Working Worried

In her new column, Korn Ferry's Anya Weaver explains why 3 p.m. can be the most anxious hour for employees with children of color.

Anya Weaver

Associate Principal, Leadership & Professional Development, Korn Ferry

When the clock is about to strike 3 p.m. on a weekday, my pulse begins to race, my concentration at work falters, and all I can think about is my child’s safety. For caregivers of brown and Black children, this can be the most stressful hour of the day. We think to ourselves: Will our children be safe on their way back home from school?

This sense of insecurity did not emerge for me until the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, I dropped my son off to school in the morning, and because we had access to after-school care, he never had to walk home alone. During the pandemic, however, childcare became extremely limited, and many parents, like me, were placed on waiting lists.

School buses were limited too. This created a dilemma for many working parents trying to figure out how to balance it all. It required creative scheduling each day as I adjusted meetings to ensure I had space to pick up my son from school. There was another option: my son could walk home from school. This should be such a simple solution. However, as a woman of color, living in our heightened racial and political climate, it was not simple at all.

Leading up to and following the murder of George Floyd, the vulnerability many children faced “walking while Black” caused very real fear for me and several of my friends. My anxiety was at an all-time high every time my brown son left the house. And when it was time for him to come home, I wanted to be there, promptly, to ensure he was safe.

I would not have been able to manage my work and home lives as successfully as I did during the pandemic had I not been working remotely—and for that I am grateful. Nevertheless, I could not coordinate my schedule every day, and my son still had to walk home alone sometimes. Eventually, I purchased an Apple Watch just so he could text me when he was leaving school, and I was able to track his location. 

While this somewhat put my mind at ease—and became my new normal—it is an oversized solution for a relatively simple problem. My family is fortunate enough to be able to purchase a tracking device for my child, but what about the families who cannot afford that kind of expense?

Organizations can help reduce this sense of anxiety employees feel while working by following these three practices:

  1. Be aware. Learn about the diverse challenges that employees face. Lean into curiosity and listen without judgment. It’s easy to make assumptions around an employee’s level of commitment or engagement. Ask questions without sounding like you’re “questioning” a person, and you may be surprised by what you discover.
  2. Be compassionate. There are so many life experiences unlike your own. Consider what it might be like to truly walk in someone else’s shoes by mentally taking off your own shoes first. How would you feel if this was your experience every day? How would that change how you navigate at work? What would you need? Korn Ferry research shows that when leaders actively practice compassion, they are better able to listen, imagine, and empathize with their employees and engage with them on a radically human level
  3. Be flexible. Support work-life integration. According to Korn Ferry global benchmark data, while 92% of professionals report that their immediate manager provides flexibility to attend to personal issues as needed, only 74% say their managers support them in achieving work-life balance. While balance is important, work has now become integrated into life, and working consistent core hours has become a thing of the past. Supporting employees so that they have the autonomy to run errands, attend appointments, and more will help them be more present and show up as their best self and do their best work!

With this knowledge, organizations have a unique opportunity to implement change management initiatives that support employees who experience this 3 p.m. weekday anxiety. The return on investment of discretionary effort by employees impacted will be exponential because they feel valued, seen, and heard.