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How to Help Parents Find Work-Life Integration During Back-to-School Season

Back-to-school season is officially in full swing, which means many of your parent employees are reshaping their daily routines, tapping in as homework guides, and trying to figure out when graphing calculators became so expensive.

This time of year is a period of adjustment and anxiety for many working parents. Not only are your employees having to reshuffle standing summer meetings, but they’re also excited (and nervous) about their kids returning to the classroom.

To accommodate overworked parents, companies need to provide flexible and supportive work environments that can adapt to the evolving needs of employees.

Back-to-School Is Stressful for Working Parents

Now that school is back in session, working parents have to make time for orientation, teacher conferences, and pickup/drop-off. As a result, weekly meetings may get postponed and day-to-day tasks may get put on the backburner, especially when kids have half-days, sick days, or days off. Even employees working in remote and hybrid environments feel the effects as they try to juggle their job responsibilities on top of their parental duties.

And those aren’t the only stressors.

COVID-19 variants are on the rise and more contagious than ever, continuing to pose threats to the health and wellness of kids and their parents. And in addition to health concerns, the safety of children in schools also lingers in the back of many parents’ minds.

Your employees are about to experience increased stress and anxiety in their personal lives. Addressing those concerns comes down to meeting them where they are and reaching them with appropriate and intentional wellness initiatives.

Working Parents Need Organizational Support

Companies can support working parents by offering services that meet their needs.

But how do you find out what those needs are? By asking your employees, of course.

Here at WellRight, we recently rolled out our employee engagement survey to do just that. And we learned that our employees rated work-life integration and flexibility as two of the most important benefits of working at our company.

“When it comes to back-to-school season, our employees feel they have the support and work flexibility from not only their department leaders, but also the organization overall. Our employees feel they are able to modify work schedules and have the flexibility they need.”
Alice Raflores
– Alice Raflores, Director of Human Resources at WellRight


Employees who have that type of flexibility can make the transition much more easily during this stressful time. They can attend to their work as normal, but also give kids the full attention they need as they return to school.

So how can companies ensure their work environments provide the flexibility their employees need?

Putting Workplace Flexibility into Practice

There are a few ways flexibility factors into a supportive workplace. First and foremost, managers can encourage employees to be open and honest about their workloads and share their true schedules.

Share True Schedules

In toxic work environments, employees often put their own needs last and make commitments that keep them from having the type of work-life integration they need to be attentive parents. So, they agree to meetings instead of attending to their kids’ needs, work late, miss family dinners, etc., all in the name of getting work done.

To create a more flexible work environment, managers can encourage their employees to block out time on their schedules so they can focus only on personal tasks. Teams can also be open to rearranging meetings and check-ins around personal commitments to foster a balance between work and life.

Plan Ahead for Time Off

On top of giving employees the freedom to reserve blocks of personal time throughout the day, employers can also provide support when parents need to take more time off to help their children. To successfully instill this into workflows, clear communication is key. Employees and managers can collaborate on a plan to identify any projects, deadlines, and deliverables that will be impacted and identify who will take on any necessary work.

Time off should be treated as time when employees aren’t expected to answer emails or messages about projects. By giving employees a break from the stressors and responsibilities of work, managers “walk their talk” and demonstrate that a healthy work-life integration is more than just lip service.

When employees return, a debrief is critical to bring them up to speed on any developments. That will make the transition seamless, prevent any roadblocks in productivity, and give working parents the reassurance they need to prioritize their personal needs.

Lead By Example

It’s one thing to say your company is flexible, but leadership still sets the tone. After all, what are the odds that new parents will feel comfortable asking for more flexibility if they never see leadership deviating from the standard work schedule?

Management needs to model a new, integrated approach to work and life, helping to ease the rigid silos that have traditionally made being a working parent so difficult.

Management needs to model a new, integrated approach to work and life, helping to ease the rigid silos that have traditionally made being a working parent so difficult.

For example, WellRight’s CEO proactively encourages employees to take advantage of unlimited PTO and to disconnect from work during their time off. That way, employees can fully enjoy their personal time and come back to work refreshed, rejuvenated, and engaged.

This should be a standard practice with managers. When they refrain from checking or responding to emails after work hours or on weekends, it sets the tone for their teams and models healthy boundaries between work and personal life.

Meeting Working Parents Where They Are

Another way to support working parents is to address their unique health and wellness needs, as well as the needs of their families. Employers can use what they know about their employee population to identify the types of health and wellness programs that will best serve them and their families.

Focus on Health Care Benefits Design

Health care is one of the biggest factors that influences why employees choose to work for an organization. They want to know they'll be able to receive the basic needs that health care provides, and many of them are looking for specific health care benefits for their family planning.

Raflores revealed a marked shift in the average workforce population, where as many as 50% of employees are between the ages of 25 and 34. If those employees don’t already have children, some may be thinking about having them soon. That means their health care priorities include maternity/paternity benefits, coverage for fertility treatments, and more.

If organizations are serious about reinforcing health equity within their workforces, fertility care for all is essential. Underrepresented groups have a long history of having little to no access to the comprehensive fertility care that they need, so it helps to consider the impact of these benefits within your organization.

Include All Families

Working parents come from all backgrounds, genders, and relationships. When your company is looking at policies for family leave and other benefits, it’s critical to be as inclusive as possible with your definition of “family.”

“Families may not mirror what people think they are. But when you use inclusive language in policy, you account for the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, single parents, kinship families, same sex parents, lots of different people.”
Luca Maurer
– Luca Maurer, LGBTQIA+ Author and Consultant

Provide Comprehensive Mental Health Services

More than 50% of U.S. children and teens struggle with mental health issues, and only 8% are getting the help they need.

Source: Employee Benefit News

 

Working parents deal with mental health issues on multiple fronts. Not only are they grappling with their own depression, anxiety, and stress, but kids today are experiencing unprecedented mental health issues as well.

This is where mental health benefits and health coaching can be incredibly helpful for employee populations and their families.

For employees with children at various ages, empty-nesters, and caregivers, instituting employee resource groups (ERGs) or online chat groups can provide the peer support and community parents need. Employee assurance programs (EAPs) can develop ERGs that create opportunities for employees to talk about their children and their parenting challenges in an open, peer-to-peer environment without judgment.

Companies can also provide on-call crisis counselors in the event of a school-related emergency.

Conform Work Environments to Employee Lifestyles

Work environment can have a significant impact on the well-being of working parents. The pandemic forced many organizations to re-evaluate their policies and determine what type of work environment makes the most sense for their employees—financially and operationally. Some companies are continuing with remote work environments, others are insisting that employees need to come back to the office, and a large number of companies are exploring hybrid options.

However, before those decisions can be made, companies must consider the ripple effects on the lives of working parents. Work environment has a tremendous impact on morale, recruitment, and retention, and employee feedback needs to be collected and implemented before changes can take place.

“There are benefits to community and time being spent together, as well as having a workforce anywhere in the country. And there should be a greater focus on the work to be done rather than where the work is done.”
Alice Raflores
– Alice Raflores, Director of Human Resources at WellRight


Raflores further emphasizes that hybrid work environments may still need flexibility. For example, instead of saying that employees have to be in the office a set number of days per week, institute one or two scheduled “in-office” days for the entire company. Not only does this eliminate the team Tetris game of navigating conflicting schedules, but it’s also a pre-set date on the calendar when teams can meet, and your company can schedule meaningful, community-building activities and wellness challenges.

In fact, one of our wellness program best practices, the anchor challenge—an all-hands meeting held once per year—can easily be scheduled this way. Companies can even schedule quarterly anchor challenges with engaging promotional communications to bring teams together.

By leveraging your infrastructure and resources in this way, you can support working parents at every level of management and throughout the company. To discuss more ways you can meet working parents where they are through your wellness program, reach out to one of our Well-Being Strategy Consultants. At WellRight, we’re here to help.

 

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