We Need To Talk About Our New Coworkers

By Kelli Petersen, MBA, Marketing Manager

Many of us began working from home on March 16th, 2020 (exactly 100 years ago today). For many parents, that was the same day our children began staying home, as well. “I can handle this,” we thought optimistically on that first day. “I can work while taking care of a small child/children.” By the next day, dread had settled into our stomachs. No, it turned out, we could not handle this.

In the time since RVUers moved to the privacy of their homes, it has become clear who is able to embrace the change and who is struggling. On a Zoom call of several people, you will notice which ones are the parents: they’re the ones on mute out of courtesy for the others. They’re the ones who reply with distracted half-answers or offer screaming as their background ambiance.

Yet it’s not just work (and our co-workers’ eardrums) that is being affected. Speaking for myself, I can only half-work and half-care for my one-year-old—so I’m not particularly effective at either for the moment. The usually enjoyable activity of family-time has been replaced with a frustrating helplessness at working to meet a deadline while keeping the kids mostly safe and minimally entertained.

Along with RVU switching to a remote environment, so too have other schools. Three-year-old Daisy, daughter of Melissa Davidson, Office of Testing Coordinator, is unable to attend preschool which “has been so effective in helping her gain social skills and independence” as a child with special needs. Parents with older children have had to add homeschooling to their day-jobs, as well: “I’m an educator but I didn’t expect to be teaching elementary, middle school, and adults all at the same time,” says Darcy Solanyk, MS, PA-C, Associate Professor of PA Studies. “It’s tested my resiliency and some days I’ve failed. The good news is that we’re all transitioning to a ‘new norm’ and people have shown one another a lot of grace which has made adapting feasible.”

In a pandemic, the regular 8-to-5 schedule flies out the window. Most parents cannot set aside childcare for a solid day of work. Instead, they must alternate care with their partners, wait for their partners to come home from work, or they may be single parents altogether. Many must work at night and over the weekend—yet the workday won’t simply wait for them. Oftentimes, I answer emails and have meetings during the day while juggling the baby—then begin my actual work at 5pm. While feeding the baby in the middle of the night, I respond to emails; at times, coworkers reply immediately, clearly also putting in their work-hours at 2am. It is nonstop; it is exhausting.

“I hope you are hanging in there. I am not—I am drowning,” says Francina Towne, PhD, Program Director for MSBS. “All day, every day, I’m balancing two young kids and a day full of meetings and work. The only time to get work done is in the evenings, but by then, I’m wiped out. I am not a stay-at-home-parent but now I must be one—while still working a full-time job. There is a reason we do one or the other: it’s not possible to do both!”

Nevertheless, we can’t deny the positives. First, we are employed at a company that we love, doing jobs that we enjoy. At a time when millions (millions!) are now unemployed, this has not escaped our notice and we are extremely grateful for the stability. Second, we are able to spend extra time with our children which, frustrating as it may be at times, is something we also deeply treasure. “I get to see Daisy [more] and be a part of her day,” says Melissa. “I can see how she is growing and learning. I love it.”

Perhaps the way to cope ultimately lies in embracing (and reminding ourselves of) that gratitude. “I am really thankful to have a job that I love,” continues Dr. Towne. “I’m trying to enjoy the small moments with my sweet kiddos, the entertaining interruptions of my Zoom calls, and the quick access to endless cups of homemade coffee.”

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