Back to school for parents usually means shopping for a lot of school supplies, scribbling names on lunch bags, and possibly someone crying. This year, during a global pandemic, parents and children are experiencing even more feelings of anxiety and uncertainty when it comes to the start of the school year.
In March, many employees suddenly found themselves working from home—and many of those employees are parents, who found themselves faced with parenting full-time while also working full-time. According to LinkedIn’s recent Workforce Confidence research, women and men equally reported that they were taking care of their children full-time, and that they found themselves “unable to focus on work while their kids are home, and a majority struggled with providing education for their children.”
However, back to school in the new normal means shorter schedules, virtual learning and limited after-school programs. Parents are expected to adjust their schedules and availability accordingly, which is why it’s important for employers to support their employees with children as they get ready to return to school in the coming days and weeks. By doing so, you show your employees that you understand how their lives outside of work impact them, and that you care about the challenges they’re facing.
Continue reading for some ideas of how to best support your employees who are getting ready to send their kids back to school.
Plan and check-in
You’re likely following the news to stay up-to-date on best practices for working during a health crisis. You should also be monitoring the news and guidelines regarding schools. It’s important to be proactive when it comes to ensuring your employees’ wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families. Set up a one-on-one with each parent-employee to talk through their plans as well as their concerns.
Related Reading: Working from Home with Kids: 5 Strategies to Help Parents
Discuss with each employee what their back-to-school plan is, and come up with contingencies that will enable them to get their work done effectively. Parents are likely weighing one of three options. One: that they will be sending their children back to school full-time. Two: that they will be moving to online/homeschooling full-time, or three: that they will be using a mixed method of both in-class and online learning.
The reality too is that circumstances can, and potentially will, change at any time. Whether it’s because of a confirmed COVID-19 case or as new information becomes available, parents may find themselves in quarantine for two weeks or suddenly homeschooling again. Make sure you (or their manager) can be available to discuss their plans, and be prepared to shift deadlines and priorities when necessary and be flexible as much as possible.
While not all organizations may be able to offer flexible working arrangements, childcare options or time off, you can still help your employees to strategize. Ogletree Deakins, a law firm out of Seattle, talks about ways that employers can support parents preparing to send their children back to school, whether in-person or virtually. They emphasize helping parents to connect and create a network, potentially “forming remote school ‘pods’ (a whole new industry created in response to COVID-19) or even connecting employees who have older kids available for babysitting with employees who have younger kids in need of care.”
Flexibility is key
As the situation with COVID-19 continues to change, it’s important to be flexible with your employees. Set clear expectations but don’t get too caught up in ‘how’ things are getting done. Instead, focus on the fact that they are getting done.
However, it’s also important to ensure that you’re equally flexible with all employees, so that childless employees don’t feel like they have to work longer hours to make up for employees with children. As reported in a recent New York Times article, “some employees without children say that they feel underappreciated, and that they are being asked to shoulder a heavier workload.”
Have clear policies in place for all employees, and you’ll be able to help make back to school for parents an easier transition at this difficult time.
Here are some resources that you can provide to parents or guardians within your organization to help them with back-to-school planning:
- From the CDC: Back to School Planning: Checklists to Guide Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers
- From Here to Help BC: Back to School Guide for Parents of Young Kids
- From UNICEF: ‘What will a return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic look like?’
Back to school for parents this year is going to be more challenging than normal. Show your employees you empathize with what they’re going through by helping them come up with strategies to manage their new normal. When it comes down to it, the priority is to keep everyone (employees and their families) safe.
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