Managers should focus on “predictability and flexibility” for their employees, especially parents, that preserves deadlines and other structures but acknowledges that sometimes life gets in the way, write Ellen Ernst Kossek, Kelly Schwind Wilson and Lindsay Mechem Rosokha. Lead by example, as “the more managers use flexibility, the more likely their employees will feel they can use work-life flexibility without fear as well.



Even during a pandemic, managers are under pressure to deliver results. They need to effectively lead their teams and drive performance while also supporting the work-life needs of employees, whether they have been called into in-person service or are now completely remote. Working parents, in particular, are struggling to balance their jobs with homeschooling and childcare.

Our research suggests that relearning how to manage people — especially those with kids at home — in this crisis is one of the most significant challenges bosses face today. It’s also an enormous opportunity: If addressed wisely, it can boost a team’s well-being, culture, and performance now and into the future. To achieve those positive outcomes, it helps to first understand the dilemma you’re facing. You should also employ the right strategies — namely those that balance predictability and flexibility — for helping you and your employees succeed.

Managers of hourly, frontline employees in particular should pay especially close attention, since these workers are often the most in need of predictability and flexibility, but are the least likely to get it, as they juggle childcare and leaving their home for work during the pandemic. Yet regardless of who you’re managing, there is plenty of evidence-based advice on how you can apply a strategy of predictability and flexibility for your team.

The Manager’s Dilemma
Consider what’s currently being asked of managers. First, you can’t ignore Covid-19 and the effect it’s had on employees’ lives. If you attempt to enforce rigid deadlines and frequent meetings, you’re failing to acknowledge the additional anxieties and demands that people — and, again, especially working parents — face. Research shows that managers who are overly strict on face-to-face time and create arbitrary deadlines without employees’ inputs — particularly in teleworking situations — increase employee stress.