At the core of every great work culture lies respect. I’ve worked with every type of business—from early-stage startups to huge global organizations—and witnessed it first-hand. The best run (and ultimately, most successful) companies foster a culture of respect and compassion for teammates, regardless of size or industry.
When we respect our teammates’ time, work, and intelligence, we can all reduce stress and stave off burnout in the workplace. The problem is that we’re all too quick to assume we’re already doing this.
We rely too heavily on the golden rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. But if I’ve never had children, it’s unfair to declare I know what working parents need. We opened up a dialogue recently on our panel, Real Talk: Customer Success and Motherhood.
The panel brought to light a lot of the habits managers and coworkers do without considering how it might affect caregivers on the team. We too often ignore how our own behaviors come off as disrespectful or intolerant to others. I put together some learnings on how we can implement tangible solutions to help caregivers on our teams.
This list breaks down four ways to establish a culture that empowers working parents and prevents burnout, packed with advice and quotes directly from our panelists: Maranda Ann Dziekonski, Kristi Faltorusso, and Emilia D’Anzica.
1. Be firm on outcomes, but flexible on when and how it happens
An outcome-oriented culture is already a trademark of most productive teams. Small businesses and startups tend to do better than larger organizations at prioritizing task completion, partly out of necessity. Although, it’s pretty eye opening when you realize that a dozen people working at full capacity can get the same amount done as a few hundred employees.
Adopt this type of culture in your own workplace to benefit everyone on the team. Focus more on the actual tasks team members complete rather than how or when they complete them. Employees will be more productive, and leaders will see more results. Team members will feel more respected for their work as well.
All our panelists honed in on the positives of letting your employees work in a way that suits them. Emilia points out, “It's important for the company to allow everyone to thrive, regardless of their choices. You need to respect those choices.” It’s obvious when you think about it: Every person is different, so why do we assume everyone works well with the same hours and in the same environment?
If you’re trying to avoid micromanaging, this is the way to do it. As long as you set clear expectations and deadlines, the work will get done. Especially when working with tenured CSMs who have children at home, give them the flexibility to do their jobs in a way that works best for them.
2. Question rules that impact some teammates more than others
Maranda encourages team members to speak up when they see an issue: “Be candid with your leadership and provide them feedback about what you're observing. Get your voice out there. Others are probably feeling the same thing and they may not feel empowered either. So nobody speaks up and nothing changes, but you could be the catalyst for change.”
I challenge leaders, in particular, to question their own assumptions. The more you engage and are proactive about issues surrounding equality and support for working parents, the more you’ll learn. It’s an ongoing process that will benefit your entire business.
For instance, it never occurred to me that requiring cameras on during team meetings could cause stress for caregiver teammates. I was ruling by conventional wisdom—we’ve all heard that cameras help foster team bonding. It’s a good way to see body language and connect with remote employees.
I let precedent override the real life experiences of my teammates, though. Leaving their camera off meant they could tend to a child in the middle of a meeting if needed.
Create an environment in your workplace where people feel empowered to bring issues to light and where leaders are open to questioning their own behavior.
3. Ask why for every meeting
Meetings have a bad reputation for killing productivity at most companies. They tend to veer us away from the outcome-oriented mindset into a more slow-moving workplace culture. We’ve all been in meetings where someone seemingly just likes hearing the sound of their own voice.
I understand it, though—leaders want to validate their ideas. We value the opinions of our colleagues and want their feedback. There’s respect at the core of the request. But we need to step outside ourselves and realize that it’s potentially disrespectful of their time.
I want to share Kristi’s story for anyone who might have a hard time understanding what parents are going through right now. She told us, “What are you gonna do when your child walks into your office in tears? You can't say, ‘I'm on a call, go away.’ If my daughter walks in, she is the first priority. And I don't care if I’m in a meeting with my CEO or somebody else's CEO, I need to step away professionally for a moment. These moments have become the most difficult for us.”
If a meeting isn’t crucial to making money or essential for collaboration, give your coworkers their time back. Time is the most valuable asset for any business—and for our personal lives. Make the most of it and constantly be weary of wasting it.
4. Normalize use of flex time, sick time, vacation time—with or without explanation
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced burnout at some point in their career. It’s no mystery why—the average American only uses about half of their vacation time. And we don’t need a data-fueled study to tell us that vacations are good for people.
Clear heads and healthy minds ensure employees are performing their best. Vacation days prevent burnout and encourage employees to enjoy life without resenting their job.
For parents especially, though, taking time off can feel like an inconvenience when no one else in the company seems to take it. Pair that with the “work-first” culture of many startups, and it’s no wonder parents struggle to balance it all.
Maranda acknowledges the difficulties of taking days off at early stage startups, but she encourages customer success managers to use their conversation skills to advocate for it: “I am an early stage startup person. And I almost always have been one of the only female leaders and one of the only parents at the company. Here's the deal: Ask for flexibility. But when you go into the conversation, make sure you're telling them what they're going to get if they give that to you. So think about the psychology behind it. It's not just give me, give me, give me. It's like, look, if you give me A, B and C, I'm going to be able to deliver X, Y and Z. Think about it from their perspective as well. And make it more about the partnership, rather than what I need, it's what we need and what you'll get.”
“Make it more about the partnership. Rather than what I need, it's what we need and what you'll get.”
Culture plays a huge role in supporting parents with different priorities. When you normalize taking flex time, sick time, vacation time—with or without explanation—for everyone in the company, caregivers will benefit.
Parenting and Customer Success: How can I help?
Over 2.5 million women have already been forced out of their careers during the pandemic—by an overwhelming and imbalanced burden of care, a lack of support from their companies and communities, and sheer burnout.
In researching the normal CSM workday, I found that CSMs parenting small children face an even steeper uphill battle than peers in non-customer-facing roles.
Endless Zoom calls with customers who may or may not be sympathetic to a toddler in the room. Long lists of tasks and to-do’s that bleed into evenings and precious alone time (if there’s any at all). Put that together with a societal failure to balance the load sustainably, and burnout is right around the corner.
UpdateAI’s mission is to make meetings better so you can do better things. We are building out our platform (www.update.ai) for CSMs just like you. I’m collecting stories, suggestions, and pain points to help me shape the product and I’d be grateful to hear yours.
Reach out to me at Josh@update.ai with any ideas for features that can help empower working parents – or connect with me on LinkedIn.