After weeks of anticipation, the kids are heading back to school today. As they do, working parents are wondering what the next few weeks will bring.
That’s because back-to-school season is a key point of stress for working parents. According to a recent LDI Pulse Survey we conducted among a small sample of Canadian working parents, 68% said back to school is a source of stress, whereas 60% said they feel more distracted at work as a result. These findings echo those found in a larger study out of the US that surveyed 2,000 parents with school-aged children.
Parents worry their child will have a good teacher and if they’ll make friends. They also worry how their child will react to new teachers, new schedules and new expectations. All of which can leave parents dealing with teary morning drop-offs, sleepless nights, and other challenging behaviours that can affect a working parent’s state of mind.
For working parents, back to school presents an array of challenges that go far beyond those first days. The school bell usually rings between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, several hours before the workday ends for many workers. This makes childcare a primary concern. As are homework demands, balancing after-school programs, and the scheduling conflicts that often come when school functions are held during working hours.
The adjustment to all that comes with back to school takes time. On average, working parents (and their children) require a little over two weeks to settle into their new routine. During this time, almost half of our Pulse Survey respondents said back to school interferes with their work schedules.
The competing demands on working parents and the stress they feel adversely impacts their mental health and well-being. Both of which can lead to more frequent absences and less productivity at work. In total, this could equate to an employee working 8 fewer days per month.
Better company benefits, like back-up childcare, remote working or flexible working arrangements, are essential in reducing absenteeism and boosting productivity. But it is managers who play the most critical role. This is true in terms of creating a positive experience for employees during work hours. Managers, too, facilitate highly productive and inclusive workplaces where employees can reach their full potential.
Check-in with your working parents
The easiest action managers can take at this time of year is to simply check in with their parent employees. Take the time to understand what the new school year may mean for them. Doing so will go a long way in creating an open team environment, building trust and reassuring employees can come to you should challenges arise.
Set priorities and timelines
Our results show that working parents are more distracted (60%) and struggle to manage work schedules with back-to-school events (48%). And, yet, the work still needs to get done. To make sure it does, take this time to work with your parent employees to review team goals, and set clear priorities and deadlines. This will help keep your working parents focused on the right activities, while allowing them to more effectively manage their time.
Remind your team about company benefits
Now is a great time to remind your team about available company benefits that support work-life balance and promote well-being. This will give peace of mind to your parent employees not only this week, but as the school year progresses or other parenting challenges arise. Such a reminder will likely serve your non-parent employees, too.
The very best thing a manager can be is fair and flexible. This is true for working parents during back to school, as it is for childfree employees who may need to care for an ailing parent. Instead of focusing on daily checklists of start times and end times, evaluate an individual’s performance over longer periods of time.
Back to school is a point of stress for working parents. The effects can have a direct impact at work. As their manager, you can make things better. And, as you do, ensure your parent employees continue to be productive and successful contributors to your team.