During the COVID-19 pandemic, 93% of households with children faced some form of distance learning. Parents had to change their schedules to accommodate the new way of life. While the transition was challenging for many workers, proper support from employers made it possible.
Now that the pandemic has subsided, employees face various ongoing challenges associated with education as it returns to schools or remains online. Many schooldays end in the middle of the workday, forcing parents to arrange daycare or head home to watch over their kids. Meanwhile, holidays and breaks don't always coincide with days off and vacations.
Let's look at how companies can support employees as their kids return to school for the year.
How Managers Can Help Parents
To facilitate the transition from remote learning to on-site schooling, managers can implement several tactics to make it easier on them. Managers can help employees by reminding them about their existing policies or offering flexibility where necessary.
Encourage Using PTO
More than 60% of Americans don't use their PTO (Paid Time Off). Often they avoid using it so it can carry over to the following year, but that can hurt them as much as they think it helps. Encouraging your employees to use their PTO helps improve productivity and prevents burnout. Meanwhile, it can solve the problem of staying at home when their children are sick or have off from school.
It's up to the managers to communicate the availability of PTO to employees and encourage them to take it. Doing so can be simple. For instance, managers can mention it during regular meetings or send out occasional email bursts stating it. However, one of the best ways to encourage PTO use is for managers and leaders to use it themselves. Taking their vacations leads by example and communicates to employees that it is permissible to use it themselves.
Explain Childcare Benefits
Childcare benefits can make a significant difference for working parents, and standard benefits packages often include them. Offering health care that covers the entire family is helpful, and often this is taken further in the form of childcare subsidies to help manage the transition back to school. It is a moderately inexpensive decision and can have an impressive ROI. You can offer them in two ways:
- Direct payments – provide employees with a certain amount of money to cover childcare (parents use this money as they see fit).
- Subsidize childcare – partially cover childcare in specific centers (childcare providers of your choice receive the money directly).
Companies can also offer flexibility by having employees use pre-tax funds to cover childcare expenses through a flexible spending account (FSA). That way, employees can benefit from tax savings, helping to increase their spending power.
Today, around 35% of employees don't understand their available benefits, and one of the main reasons is their complexity. If your company offers childcare subsidies, it's important to ensure parents know about them. Taking time to concisely explain them, share existing resources, or ask during meetings could help employees understand or make it easier to research them.
Keeping people informed of their options either provides solutions or helps them find other accommodations if this is not something your company offers.
Focus on Work/Life Balance
Work/life balance is one of the most important contributors to productivity in the workplace. During the pandemic, many employees reported a severe disruption in that balance due to remote work and schooling coming into their homes.
Many employers started paying more attention to the problem and adding work/life balance maintenance to the company culture. As kids go back to school, employees need to review their work/life balance and adjust accordingly to accommodate parental and employment responsibilities.
Employers have had to incorporate it more into their plans with initiatives such as:
- Instituting work hours flexibility for parents of younger children
- Lowering employee hours or offering 4-day weeks (productivity falls by 19% every hour worked beyond a typical 8-hour day)
- Allowing hybrid work (both on-site and at home)
- Encouraging employees to use their vacation time
You may also consider implementing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that supports your workforce's well-being. With access to free therapy, your employees can get help for personal and work-related problems. While relatively inexpensive, an EAP can have an impressive ROI, often bringing in $3 to $10 for every dollar spent.
Restoring the work/life balance can help alleviate stress in the workplace and increase productivity. It can also prevent parents from worrying about their children instead of focusing on work.
Ask About Children During Check-Ins
Parents worry about adaptation, grades, health, and many other related issues when children go back to school. Even if they arrange high-quality daycare, employees can still feel guilty about leaving their kids without sufficient attention.
(57% of American working moms feel that guilt at least once a week.)
Managers can help alleviate these worries by talking to employees about their children. They can ask how kids are doing in school, find out how the transition from remote to on-site schooling is going, and ask them to share their worries.
In one-on-one meetings, you can demonstrate an interest in employees' children. That encourages them to talk about their problems and offers a path to manage these problems together and avoid unnecessary guilt. Helping them find solutions reassures parents, shows your support, and provides a straightforward path for them to follow.
Managers can empathize and relate by sharing their worries about leaving children at home, showing care and understanding with employees. Tell your employees when you must work from home for a few days because your child is sick or on a break. Being open about it can encourage them to do the same instead of worrying and losing productivity.
Provide as Much Notice as Possible
Employees with children have tight and hectic schedules. You must provide as much notice as possible to accommodate policy or schedule changes at work. When making these changes, keep the upcoming school year in mind because giving proper notice can prevent unnecessary stress and productivity issues.
Meanwhile, providing due notice can show parents the need to alert managers about upcoming changes in their schedules. That can help you make necessary job duty modifications and warn the rest of the team about possible adjustments.
Proper communication can help plan for projects during the school year without facing delays or downtime.
Battling Back-to-School Challenges in Advance
As children go back to school, working parents meet various challenges. It's up to the employer to facilitate the transition without losing productivity or facing employee burnout.
It's essential to offer proactive support to employees with children, explain benefits, promote work/life balance, and make necessary changes to schedules and job duties in advance. With proper planning, it's possible to meet the back-to-school challenges fully ready to improve the company's bottom line.