Sturdy Leadership & Caregiving at Work


Being a leader and manager is a privilege and also, a big responsibility. We are responsible for the work and advancement of our employees. When we hold this position, where our employees look to us for guidance, assurance, and stability, we must ensure that we are not only effective leaders, but STURDY leaders. What does this really mean, especially in practice when a team member is going through a difficult time, like becoming a family caregiver?

First, we need to be nimble enough to react and adjust to these new realities. And this all starts by creating an environment where it is safe for us and our employees to be honest and communicate openly. We spoke to executive coach Stephanie Harbour about caregiving, work, and how those two worlds can safely collide.

Our people are just that - people. Things happen and realities change, and when they do, we need to lead with effectiveness AND empathy - as leaders, we can (and need to) do both. 

She offered 4 key practices for managers to follow if an employee approaches with a new caregiving situation:

  1. Foster open communication: Create a culture where people feel comfortable speaking about things that are happening in their personal lives, especially when it might impact their work.
  2. Set specific expectations: Sit with this employee and collaborate on a new plan that allows for their new reality, while they continue being a valuable and productive team member. The key here is being specific (ex: no meetings after 4 PM, offline Tuesday afternoons, WFH, etc.) Clear expectations lead to less anxiety and instability on both sides.
  3. Pre-scheduled check-ins: Recurring time for direct reports to express what’s working, what’s not, and time dedicated to adjust the plan if needed.
  4. Committing to the plan: You made this plan together, now you need to commit to it. If things change, adjust as you go with transparency and honesty.

Let’s be honest - employees who are also caregivers have a lot on their plates. But this does not mean you let things go. You can still hold people accountable. The employee will want to know they will continue to be seen as a productive team member, not someone needing sympathy. Both manager and employee should always be willing to adjust the plan as needed based on what is working vs what is not, in this new reality.