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Brian Ballantyne is author of Confessions of a Working Father. He shares his experience of lockdown and explains why employers must recognise domain shifting in future.
He shared his experience of lockdown and why he’ll be the first of many working dads taking up a more flexible role as we exit the coronavirus crisis.
Domain shifting, having to switch between what I am focused on, has been a challenge for me during the Covid-19 lockdown. Have other working parents felt this too? Being in work mode is a different state of mind and responsibility to me, than being in home mode. So it can drain my mental energy to continually be switching my attention between these two domains.
“Work Brian” is very active, high-adrenaline, productivity, parallel-tasking, presentable. “Home Brian” is also active, with housework and hobbies, although is generally on wind-down. When I have to continually switch between these states of mind, for interruptions, shopping, making lunch or dinner, checking on the laundry, it creates mental strain for me.
However, like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Several months into lockdown, and I am finding it less draining to switch between work and home Brian. This alignment of my different states of mind, or at least flexibility in switching between them, has been one of the main new skills I have benefited from, thanks to Covid-19.
I have noticed many more dads than usual struggling with this during 2020. Especially in roles that require high degrees of attention and immersion, for example software engineering. A book called “Leading Geeks” claims that when a software engineer is interrupted during deep coding work, it can take up to four hours to get back into that level of immersion.
Not all software engineers are men or even dads. However, I see a particular strain on dads who are finding it very difficult to achieve the same level of immersion in their work, when they might have small children at home, or the doorbell rings for a delivery, etc. While it’s great that more dads are being present at home, this lower productivity causes stress. I have seen survey results that working parents are catching up at night and during the weekend.
Yes, this applies to all working parents. The data suggests that working mothers are under incredible strain, and on average across working couples, men are getting three uninterrupted hours for every one hour that a woman gets. Universally it seems that women are picking up more responsibility for home-schooling and housework, and those couples need to talk!
My impression is that women have had more practice at flexing this muscle than men. I think that, yes, more men need to step up at home. However I do also believe that more support is needed. Men don’t typically like to show any sign of weakness, and so it is critical that businesses are proactive in offering support to men who are juggling responsibilities and switching domains.
I am hearing from many more working fathers at this time asking for support and advice to find a better balance, and not to feel that they are failing. We are not alone. There are great support networks for working parents, and many catering especially for working dads, where we can share stories and strategies for making it work. Companies need to lean in on this too.
As we move into the new normal, I want to see more proactive measures from companies in supporting their working parents. Not only accommodating flexible working arrangements, but also being considerate for the situation of working parents in performance evaluations. I already found a new job in a more uplifting team. Other working dads will be doing the same.