Back to school: How companies can support working parents
By: Mady Peterson
Summer is coming to an end as parents pack up the beach toys and prepare for the new school year ahead. From meeting teachers to arranging childcare to managing extracurricular activities — back to school means back to routine, but it also requires juggling schedules and work-life balance for working parents.
In 2021, 96.5% of married-couple families with children had at least one employed parent and in 62.3% of these families both parents were employed. As this number continues to grow, support for working parents is needed now more than ever. But what does that support look like? Flexibility to leave work early to pick your child up from daycare? Additional PTO for when your child is sick? Or maybe a working parents employee resource group to connect and learn from others? The answer is all of the above — and more. The question is: as a company, where do you start?
Many companies see the benefit — for both the employee and employer — in providing well-being support for parents in the workplace, but supporting the whole person goes beyond flexible schedules and extra days off. Single parents, burned out parents, new parents — there are many parents in the workplace that require specific care and support. It’s up to employers to address these needs and bring employees back into balance.
Here are five ways you can support working parents, plus tips to take action today:
1. Offer flexible work schedules that support working parents
A flexible work schedule can mean different things to different people. For working parents, it can mean the difference of saving on childcare, spending quality time with family and reducing the stress and anxiety that come with managing both personal and professional life. A 2022 survey conducted by Flex Jobs shows that 41% of employees quit their jobs due to not allowing flexible schedules and 49% quit due to lack of work-life balance.
Companies are beginning to realize the need for flexible work — and the demand for flexible work environments only continues to grow.
How to make it happen: Leave behind the traditional office rules and allow for some leniency. Trust and respect go a long way for employees — when you give a little, you can get a lot in return. Encourage employees to work from home when a child is sick, leave the office early for a high school basketball game or take an extra 15 minutes at lunch to wrap up a doctor’s appointment.
2. Don’t waste their time
Time is precious. For parents, it’s everything. Time management is already a high priority for working moms and dads, and as a company, it’s crucial to respect the time of your employees. Focus on scheduling meetings during appropriate work hours and save communication for the next day if it’s not urgent. You can also make it convenient for working parents to tackle other parts of their day while working remotely — offer physical well-being challenges, like walking for 20 minutes a day or yoga, virtual coffee side chats, or mental health check-ins.
How to make it happen: Schedule an all-staff email to send the next morning rather than hitting send all late at night. Cut back on hour-long meetings and implement a 45-minute meeting policy. If a meeting runs over, there’s an extra 15 minutes to spare as a buffer. This allows time for employees to step away from the computer or grab a snack, which helps keep work a little more human.
3. Establish a working parent ERG
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are powerful — sometimes more than benefits and perks offered by a company. These inclusive, employee-led groups offer a place for employees with similar backgrounds or experiences to come together to share their stories, connect, swap insights, tips and tricks. For parents, a dedicated working parent ERG can provide the support many are looking for every day at work through others who have “been there” or are going through the same life experience at this moment. As a company, not only offering these groups but supporting and listening to the feedback from ERGs can make a huge difference in knowing what your employees need.
How to make it happen: Advocate for more ERGs dedicated to working parents and tie the importance to key business results. ERGs are for the employees, so they should be led by the employees. Having a designated safe space for employees to connect, ask questions, share stories and support each other is important for the success of working parents. Encourage one employee who is close to or knowledgeable about the ERG to deliver regular communications through your employee program, set agendas and brainstorm topic discussions. Take a look at our Working Parents & Caregivers ERG video below for inspiration.
4. Focus on mindfulness
Stress levels are at an all-time high during back-to-school season. An APA Stress in America Pandemic survey found that nearly half of parents (48%) said the level of stress in their life has increased compared with before the pandemic. With the help of their company’s encouragement and support, working parents can incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines to ease stress. Mindfulness requires practice, so make it available to employees to practice every day. As a company, mindfulness activities for employees (especially working parents) are a great opportunity to show your employees you care about their mental health while improving decision making, focus, creative thinking and helping employees find their purpose.
How to make it happen: Build mindfulness into employees’ daily routine by offering mindfulness training as a part of your well-being program. Activities focused on setting intentions, reflecting on priorities, or even 15 minutes dedicated to meditation can reduce stress and regulate focus.
5. Be the manager that “Gets It”
Life happens and when it does it is important that working parents feel supported during a time of crisis by their manager — or management team. Parental stress is real and when life starts to cross over into work, working parents need to know that their employer understands. According to Harvard Business Review, there’s a very real risk in showing up as “the leader who doesn’t get it”, or worse, “the leader who doesn’t care.” And that, in turn, is going to make it very hard to get overwhelmed working parents to listen to and follow you. As a manager, learning how to support working parents establishes a great system of trust and in return makes their jobs easier to do.
How to make it happen: Get a full understanding of what your employees who are working parents are going through in their lives (outside of work). Conduct well-being 1:1s, check-ins with polls and team meetings. Celebrate their daily wins. Try asking, “what’s your biggest accomplishment (personal or professional) this week?” Find out what their stressors are. What are they struggling with? Prove that you “get it” by being supportive.
According to a survey by Bright Horizon 47% of the employed-parent respondents declared they’re at breaking point. This year as families head back to school, make the effort to focus on working parents’ needs and how as a company, you can best support working parents and show you care.
Free Webinar: How to support working parents where they need it most
Watch our webinar on-demand to learn what you can do to help support working parents and care for their well-being.