Back to School: How to support employees who have school age kids at home

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the Employee Assistance Program’s September 2020 Newsletter

As we head into month 6 of the COVID pandemic, many parents are starting the school year already worn out, after months of “go go go” from the time the kids wake up at 6am until their bedtime at 9pm (and sometimes the kids are up in the middle of the night too.) They’re likely wondering how they and their families will manage, and they’re not alone. Recent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation warns that nearly half of all parents of school age kids are worried that they will not be able to pay enough attention to their child if they are working from home. In addition, more than half of all parents of K-12 kids experienced one or more adverse health effects due to worry and stress from COVID, with 69% of mothers and 51% of fathers.

How can you support your employees through this time?

  1. Be kind, caring and flexible. The State Human Resources division counsels agencies to operate with principles such as: maximum flexibility, action not perfection (“Try something. Take a risk and you can make adjustments if it doesn’t work.”) and strong support for “accommodating parents and other caregivers to make it possible for them to remain in the workforce and thrive…” See Supporting Working Parents and Caregivers, part of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) HR Guidance for State Agencies.
  2. Provide maximum flexibility for employees to get their work done. Given each employee’s unique situation, ask when they can work. It can be a patchwork quilt, such as working: before the kids are up, after they’re in bed, on weekends, and when their partner is “on duty.” The new State HR guidance describes these and other possible work schedule options to accommodate the employee’s caregiving responsibilities.
  3. Be proactive – check in with your employees who are parenting school age kids about their back-to-school plans. While asking all school-age parents is important, pay special attention to mothers, given research showing that they are bearing the brunt of juggling home schooling and working and report suffering more adverse health effects than fathers. During these tough economic times or due to past negative experience, employees may be reluctant to expose anything they fear their supervisor or HR may see as a failure to perform their work. Don’t wait until your employees approach you to seek help or relief – they may wait too long.
  4. Check in regularly with your employees to see how they’re doing, and reassure them that you are open to adjusting and adapting as their family’s needs change.
  5. Encourage your employees to use their leave and take regular time off from work. During this stressful time, taking some time away from work is vital to your employees’ and their families’ continued wellbeing. In addition to vacation and sick time your employees may qualify for other leave categories, including the 2020 federal COVID-related leave – here’s the description of federal COVID-related leave. For information specific to your organization talk with your HR staff.
  6. Urge your employees to make their self-care a priority. Here is some specific self-care information and guidance tailored to parents. In addition, the EAP offers both a Self-Care webinar and a Parenting through COVID webinar as well as other resources that can help on their COVID-19 Resources page.

Here are some additional resources to help you be a better leader during this time:

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to the EAP for support, guidance, tools and resources to help with your specific situation, at 1-877-313-4455 or online.