero-sum game.

        7. Avasarala*

          Hahahaha yes, why haven’t parents around the world tried reasoning with their young children? Or giving them something to do?

          By that extension, why haven’t we tried reasoning with our sick parents/spouse/pets!

          Have you ever actually cared for something besides yourself, who is not a plant?
          Can you, an adult, even sit quietly and undistractingly for 8 hours a day, for days on end?

    8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      As a childless/childfree by choice (so I can understand your situation stings even more!) – I can identify!

      I haven’t experienced the uptick of work from colleagues with children just yet as I’m sort of a “department of myself” –

      – But I have come across it in the past where there are obligations to be covered and parents/guardians got carte blanche on “Oliver’s nativity play” or some other non-essential thing, time off approvals blocked during school holidays because the approver/manager might need the time off because of school holidays, even if the time off was for a medical appointment, because parents gonna parent, etc.

      I learned over the years to schedule my life around the known vacation blackout periods of “parents”. Rendered more difficult by a lot of people being in different local government areas with different calendars.

      I was bitter and resentful for a lot of years and I’ve only in the last couple of years (I’m in my late 30s) come to realize that parents genuinely do have more on their plate, more to deal with, more unmovable obligations… and to develop some kind of empathy about that (I’m a bit of a late bloomer in the ’empathy’ area).

      I’ve made my peace with having the lowest priority, most easily rescinded PTO at this point.

      I have had 9 PTO bookings rescinded in the last 2 years due to this!

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        9 bookings! Where I had my own plans.. but they had to be canceled due to new deadlines (I made sure to book around the original deadlines, booking for 2 months after the planned deadline but then it slipped), … or just being shamed in emails as the ONLY project thread who had amber rather than green status on our deadline (based on a typo with the deadline, it wasn’t really amber but I didn’t want to take the risk).

        At this point I am treating any future time off as “subject to cancelation” so I am not planning anything.

        How’s that for mental health!!

        Extroverts gonna self-absorb as usual.

      2. Mary Connell*

        That’s tough and unfair, but it is the fault of the management and company culture, not the parents.

    9. F_society*

      Same boat as you, only I’m childfree and have experienced this bias and double standard in a lot of workplaces I’ve been at. Aside from being expected to take on more work from parents, I’ve also been treated less respectfully and more “childlike” simply because I don’t have kids.

      As someone who sees all the perks and exceptions made for parents by society (which they (not all, but many) are largely blind to by the amount of whinging I hear from some of them as to why they don’t get mroe kickbacks and exceptions), it’s disheartening to feel like you’re just thrown under the parental bus all the time, expected to pick up their slack while being treated like a second class citizen simply for choosing not to reproduce.

      1. allathian*

        That’s unfortunate and not fair. Most parents are not slackers, but many do have unmovable obligations that can’t be helped. That said, I hope that the same kind of flexibility is extended to people who are taking care of elderly relatives, etc. My ex-boss worked 4 days a week for a while last year, because she needed to supervise her 95-year-old mom’s move to an assisted living facility and it took a lot of her time. We have a lot of flexibility in working hours etc. but that wasn’t enough at the time for her. It was additionally difficult because her mom was living a 5-hour drive away.

        I certainly feel that becoming a parent made me less self-centered and a better person, but also a better employee (I’m much better at prioritizing and being a parent got rid of a horrid procrastination habit I had, for a long time, if I didn’t do something right away it wouldn’t get done). But that doesn’t mean that I think childless people or those who are childfree by choice (like my extremely career-oriented sister), are in any way less mature than I am. That’s a horrid attitude.

  107. coffee cup*

    I sometimes can’t believe these letters are from real people who really think these things (I know they are!). ‘It is frustrating to hear “I can’t” do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace.’ Seriously? Can you not see the difference here? Can you not realise what you’re actually saying?

    1. Anon Anon*

      I think that there is a very small number of people who simply can’t put themselves in another person’s shoes. So if something is easy for them then they can’t comprehend why it’s not easy for another person. Whether that is a manager who has no children and who doesn’t get why it’s almost impossible to work and take care of kids. Or the co-worker doesn’t grasp that a mental health issue simply may make it challenging to complete day-to-day activities.

      1. coffee cup*

        Well, exactly. I mean, I have no kids and live alone and *I* am finding I am not as productive at home as I am in the workplace. I’ve been feeling bad about it, but I do think it’s a normal way to be during this time. And if it’s hard for me, I can only begin to imagine how hard it is for someone with a child, especially single parents.

    2. Sparky*

      I think there is deep denial to the pandemic. People who “feel fine” still going out, without masks. I think this denial extends to expecting people who are teleworking because of the pandemic to work from home like normal. I prefer this to thinking that many people have not enough empathy.

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      A lot of these letters are due to a very large sense of entitlement on the part of OP.

      Unrealistic expectations are always gonna come back at you. I sincerely hope this new employee finds a new job.

  108. Lisa Large*

    Thank you Alison! When will you be running for public office? We need leaders who understand what it is like to be a working family!

    1. Ranon*

      The reality is, some of that work isn’t going to get done. Even some of the really important, keeping people alive work. Society’s resources aren’t allocated for full productivity in this situation, lots of people who just weeks ago were providing really important labor (like childcare!) are now unable to do so, (while the number of children in the world remains constant, more or less). We need a lot more healthcare workers right now and not so very many, I don’t know, gym managers, but we still pretty much have the same number of each we had at the beginning of this thing. Things aren’t going to get done, people are going to suffer, and the very best we can do is try to just get through it the best we can.

    2. Dahlia*

      And people still have to live. You work to live, you don’t live to work. People have to take care of their families, their friends, and theirselves. You can’t let your toddler die because a report was due.

    3. James*

      Work IS getting done. That’s not the issue. The issue is that the manager is expecting the worker to continue at their previous productivity regardless of the pandemic and shifts.

      Fundamentally the issue is one of prioritization. Not all the work is going to get done as efficiently as in the past; that’s a given. So we need to pick and choose what’s most critical.

    4. AVP*

      Yeah, I wish this was something that was dived into a little deeper in this answer. My company is WILD BUSY right now and can’t really let any balls drop because that makes it easy for our clients to skip out on their retainers, and this is not an economy one is happy to lose clients in. We’re making do by reorganizing who does what, moving deliverables around to different managers who are used to dealing with clients that have gone quiet, putting some of our internal projects on the backseat and choosing really carefully what people are working on. And we’re lucky in that most people are used to working at home and no one has any kids or family to care for. Our CEO has been amazing about checking in with people, making sure everyone has breaks, etc etc. But still, I don’t know what we’d do if we were really down people in the way people are describing in this thread, short of layoffs.

      I think it’s different for larger or more stable companies, and of course some industries have just disintegrated overnight which is a very different problem, but the US workforce is not really set up for this shock.

  109. Miriam*

    Ugh, thank you for answering this person so frankly.

    Another thing that I am really anxious about is that different kids have different needs, and a lot of people assume that because of my child’s age and my lack of other kids I have it relatively easy. I have found myself doing some oversharing about some of my kid’s challenges in trying to explain exactly why I have so little time for working during the day. This is a kid whose age-mates are able to do a lot more independently. It’s especially hard on both ends because we are in the process of getting various evaluations/diagnoses, but in the end my child doesn’t have any official diagnoses that I can use on the work end or the school end to show concrete evidence of why I am working so little and why my child needs such time intensive academic and emotional support. And the evaluations are now delayed even further. I am extremely lucky in that work and school have both been accommodating so far, but it’s hard for me to know that co-workers with more kids and/or younger kids are putting in more hours than me. And while school is accommodating I worry that our lack of IEP means that my kid isn’t getting all the support they need, and will end up even further behind next year than their classmates. And there’s the incredible parental guilt that we didn’t do these things earlier, as if we could have known that we’d be stuck wading through increased academic and other developmental challenges in the middle of a freaking pandemic.

    Ugh, word salad. I’m so stressed out. And this is how I spend my 5 min. mental health break. Probably a poor choice.

    1. Batgirl*

      That is such a good point. I teach 11 year olds and about 30% of my students have low literacy ages (will need one to one support to get any work done), or low emotional ages (will need hand holding to prevent meltdowns) or have hyper levels of mobility (will be climbing the walls). Only a tenth of them have any sort of diagnosis, because they’re expensive to get and it might be just a temporary stage in their development. But you’d swear some of them were half their age. Bosses, please believe your employees to be the experts on their situation right now.

      1. allathian*

        I’m so thankful that my kid is motivated and diligent and pretty much self-directing in his schoolwork (he’ll be 11 in a few months). My heart aches for parents who have kids with special needs and who must WFH. Kids are in remote school here, but many special needs teachers have been laid off/furloughed, and I’m like WTF? Those kids and their parents need more support now than ever before.

      2. Miriam*

        Just seeing your reply makes my situation feel more… normal.

        This is a bit like trial by fire. I have actually learned more about what works and doesn’t work in helping my child control their emotions/panic reactions to schoolwork. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but in the end we have been more successful and slightly less burned out compared to our first week doing this. (We are on… week 3? It’s so hard to keep track.)

        Thing I have found myself saying and cringing because my mom totally said this to me when frustrated with me as a kid: “I know you don’t act like this at school, so why are you acting like this at home?” Which is freaking true, but also not a productive thing to say to a kid who is already melting down.

        In other news, I have started noticing more gray hairs when I bother to look in the mirror. That is not hyperbole. Literally several gray hairs have popped up in the past month. Awesome. (I don’t mind them per se, but they are a worrying sign of how stressed out I am.)

    2. SweetestCin*

      I don’t have any advice, but would like to offer virtual hugs, a shoulder to lean on, and a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate to you!

  110. LizM*

    I have high performing employees who are in this situation.

    The way I look at it, it all comes out in the wash. I’m in government, so let’s assume that someone is going to have a 30 year career with the our agency (not at all unusual in my agency). This crisis has been about 3-4 weeks at this point, depending on where you are in the country. Even worst case scenario, if we’re teleworking through the summer, we’re looking at 3-4 months.

    A 30 year career is 360 months.

    4 months is less than 1% of that. If I “have to” extend some grace to help employees get through the next few months, it’s really just a quick moment in time.

    1. LizM*

      And just to be clear… I have no problem working with employees right now. I’m just framing it this way because even if you take away the human pieces, from a business perspective, it seems silly to lose a good employee over a global crisis outside of their control that is really such a short period of time when you take the long view.

      Obviously a business that is struggling to make it to the end of this crisis may see it differently, I realize I have a luxury to be able to take the long view given the size of the institution. But for those managers who have that luxury, I’d urge you to try to keep perspective.

    2. Dasein9*

      Yes. Thank you. Even in industries where people move around more, this sort of calculation can be very useful to keep a sense of perspective about what all these accommodations entail.

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      Thank you for doing the math on this for people who need a sanity check. Less than 1% is pretty insignificant.

  111. Ralph Wiggum*

    OP, I recommend this thought exercise to frame your approach.

    Imagine giving a critical on-call task to your employee. She doesn’t need to address it, unless something comes up, but if there is a call, she needs to be on it in seconds. Her response could require anywhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes, depending on the incident. Now imagine that she gets 40+ incidents per day during regular work hours.

    That’s the reality of caring for a toddler. We’re all trying to do our best here.

  112. Meredith*

    This may have been said upthread, but: There’s a reason if you’re “only” a stay at home parent. There’s a reason if you “only” work full time. There’s a reason you “only” work part part time.

    You can’t do it all, and you certainly can’t do it all at once! Typing this as I confine my 9 month old to her pack n’ play while also attempting to work!

  113. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I get it. We tend to like structure and consistency, and look for whatever passes for ‘normal’ as a sign that everything is okay. Except that these are not normal times, and things are not okay. Your great employee is dealing with more than you know: not only has her job situation changed drastically, she has a little one to manage WITHOUT child care. She simply can’t give you the undivided attention she used to, and it’s not her fault.

    If you truly value your exceptional employee, please take Alison’s advice to heart. Part of being a good people manager means you manage for the situation at hand, not what you want it to be, It also means that you recognize your team for not only their performance but their needs during times of crisis. If you insist on acting like it’s business as usual, don’t be surprised if your stellar employee resigns when things get better.

    1. Batgirl*

      “Part of being a good people manager means you manage for the situation at hand, not what you want it to be”

      Oooh well said.

  114. AnonAnon*

    It is not reasonable to expect a parent to have a regular work schedule right now.
    I am a single mom of a middle-schooler with special needs. I am also working full time from home.
    I am very thankful I have a job and a job that is flexible. My boss knows we have a million balls in the air right now.
    If I have major deliverables, I can keep working after hours to get them done.
    While my child is “in school” it is near impossible for me to be glued to my PC.

    In talking with parents of little ones….God bless them! I don’t know how they are su