The headlines this summer were grim. According to Fortune Magazine, more than one-fourth of working parents were considering quitting their jobs this fall. Now, here we are in the thick of it, and the predictions weren't an overreaction. 860,000 working moms left their jobs in September alone.

With no end in sight to the impacts of COVID-19, and schools weighing whether or not to reopen after holiday breaks, how can companies help parents navigate these uncharted waters? Is there a viable way to keep more women from leaving the workforce? And who's responsible for addressing these unprecedented challenges?

These are a few of the questions on Lucy Chung, CEO of Nobl's mind. As a mom herself, and a leader to many other working parents, she's tried hard to support her team through the ups and downs of 2020, and in a recent interview with 8x8's Justin Robbins, she shared insight for other leaders to consider as we march towards 2021.

How Companies Can Better Support Working Parents

Parent or not, we're all experiencing some degree of burnout. In response to the longer hours, isolation, and economic challenges of 2020, many businesses have rolled out new wellness initiatives to support their employees and encourage mental wellbeing. And while fitness challenges, virtual support groups, and healthy food deliveries are all noble efforts, Lucy Chung thinks it's just as important to get back to the basics.

In her mind, one of the things that working parents most need right now is permission to step away from work when they need to. Many moms and dads are stretched thin right now, and they feel tremendous guilt for not being able to give 100% to their roles as parents and professionals. It's a balancing act that feels impossible to master.

And when leaders publicly praise employees for working late nights or logging on over the weekend, everyone feels the pressure to do the same until they reach a breaking point. That breaking point came for nearly a million moms this fall, and it's served as a wake-up call for leaders around the globe, Chung included.

Rather than pressuring her team to work longer hours, Chung is taking an unconventional approach. As CEO, she makes it a point to "leave loudly" every day. It's one thing to tell employees they can log off to take care of the kids when they need to. It's another thing entirely to see senior leaders doing it. She hopes that employees will follow her example, so every day at 5:00, she sends a Slack message to the entire team. It goes something like this:

"I'm going to go spend time with my daughter now. I hope you all have a wonderful evening!"

Beyond giving working parents the freedom to take time for their families, what are some other ways leaders can reduce the impacts of burnout? Here are two more (free) things businesses can do.

Highlight Joy

Chung says her co-founder has a gift for sensing when the team's vibe or energy is sinking, and he makes it a point to inject joy into the workday to turn things around. For the team at Nobl, that's often as simple as taking a ten-minute break to work on a quick brain teaser or play a round of trivia.

Maybe for your team, that means hosting a pet costume contest or sharing funny memes. Giving joy is free, but it's been scientifically proven to boost productivity. And let's face it, can't we all use more reasons to smile right now?

Plan Ahead

Here's another practical thing leaders can do to reduce the stress and burdens of balancing remote work and parenting during a pandemic. It's simple, really. Plan ahead!

Chung says it's important for leaders to take a breath and pause to think before they react. As she puts it, now is the time to reduce arbitrary urgency. Not every task is an emergency. Not every meeting needs to happen right now.

Planning important meetings well in advance helps employees better set their schedules and coordinate childcare needs. Not only does this reduce stress, but it also helps employees be more present during team meetings, which boosts overall productivity and efficiency.

Join the Conversation

If this topic is relevant for you, then we encourage you to join the conversation. Tune in to the latest episode of 8x8's new podcast, and Open Conversation. You'll hear Justin Robbins and Lucy Chung take a deeper dive on the current challenges working parents are facing, as well as ways business leaders and parents can both prepare for success in 2021.

Listen to the episode here, then tell us what you think! Leave a comment or review on the podcast, or drop us a note on Twitter or LinkedIn.