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Supporting Working Parents: 4 Tips for Back-to-School Success

Working mother brings her daughter to school near the school bus. back to school

Quick look: It’s time to sharpen those pencils and zip those backpacks—back-to-school season is officially here. Juggling school and career responsibilities can be challenging for working parents, but there are steps employers can take to lighten the load. Here are four ways SMBs can support these employees (just in time for Working Parents Day on September 16).

It’s officially back-to-school season, which means yellow buses are returning to the streets, school supplies are lining store shelves, and fall is approaching. Working parents may face new challenges as children return to the classroom and households adapt to changing routines. Just in time for Working Parents Day on September 16, here’s how small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can support working mothers, fathers, and caregivers, something that can encourage a healthier work-life balance and boost retention rates.

A personal and professional balancing act

Often, children’s school and extracurricular schedules and their parents’ work schedules don’t align— a widespread concern considering one-third of the U.S. workforce has a child under age 14 in their household. As back-to-school season ramps up, many working parents will adjust to their family’s new schedule and discover the best way to balance it with their work responsibilities.

The reasons for this misalignment vary. Many schooldays end between 3 and 4 p.m., meaning working parents are on the hook to secure after-school care. Additionally, school holidays and breaks don’t always match up with a working parent’s available vacation days, and illnesses, doctor appointments, inclement weather, or other unexpected school closings also throw working parents for a loop. Parents of even younger children face similar difficulties, as more than one in four families with children under age 5 struggle to find consistent childcare.

All this juggling can take a toll. Many employed parents fear they are viewed as less devoted to their jobs, and some experience burnout. This exhaustion disproportionately affects mothers of color and young parents who are hourly workers. Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) mothers are 35% more likely to experience burnout, and parents between ages 26-34 with hourly jobs are 200% more likely to suffer it.

Please note that workplace flexibility and competitive employee benefits should be fair and equitable across all employees, and mental health issues like burnout can impact all workers. We do not wish to erase those experiences or realities by focusing just on working parents.

Supporting working parents during the year: 4 tips for success

Great Place to Work® found in its “Working Parents, Burnout & the Great Resignation” study that employers that adopt a holistic approach to employee wellbeing can prevent 4 out of 5 working parents from quitting their jobs.

The study surveyed nearly half a million working parents and found that employees experienced a 45% lower burnout rate at Certified Best Workplaces and that almost 5 million cases of parental burnout could be prevented. SMBs can implement the following four tactics to aid busy working parents (and retention rates).

1. Offer a flexible schedule

Caring for school-aged children can involve picking them up from the bus stop, shuttling them to extracurricular activities, taking them to doctor’s appointments, and more. A flexible schedule can make all these things a bit easier for working parents and benefit a company’s bottom line, too. Recent research from the University of Birmingham found that 73% of managers believe that flexible working hours improve productivity.

So, what does this flexibility look like? It depends on what is feasible for your organization, but in addition to hybrid workforces, which have greatly increased in popularity, some examples of flexible scheduling include:

  • Flextime: This alternative schedule gives an employee greater freedom in choosing their working hours or the ability to change schedules weekly depending on personal needs.
  • Compressed workweeks: Instead of working a standard five-day workweek, employees can contribute their 40 hours in fewer than five days per week (for example, working four 10-hour days).
  • Part-time schedules: With less than 40 hours of work per week, part-time work can attract working parents who may otherwise have not wanted to or been able to work at all.
  • Job sharing: This method entails two employees working a part-time schedule and completing the responsibilities of one full-time position together.

It’s important to note that these flexible arrangements should extend to any employee who needs to take a parent, spouse, or themselves to the doctor, and those working in different time zones.

2. Provide family-friendly benefits

Parenting costs a lot of money and time. It’s estimated that the lifetime cost of raising a child will top $300,000, and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on top of working, parents solely dedicate two hours each day to caring for their children.

This is where crafting and providing the right family-friendly benefits package can make a huge difference. The Great Place to Work® study mentioned above found that organizations whose employees believed they were offered “special and unique” benefits were twice as likely to retain staff with children. Relevant benefits for supporting working parents include:

  • Robust, affordable healthcare: Children require regular checkups and tend to get sick often, making the right healthcare options a must. Employers can also consider offering a flexible spending account (FSA), which employees can use to pay for before- and after-school care, summer camp, and more.
  • Progressive paid time off (PTO): It is essential to provide PTO for employees to relax, care for a child, and tend to their own needs. SMBs may also offer school activity time off, which allows employees to participate in parent-teacher conferences, holiday events, classroom activities, graduations, and more—without missing out on pay or using a vacation day.
  • Mental health support: Parenting can be stressful, especially in the tailwind of a pandemic. Offering mental health coverage and access to an employee assistance program (EAP) and mindfulness apps can bring a sense of relief to working parents.
  • College financial planning: Employers can help workers establish a 529 college savings plan for their children, which allows for federal and state tax breaks, age-based plan options, prepaid tuition, and more.
  • Paid parental leave: For working parents looking to expand their families, paid parental leave can benefit maternal and infant health and more. However, with only 11 U.S. states publicly funding the leave as of August 2023, many employees rely on their companies to provide it.

3. Encourage manager-level support

Sometimes, the most valuable assistance comes from the colleagues closest to us. SMB leaders can encourage their organization’s managers to show genuine interest in their employees’ personal lives, as naturally and appropriately as possible. Something as simple as a manager asking how a worker’s child is doing can help an employee feel more comfortable.

And this comfort pays off. According to the Great Place to Work® study:

  • Employees who feel able to be themselves at work are twice as likely to stay
  • Workers with a psychologically healthy work environment are three times as likely to stay
  • Those who believe their leaders genuinely care about them as people are 2.3 times as likely to stay

In addition to asking how their team members’ families are doing, managers can also share tidbits about their personal lives if they are comfortable. A boss who keeps photos of their children at their desk and occasionally leaves the office early for sports games sends an important message of camaraderie.

On a granular level, managers can show they value their employees’ personal lives by labeling any emails sent after-hours or on weekends with their importance level (i.e., “not urgent,” “for Monday,” “FYI,” etc.). These designations can benefit working parents who can quickly decipher between an urgent request and tasks that can wait until working hours.

4. Consider all stages of working parenthood

Back-to-school season focuses on, of course, school-aged children. But, employers should focus on supporting working parents during each stage of parenthood.

Business leaders should also remember that families come in all shapes and sizes, and working parents include both men and women, biological and adoptive parents, same-sex couples, and single parents.

While some new moms returning to work may require a lactation room (which can yield a 94% return-from-leave retention rate and is required per the Affordable Care Act), other employees may be thinking about growing their families. In that instance, employers could offer family-building benefits that can include:

  • Access to benefits experts, fertility clinicians, emotional counselors, lawyers, and a dedicated care manager
  • Discounted rates at specific fertility clinics and adoption and surrogacy agencies
  • Personalized care plans and resources for every stage of growing a family
  • Prescription ordering and at-home delivery

Raising the bar for those raising kids

Organizations deemed Best Workplaces experience less employee burnout and greater retention rates, and many of them prioritize their benefits for working parents.    A professional employer organization (PEO) can help you do the same.

A PEO, like ExtensisHR, can open the door to an array of affordable, Fortune 500-level benefits designed to increase the work-life balance of your staff. These benefits include healthcare coverage, access to mental wellness tools, and more. ExtensisHR’s dedicated HR managers can also assist you with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) compliance and fair and equitable policy creation for maternity and paternity leave, PTO, and more.

Back-to-school season is in full swing, and it’s a great time to prioritize supporting working parents. Contact the experts at ExtensisHR today to get started.

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