For employees with young children, the back-to-school period is a time of unexpected challenges and added stress. Even during the best of times, there are new schedules and routines to follow. The pandemic adds yet another layer of uncertainty to the start of the school year.
As it stands, B.C. public school will return to in-class learning this week. The provincial government has provided details about how they plan to keep children of all ages safe. They’re providing $45.6 million to help schools implement health and safety protocols.
The increased funding has not been enough to quell fears, however. Overwhelmingly, parents are concerned about their children contracting COVID-19, which is negatively impacting their own mental health. A survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association found that 79% of parents are concerned about their child bringing COVID into the home and infecting somebody else. This has led to 64% of parents also being worried about how they’ll manage their own anxiety when school re-open.
As an employer, you have an opportunity to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that your employee’s with children are feeling.
In this blog, you’ll learn about some of the new challenges facing parents as they navigate their children’s return to the classroom and how you can help.
New Challenges Facing Parents and Caregivers
This year, the government has asked caregivers to monitor their children’s health. They’ve asked parents to perform daily screenings of their children. Before school each day, parents and caregivers should ask the following questions:- Does my child have the symptoms of a common cold, influenza, COVID-19, or other infectious respiratory disease?
- Has my child been outside Canada in the last 14 days?
- Has my child been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or outbreak?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the child must be kept home.
This poses some unique challenges. With many employees still working remotely, having a child at home unexpectedly may mean extra time caregiving, and perhaps even stepping out to get a COVID test.
Right now, whether or not school buses are running depends on the school and school district in question. The provincial government has included guidelines for schools to follow, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will be in service, or if children and their parents feel comfortable with the option.
Employees may therefore have to build time into their day to drop-off and pick up their children from school. As we all fondly remember, school days are not as long as the workday. Some meetings may have to start later or end earlier to accommodate employees who need to transport their child to and from school.
Some parents and caregivers may simply not feel comfortable sending their child to school in the current environment. As a result, parents may enroll their child in online or distributed learning for the upcoming school year.
Doing so brings additional challenges regarding work and productivity. Even though most employees were working from home during the summer while children were off on break, having them home for school means added noise and distraction, making long stretches of uninterrupted focus potentially hard to come by.
How Employers Can Help Their Employees
As an employer, you have an unique opportunity to alleviate some of the stress your employees are feeling about back-to-school season.
As our managing partner, Judith Mewhort, recently mentioned in her blog, one way employers can help their employees is to shift away from the traditional 9 to 5 mindset, and focus instead on the completion of work. The best way to do that is to offer flexibility in your core work hours. Studies and surveys have shown that offering a flexible work schedule improves employee mental health and motivation. A survey by software company VMware found that 57% of Canadian employees believe that the lack of a commute provides them more time and energy to do their job. Another survey found that 48% of Canadian employees believe that flexible work schedules positively affect their work-life balance.
Right now, parents are expecting the unexpected when it comes to sending their children back to school. There will be unforeseen challenges and it will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to stick to the standard 9 to 5 routine.
Make it clear to your employees that you will be accommodating to their needs.
In addition to offering flexibility around working hours, another way you can support your employees is to offer weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to see how everything is going. Sometimes an employee will be struggling with their mental health or productivity, and without cause to speak about it, they’ll suffer in silence.
Providing a space for speaking about any difficulties your employees are having empowers them to speak up when they’re not feeling well. It also shows that you are invested in their overall well-being, not just their output.
What’s considered ‘normal’ changes on a monthly basis. With kids set to return to the classroom, the normal is likely to change once again—and employers should prepare for this change.
By being flexible with your working hours and providing a space for employees to talk openly about their stresses and concerns, you’ll be helping to alleviate stress and improving your employees mental health.
Instead of worrying about whether or not they should be picking up their child from school, or taking the time to help them with a piece of school work, they’ll know they have the full trust and backing of their employers.