For many working parents, the back-to-school struggle is real. Between coordinating new schedules, helping out with homework, attending their child’s extracurricular and sporting events, as well as keeping up with their job responsibilities, it’s becoming harder and harder for working parents to find a work-life balance that, well, works.
With school starting up again in just a few weeks, we’re taking a look at the stresses many working parents feel during the run up to the first day of school, as well as throughout the school year.
Sources of stress for working parents
The new school year brings with it added stresses for working parents, according to a 2012 poll from Public Policy Polling & Workplace Options.
According to the study, 63 percent of those polled believed that preparing for the start of a new school year causes additional stress for their co-workers or colleagues who were working parents, and one in four respondents said that preparing for the new school year negatively impacts the productivity of employees with grade school and college-aged children.
The destructive effects of stress in the workplace are well documented. Employees who say they are “highly stressed” tend to have higher instances of absenteeism, lower levels of productivity, are less engaged and, consequently, are less productive. All of these factors combined result in an unhappy workforce, and a very unhappy employer.
But preparing for a new school year is just the beginning. Throughout the year, after-school childcare concerns remains one of the top sources of stress for working parents. A 2006 study conducted by Catalyst found that parents miss an average of five days of work per year simply because they were unable to find adequate after-school care. The increased rate of absenteeism among working parents has many constantly in fear of being reprimanded or terminated by their employer.
In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Bright Horizons Family found that almost half (48 percent) of working parents are concerned that family commitments might cause them to lose their job, and more than a quarter (26 percent) believe that they could be demoted because of family-related issues.
So, what can employers do to help their employees minimize these stresses?
One of the main reasons many working parents get so stressed right before the beginning of the school year is the change to their schedules.Just as they’ve gotten used to their summer routine, it’s time to switch gears and start planning for the new school year. How will they get the kids to school? Is going to pick them up after school? Do they need to find a daycare or babysitter to watch the kids until they get home. These same questions pop up again and again each year for many working parents, as each year presents its own unique scheduling challenges.
Employers should endeavor to be understanding while their employees with children adapt to their new schedules, and remind managers not to make employees feel guilty about taking time off during this period of adjustment, or at any other time throughout the school year. (Of course, if an employee is taking excessive amounts of time off, to the point that it is affecting his or her ability to perform their job, this might warrant a discussion between the employee and his or her supervisor.)
According to a study conducted by Georgetown University in 2010, stress caused by concerns about after-school child care is associated with decreases in productivity and increases in absenteeism, which they estimated cost employers between $496 and $1,984 per employee, per year. The study goes on to say that flexible work schedules can be highly effective tools to help employers reduce the costs associated with turnover and absenteeism.
When it makes sense, employers may want to consider offering working parents the option to “flex” their schedules to be more accommodating to their children’s school schedules. These options may include: allowing employees to shift their work schedule during the school year; allowing employees to work from home, either for part of the day/week, or on a more permanent basis; or allowing employees to work a “compressed” schedule (i.e. work longer hours fewer days of the week).
Implementing a flexible work schedule is not without challenges, however. Employers who are considering allowing employees with children to work a flexible schedule should not limit this option to just working parents. Otherwise, employees without children who aren’t allowed the same flexibility may feel they’re being treated unfairly, which could cause a whole host of problems for the employer, including potential discrimination and regulatory compliance concerns.
Many employers offer access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of their employee benefits program. Employee assistance programs are designed to help employees deal with issues affecting their personal or professional lives, including stress, depression, anxiety, major life changes, financial or legal concerns, etc. Employers who have employee assistance programs should remind their workers about the availability of these services, particularly during times when they know employees are under a great amount of stress (i.e. back-to-school season).
Balancing work and family will always be a source of stress for working parents. Stressed employees tend to be less engaged and less productive workers. And so while not every employer may be able to allow employees with school-aged children to work from home or create other flexible working schedules, employers can and should be aware of how preparing for the upcoming school year may affect their workers and look for ways they can help minimize the stress working parents feel during the back-to-school season.
What do you think? Does the start of a new school year cause added stress for working parents, or negatively affect their productivity? If you’re a working parent, do you wish your employer would allow you to work a more flexible schedule to accommodate your child’s school schedule? Let us know in the comments below!