Supporting Your Employees During Return to School

Return to school this year will look a lot different for your employees and their children.  For some, it may mean a return to the classroom; for others, it will mean juggling e-learning and while working; and for many, it may be a little bit of both. Employers will grapple with how they can best support their employees in a way that is supportive, efficient, and still allows for proper work-life balance. The best advice is for employers to remain flexible.

Throughout COVID-19 we have all had to adapt, and intentional, empathetic employers have created a more flexible, family-friendly culture. As we ease into this new school year, continuing this approach, and perhaps tweaking it could allow the flexibility parents need to be successful at home and work. It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, and the traditional 9 to 5 workday may not work for many parents when school is in session. For many jobs, it may be possible to throw out the 9 to 5 workday all together. Where possible, allow employees to work remotely and choose their hours, eliminating the idea that emails and messages need an immediate response. This approach will make work more comfortable and less demanding during times when parents must help with educating their children.  

In addition to creating flexibility, create clear and intentional communications. Being intentional in your communication as an employer will ensure your employees feel informed and connected while trying to balance work and home life during this difficult time.  Some companies are providing additional support such as childcare stipends, additional time off, or other supports to enable their employees to be successful. Make sure your employees know about these programs.

Ensure that employees are aware of any applicable legislation that may benefit them, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  This law, passed in March, mandates that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide 12-weeks of leave to eligible employees in certain situations. This leave is intended for employees who cannot work (or telework) due to a need to care for a child whose school or daycare has been impacted by COVID.  This may be a useful tool, but many have exhausted this leave or are not eligible, and other options may have to be pursued. The last resort is to offer your employees an unpaid leave of absence. While not ideal, this could allow your employees the flexibility to get in the swing of the new school year before attempting to balance homelife and work. No matter what you decide, look closely at local, state, and federal guidelines to ensure you are doing everything you can to protect your employees and your business.

No matter your business, this won’t be an easy school year for many of your employees, regardless of the format in which they send their children back to school. In offering any of these interventions, be sure your employees understand what your programs entail.  Employees that know their employers are committed to supporting them are more likely to do well and be productive members of the team.

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