Working from Home : A Mother’s Perspective
By Justyna Luterek Accord Group / AltoPartners Poland
The COVID-Pandemic has exposed the degree to which women’s economic participation in society is dependent on childcare. In Poland, statists show that career activity among Polish women has been on the decline since 2016. According to Eurostat, only 63% of women aged between 15 and 64 work professionally or actively search for jobs in Poland, which is below the European Union countries’ average of 68%. One of the main reasons for this is insufficient public and private child care institutions. This correlates with OECD research that shows a strong relationship between the number of working women and nursery school registrations.
Until March 2020, working from home was considered an occasional perk to be used sparingly and only as needed. Aside from reservations around productivity, bosses feared an erosion of team spirit and increased inefficiencies. To complicate matters, Polish labour law is restrictive when it comes to recognizing what work may be conducted from a home office (mostly tele-work), which in turn creates additional conflict between the parties.
For many Polish mothers then, the COVID-19 pandemic was a welcome respite from traditional, rigid work arrangements. In common with employees across the globe they welcomed the flexibility it gave them to attend to domestic matters and the freedom from the daily commute. Most importantly though, was that bosses had to accept that employees had lives outside of work and standards of professional conduct evolved to encompass the occasional pet and toddler popping up on a meeting screen and mothers planning video conferences around nap times and homework.
What rapidly became clear though, was that women’s share of the domestic workload was disproportionately high and that without considerable support systems, it is virtually impossible for women to shoulder all the responsibility for domestic duties and childcare and still have meaningful careers. Little wonder then that 50% of working mothers opted to take up the government subsidy which allowed them to get 80% of their salary to stay at home and focus on child care until such time kindergartens and nurseries re-opened.
For the brave ones who chose to stick it out and work full time from home, it was frankly, three months of hell: of juggling responsibilities, attempting impossible feats of multi-tasking, and being tested by tiny martinets who still needed to be fed, clothed, entertained and cuddled. For these mothers it was three months of stress, frustration and exhaustion as they attempted to take on tasks that were usually spread between a host of support functions and care-givers, from grandmothers to au pairs, sports coaches, teachers, and cleaners, and still deliver on their work commitments.
Working from home is indeed, easier said than done for parents, and in communities where gender roles are rigidly defined, it places an intolerable burden on working women. The key is better child care, and a willingness to make policies that reflect this reality so that more women can be included in the formal economy. Failure to do so will be a step backwards for equality and diversity. Acknowledging that we are parents first and employees second will make us better employees, and better parents.