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Helping Your Employees Navigate the Back-to-School Maze

showing a mother and child working on homework
Back to School is different this year — How can you help your employees adapt?

School districts and local municipalities around the country are all facing the same dilemma right now: How to try and safely get students back to school for the new academic year, while balancing the needs for in-person instruction, social interaction, virtual learning, health protocols and more.

One of the biggest challenges is for parents to manage their child’s academic needs with their own professional and work needs. As your employees begin the process of trying to get their student on track (be it virtual, in-person or a hybrid), there are a number of ways you can support their needs:

1. Stay current on your local updates — There are likely multiple school districts or governing organizations in your area, with employees’ kids going to a variety of schools. In order to stay educated, sign up for any available email or text alerts about district updates/follow districts or schools on social media and be sure to monitor local news reports about local school plans so you have a sense of what your employees are dealing with.

2. Share important links with all employees — As you are doing your research to stay current, be sure to share any important links or accounts you find with employees. Additionally, your local district or school may put notices or announcements in local media or online; if you happen to see something relevant, or even things like stories relating to school or student safety, be sure to share with your team.

3. Talk with your HR teams regarding work environments and options — For the past few months every workplace has been upended in some fashion. Whether employees needing to work at home full or part time, modifications to a physical space or even shifting employees ‘ hours and roles, things have changed. Parents needing to accommodate their children’s online or modified in-person schedule will also further disrupt the work environment.

Talk with your HR department or rep at an outside advisor (such as ThinkHR) about any relevant updates to employment law, workplace safety requirements and necessary accommodations you may need to make. Getting educated and prepared now may give you time to put tools or systems in place that can support your employees while still remaining compliant with necessary regulations and/or ensuring equity across all teams.

4. Be flexible and fluidIf the COVID crisis has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being flexible. Many localities are changing rules and operation requirements sometimes on an almost daily basis. Expect the same for local schools. If you institute specific guidelines or rules about working at home, flex time, job sharing or time off, be prepared to make accommodations as schools may suddenly change the environment based on developments. A parent who had a child in person at school 5 days a week may suddenly have to bring that child home for virtual instruction based on an outbreak or closure. Being fluid with your structure will allow you to roll with changes and support employees at the same time.

5. Check in with your employees on their needs and encourage communication — Encourage employees to provide feedback regarding how current structures are working for them. Use something like SurveyMonkey or a simple anonymous suggestion box or a bulletin board to share feedback about ways to make the most of everyone’s work/life balance during this difficult time. Some employees may even find ways to connect when it comes to things like shared instructional needs, social ‘bubbles’ for their kids, transportation options, etc. Listening to employee feedback and finding ways to team members share ideas or collaborate will pay a strong dividend in the long run.

6. Lead by example — Be the model for your employees. If you are facilitating remote work to ensure parents can be home with children but still require specific work metrics or measures (participating in calls, hitting certain goals, etc), make sure you are doing the same. If you tell staff you are available to talk in-person certain dates and times, make sure to be there. If you promote a policy of “out of office” really meaning “out of office” so individuals can spend time on personal matters, ensure no one is harassed or penalized for doing so.

7. Be aware of stress — While some media outlets talk about “the new normal,” the fact is there is nothing normal about any of this situation. Your parent employees are facing a compounded level of stress as they not only worry about health and wellness, their job and financial situation, but also their child’s future and how to best support them as well. If your HR department/health plan offers mental health services, be sure to alert your employees to that. If not, investigate local resources (often free) offered by your county or city where a stressed parent can find someone to talk to or get a referral to a licensed mental health provider if necessary.