Skip to content

The Honest ‘Out-of-Office’ Message Every Working Parent Needs Right Now

Without a doubt our lives have changed and keep changing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as we were settling into a new “normal” with kids back to in person instruction, extracurricular activities resuming, and companies planning to return to the office in early January the omicron variant hit, causing record-breaking COVID cases in the U.S. and globally and a return to uncertainty. 

The uncertainty, and, let’s be honest, chaos, that new waves of COVID- related closures are perhaps felt most strongly by working parents, With school and daycare closures, daily exposure notifications, and non stop COVID testing it is no wonder that parents are feeling stress like never before. Add in working longer hours, (a recent survey by Los Angeles-based staffing firm Robert Half found that working parents were more likely to work weekends and more than eight hours per day than those without children) working parents are hitting a wall and taking it to their out-of-office message to call for more support and understanding in the workplace.

In a recent viral LinkedIn post Mary Beth Ferrante*, a working parent and Managing Partner at the consulting firm WRK/260 suggests that parents start using a permanent out of office response in light of the craziness that is #pandemicparenting and that she will be leaving her pandemic out-of-office automatic reply up for the foreseeable future. 

"Hi, thank you in advance for your patience," the message begins. "The pandemic continues to disrupt our childcare and schools. My husband and I are back to trading off chunks of time where each of us can focus on work while the other one focuses on care (which has included taking them for multiple tests, getting aftercare canceled, and picking them up early due to runny noses and possible exposures AND it's only been 3 working days so far in 2022). Therefore my response to your email may take some additional time."

unnamed (1)"If you are juggling disruptions in your own care/school/health, please be kind to yourself!" the message continues. "Prioritize what is most important personally and professionally. Ask for support, deadline extensions, and empathy. Try even setting up your own 'out of office' to remind others that we are still in fact working during a pandemic and juggling care and work is already hard enough during the best of times. Best, Mary Beth"

In a similar post, Khara Jabola-Carolus, a mother of two who works as the executive director of Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, shared to Instagram her out-of-office automatic reply that resonated with many. 

"Aloha," her message begins. "Due to patriarchy, I am behind in emails. I hope to respond to your message soon but, like many women, I am working full-time while tending to an infant and toddler full-time." Jabola-Carolus' message continued, "According to the Washington Post*, the average length of an uninterrupted stretch of work time for parents during COVID-19 was three minutes, 24 seconds. If you have a time-sensitive need, please call [redacted] between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. HST. Very best, Khara Jabola-Carolus."

unnamed (2)

It is not surprising posts like these are resonating with working parents for whom balancing work and pandemic parenting has become the norm. “Thank you for this,” one person wrote in the comment section of Ferrante’s post. “It is so important for companies, employers and higher education institutions to acknowledge the realities of working parents and all the challenges brought on by the pandemic!!” Others have been empowered to put their own pandemic out-of-office auto replies: “Such truth and honesty in these words. Making my auto-response now. Thank you for the reminder”.

Unfortunately, not all employers are on board or understanding of the challenges working parents are facing: "I put up an email away message some time in March/April that stated I was watching my infant and toddler while working full time and I was asked to remove it. 3 min 24 seconds is the sheer reality of what working parents with littles are facing right now." a parent wrote in the response section of Jabola-Carolus’s post.

As we continue to weather a global pandemic, it is more important than ever to recognize the stress of working parents  and to normalize how hard it is to juggle it all. One in four parents is experiencing burnout at work, according to a recent survey by Maven and Great Place to Work. This, along with posts like Ferrante’s and Jabola-Carolus’s, is a reminder that feelings of exhaustion and frustration are widespread among parents and caregivers right now.

Is your company doing enough to support challenges that your parent employees face balancing their work and home lives during the pandemic? Click here to learn more about how you can assess employee stress and well-being.

If you were to write your own pandemic related out-of-office message, what would it say? Comment below.

*By the way, we were proud to work with Mary Beth back in Mary 2021 on a webinar about how companies can provide parents with equitable support through policies and benefits like Outschool and more. Check it out here.