My parents, sister and kids about a year after my mom was given 3 months to live
My parents, sister and kids about a year after my mom was given 3 months to live

A lot of media attention is devoted to the need for flexible work for working parents, but adult working children need flextime too. This will be an increasingly important issue as we see our parents live well into their 70s and 80s and 90s with or without chronic illnesses that require constant attention.

Today in my company of 35, we have at least 6 colleagues who are dealing with parents with chronic or acute illnesses – shifting to accommodate even one person can be disrupting if your team isn’t set up for it – almost 20% is exponentially more complex. Thankfully we were built for this kind of flex.

My co-founder Dan Stevens and I casually talked about starting an agency in 2002, but it wasn’t until my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer that I doubled down and committed to starting Double Forte so that I would have the flexibility to go back and forth from Wisconsin when I needed to. And then from May 2002 to October 2005 I was in Wisconsin about half of the time.  I will always be grateful to Dan for working with me during that time so that we could grow the company together with me 2000 miles away – physically half the time and mentally part of every day. That arrangement might not work for everyone, but we managed pretty well.

The reason it worked is because we were a team and we figured out how to manage everything we were doing to accommodate my schedule, and I was accountable to Dan for all of my work. He always knew where I was and I always kept him apprised of where I was with the work I committed to. And then when it was his turn he knew I would carry whatever balls he needed me to. He dealt with his father’s sickness and death very differently that I dealt with my mother’s – the important thing for us was that we could handle our work and our family commitments so that we were whole with both.

Truthfully it was exhausting while I was going through it but that’s life. I needed to work and I needed to take care of my mom.

So trust, accountability, collaboration and family first are at the heart of Double Forte – it’s what has guided us. Not that that’s easy — it requires a lot from the company and a certain protocol from employees to make it work. But hopefully we are succeeding in this more than we are falling down (not that we can’t always improve).

I thought I’d share the philosophies that guide us in the different individual situations that happen – not every situation can be handled exactly the same way, but the philosophies and guiding tenants stay constant.

1. We are built into teams on purpose – so that no one is alone and client work can proceed without everyone present. CCing team members should be the regular course of action, not the exception. This way it’s easier to pick up the ball if someone is out

2. We help each other – because we care and because our turn is coming when we’ll need the support

3. If someone is dealing with this issue (or another issue that will require work-day time) we need that person to tell at least their manager and account lead(s) so that he/she can plan accordingly. It’s up to the employee how much they want to share about the specifics and how widely – but at the bare minimum we need people to inform their manager and account leads that time away from the computer may be needed during regular work hours.

4. Everyone is different – we’ve done a lot of work with the MBTI and Strength Finders and know that everyone is different. Some people what to overshare, others want not to share much. Some want to work, others want to take leave. Our goal is to help our people be as productive as possible during this time knowing they may be distracted.

The other piece is having a protocol for when someone’s family member dies – people are looking to leadership to know how they should act, and it’s important to provide strong direction.

1. We let the whole team know if someone in one of our people’s families has died.

2. We honor all of our employees’ family members’ deaths in a way aligned with the family’s wishes.

3. If a memorial service is open to non-family members we let the staff know the details, but people should not feel obligated to go.

4. Employees should feel free to express their condolences in a way that is natural to them – some send emails, others cards, still others have a person comment face-to-face, others attend the service, and still others send their own flowers or donations.

In the end, we want to be a place where people can thrive – and that means being a place that accommodates all that life throws at us. And life will throw a LOT at you and your colleagues before we all retire, so having a plan and prescribed way to work through these type of situations helps everyone navigate well.


-originally posted on LinkedIn