Back-to-school season is both exciting and frustrating for parents. There’s a change in the morning routine, worries about after-school care, and dealing with all things school related. Scheduled days off, teacher conferences, school events, extracurriculars, and sick days can cause major disruption in a family’s life.
There is also the emotional toll it can take. Stress is common. Parents worry about whether their children will be safe, fit in, make friends, and do well at school. And some parents may experience separation anxiety. What happens if the bus is late? What happens when my child is sick or bad weather cancels school? How will I manage a demanding workload at home and in the workplace?
On top of all that, back-to-school shopping, paying for school lunches, and sports and activity fees are extra expenses that parents must consider.
Can you say stressful?
It’s normal for parents to worry about their children, but this worry can affect their work. Back-to-school season changes the dynamic in families. Providing support and flexibility for parents during this busy time can pay dividends for employers, helping to keep work flowing while providing some relief for parents.
Here are five ways companies can help support working parents when the school year starts.
Discuss flexible schedules that allow employees to better manage their day. This might include a slightly later start to get children to classes or earlier starts so parents can be home when their children end their school day. Remote work arrangements can also help, providing some flexibility for parents to accommodate their schedules.
Many companies also adjust their leave policies to allow personal days or sick days can be used for school events or breaks.
While you always need to make sure that business needs are met, accommodating parents can increase loyalty and ensure the work gets done. 85% of working moms said they would be more loyal to their employer if they had more flexibility in their work schedule.1 In fact, work-life balance, flexible work options, and work schedules are all rated higher than compensation for this group. A third of those surveyed said they would be open to a pay cut if given greater flexibility.
Most of us tend to glamorize back-to-school, focusing on the positives: the new school supplies, the excitement about meeting new classmates or seeing friends. But the reality is that it can be a stressful time for students and parents.
One study reported that 50% of middle schoolers and 56% of high school students experience significant stress, anxiety, or depression while at school.2 More than a third said distractions at home or family responsibilities also had an impact on their day. It’s not just the kids, either. 57% of parents of children aged 5-18 say the back-to-school season is the most stressful time of the year.3
More than just statistics, the added stress can lead to distractions at work or home. During the first few weeks of back-to-school, employees may be worrying about how their children are doing at school, and their productivity or work quality may suffer.
Employers can help by recognizing that it’s a challenging time and providing a supportive environment. This might include talking openly about the challenges and expressing empathy for their situation. Employers may want to discuss options for better managing the workload, such as shifting some responsibilities until students settle in.
Pay Attention to School Schedules
School schedules include teacher in-service days, spring and fall breaks, and holidays. Parents need to either have time off to care for their children on these days or make additional arrangements. Making a schedule change the week before such an event can be traumatic. Let parents know their schedules so they can plan time off as far in advance as possible for the school year.
School schedules are typically published well in advance. Some school district post multiple years at the same time, so finding out where workers have students enrolled can help you plan. Communicate schedule expectations, planned days off, and time-off requests as early as possible to give working parents more lead time. Even a few weeks of advance notice can make a difference in parents’ ability to coordinate care for days when school is closed but work is not. Keeping the unique needs of the school calendar in mind and giving parents plenty of notice demonstrates empathy for the scheduling challenges parents face.
Offer Flexible Spending Accounts
Parents may also worry about finances during the back-to-school season.
Americans spend an average of $661 for each K-12 student in the lead-up to school starting, amounting to more than $110 billion annually.4 For parents with multiple children, back-to-school household spending is even higher. With inflationary concerns, it’s not any cheaper these days.
Besides the school supplies and new clothes at the start, there are ongoing expenses that can add up quickly. After-school care programs, babysitters, support during school holidays, or other arrangements all cost money.
While flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are not designed for educational programs, parents can use them for preschool, nursery school, daycare, or before and after school care. By participating in FSA programs for dependent care, parents can use pre-tax dollars to pay for these services. By setting aside a specific amount each payroll period, parents can also bank money year-round to use during the school year, reducing financial burdens when school is in session.
Companies rolling out FSA programs need to ensure employees are aware of the benefits as well as the requirements, including open enrollment times, usage requirements, contribution limits, and what happens to money that’s not spent.5 HR teams can help parents identify what is considered a qualified expense and calculate the potential savings.
When employers make available FSAs for employees, it demonstrates care for employees’ financial well-being.
Review HR Policies
Before taking any of these steps, companies should carefully review their HR policies and benefits programs. You do not want to do anything that causes problems in other areas.
Another concern is benefits equality. You do not want to offer special treatment just to parents of school-age children. This may disenfranchise other employees. For example, employees without children have pressures outside of work as well. They may be caring for grandchildren or elderly parents or have other obligations that aren’t as apparent.
Your policies should be consistent to be fair to all employees. Failing to do so can cause resentment among other employees that feel someone else is getting special treatment. One way to balance it out is to acknowledge that other employees may need to pick up the slack as back-to-school season begins, knowing that the parents in the group will do the same for them later on when they need some help.
Inconsistent HR policies or the application of policies can be a serious concern for businesses. When some employees feel as if they are being treated unfairly, it can lead to:
- Increased turnover
- Morale problems
- Conflicts between coworkers
- Legal issues
And yet, there’s still more to be done!
While you want to be accommodating, you cannot afford the let tasks go undone or let the business slip. You need to build in some consistent procedures for accountability. For example, knowing that school schedules are published well in advance, you can request that parents turn in any PTO requests early to avoid last-minute problems filling shifts.
You will also want to consider how you will approach requests to shift to remote work to provide homeschooling. In 2022, 3.7 million children were homeschooled, and the numbers are growing by up to 8% a year.6 Homeschooling changes the dynamic significantly for working parents, so you will want to have a well-thought-out policy about whether you can and will make the necessary accommodations to allow parents to work from home and educate their kids.
Managing Back-to-School in the Workplace
The back-to-school season brings unique challenges for working parents. With some creative thinking, businesses can support their parent employees while boosting morale and productivity. By being flexible and attentive to parents’ needs, companies can earn loyalty and make the transition back to the classroom easier to manage.
By working with a professional employer organization (PEO) like Resourcing Edge, you can make sure your HR policies, benefits, and processes comply with applicable federal and state laws and help create an inclusive framework for your workplace.
Resourcing Edge provides a single point of contact for businesses across nearly every area of HR, including:
- Time and Attendance
- Risk Management
Contact the HR pros at Resourcing Edge today to talk about your options.