I recently presented a two-minute speech at a virtual work event. Before the big moment, I explained to my 4-year-old son that I’d need him to play in his room very quietly for a few minutes. Can you guess what happened next?
Right. During the middle of my presentation, he wandered into the living room, stood right behind me and started begging for snacks.
Thankfully, my colleagues, young and old, thought it was pretty cute, but then again, I work for a publication called Working Mother. Other employers aren’t so sanguine about kids crashing calls.
A new survey of 1,000 US employees by animated video creation platform Vyond reveals that over a quarter of workers (26 percent) believe that kids on calls are a no-no, and the older the worker, the more likely they are to disapprove. One third of Baby Boomers consider having kids in the background of video calls a violation of remote work etiquette. Gen X is not far behind, with 30 percent of them saying the same, compared to 22 percent of Millennials and 11 percent of Gen Z.
The generational divide makes sense when you consider that younger folks are more likely to have kids at home—Nielsen Media Research has defined Millennials as adults between the ages of 23 and 39 years old. But curiously, Gen Z, the youngest workers, who by and large don’t have kids yet, were the most likely not to mind children on video calls.
“We’re seeing a real divergence in how different generations are adapting to remote work,” says Stacy Adams, head of marketing at Vyond. “Older workers have been operating against a traditional framework for so many years and have a specific vision of what work looks like. So, for them, embracing video calls—let alone kids appearing in video calls—is a total shift of work norms and what is deemed as acceptable, and this is visible even months into the pandemic.”
Boomers tend to be less comfortable with working from home, and less concerned with work-life balance than their younger colleagues. A 2019 survey found that 74 percent of Millennial and Gen Z managers have team members who work a significant portion of their time remotely, versus 58 percent of Boomers. And the Vyond survey revealed other differences between Boomers and their younger colleagues on the subject.
Half of Boomers are frustrated by feeling disconnected from their colleagues right now, significantly higher than the 37 percent of Millennials that are facing this challenge. Boomers were also far more likely to be OK with sudden work calls than Millennials and Gen Z. Only 12 percent of Boomers think it’s a violation of work etiquette to host a meeting on video unexpectedly compared to 30 percent of Gen Z and 26 percent of Millennials.
While the differences between the generations aren’t vast when it comes to remote work etiquette, they do have major implications for moms who are working from home with their kids during a pandemic. Older workers in the Boomer and Gen X bracket are more likely to be managers and company leaders, which means they set the tone when it comes to what’s acceptable in a virtual work environment.
As any working mom can tell you, kids have no regard for the relative importance of your virtual meetings. As I can attest, they will interrupt you during big events. They will interrupt you on live TV. They will interrupt you at any time, many times, during your work day. And because moms have little choice in the matter—living through a pandemic and all—the onus is on managers to shrug, or dare I say smile, when a kiddo wanders into the frame.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the reaction some moms and kids have garnered. Dris Wallace, a San Diego mom of two, was told by her manager (a father with teenage kids and a stay-at-home wife) that he “didn’t want to hear her kids in the background” and she needed to “figure out a way to keep the kids quiet.” When she went to HR, she was terminated.
Thankfully, some CEOs get it. Robert Sadow, the CEO and co-founder of Scoop, a rideshare enterprise company in the San Francisco Bay area, took to LinkedIn to say it’s “a breath of fresh air” when children pop up on calls.
Note to managers, no matter your age: Be more like Robert.