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Stephanie Ruhle: Nearly half of workers don't feel supported by their boss. Here's what to do when you need help.

With millions of people still out of work and business’ budgets shrinking, asking for more flexibility can seem like a daunting task. The MSNBC anchor and NBC News senior business correspondent lays out three strategies to help.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle.MSNBC

Work-life balance was a goal for most people way before the pandemic hit. Like many other things we were working towards, it got tossed out the window as we’ve struggled and juggled through the last six months. While the coronavirus continues to spread, we do know that we won’t be going “back to normal” anytime soon. What’s making life so challenging for many is the overwhelming lack of control and certainty, especially over things we assumed constants such as school, work, daily routines, and commutes. Better get a dry erase white board. There is no need for permanent ink for this year’s schedule.

Given all the variables out of our control, we can however focus on risk management. The three things we know we cannot control: time, weather and health. Everything else is risk management. And while some variables, like a difficult boss, are hard to manage, we won’t make any progress by doing nothing.

Working parents are among the most stressed over the constant changes and lack of certainty because of COVID-19. Many parents may feel stuck when trying to manage their own jobs and their kids’ schedules, especially when they conflict.

According to polling data from job site Monster, 48 percent of workers don’t think their bosses are being supportive. Meanwhile, three out of four parents responded that more flexibility, like being able to work different shifts or working from home more often, would help them feel more supported. Now that more and more people are being called back into the office, there’s even more need for these important conversations with your employer.

With millions of people still out of work and business’ budgets shrinking, asking for more flexibility can seem like a daunting task. Here are three ways to get through it.

1. Speak up now.

There’s no ugly truth, there’s just the truth. So own it. While your boss may not be looking to solve your scheduling issues, they are only going to get worse if you wait until the morning you don’t show up for a major meeting to share the news that school has gone virtual and you’ve got twins in kindergarten.

You need to talk to your boss now about what you are dealing with, so scheduling changes can be made and you can work together. Telling your boss the day of means you’ve been bottling up mental and emotional stress and dropped that bottle next to the office water cooler. It’s shattered in a million pieces.

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This conversation isn’t easy, but it is essential. If you feel like your boss is unreasonable, guess what - they will still be unreasonable in two weeks. Discuss your plan now, and you might be surprised by your manager’s flexibility. From the corner store to the corner office, every business in America is dealing with COVID-19 complications and we’re seeing creative solutions out of many companies that were long considered inflexible. Speak up.

2 . Make a plan.

We are in a situation that no one planned for, but that does not mean we can’t make a plan for right now. Even if the plan is that the plan is going to change, try to mentally prepare for what’s coming down the line. Hiding your problems or wishing them away will not solve them.

Planning is all about risk management and risk reduction. To manage your risk of losing your job, burning out, or missing a pickup for your kid is going to require some planning to reduce that risk. The plan will change, but it helps to have a blueprint going into any situation.

3. Search for solutions.

The conversation around managing childcare and school on top of work needs to be had with your partner, the other people you rely on for childcare, and your employer. When the plan changes, tell them right away. You cannot coast through this pandemic alone, and there is no need to if you have the tough conversations and keep giving those real-time updates.

There are going to be all kinds of obligations to deal with in the coming months, for our kids, our work, and ourselves. Expressing your needs is just as important as taking care of theirs.

While these suggestions are here to help you better position yourself for the challenges ahead, there is no quick fix or solution. If your boss is terrible – well – that just may be the case. But instead of giving that boss all the power and the ability to impact your emotional and financial well-being, plan what you can and try to prepare for a road that we know will have obstacles.

Lastly, COVID-19 has hit everyone. While we hear most often about the challenges working families have, please note, you don’t need to be responsible for a child to have valid issues that prevent you from doing your job to the best of your abilities. The idea of working from home suits those who may have a home office or a quiet room or any room.

Your employer still wants the best from you. If you are in a living situation where you cannot be productive, speak up before you get a bad review. No employer has the time or interest in hearing about your landlord that won’t equip the building with wifi or your roommate’s band rehearsing in the living room after you missed three deadlines and an important meeting. No one can help you solve a problem if they don’t know what it is.