Supporting Working Parents During Back-to-School Season and Beyond: Tips and Insights for Employers

The back-to-school rush sparks excitement and anxiety for millions of working parents each August. Clean the backpacks, purchase new clothes, and review supply lists. As the countdown to the first bell draws closer, parents deal with multiple responsibilities, including balancing work with new structured school schedules and extracurricular commitments.

As children’s schedules and needs change throughout the school year, working parents must adapt their routines to provide logistical and emotional support during transitions. Whether entering the school system for the first time, dealing with separation anxiety, adjusting to new teachers each year, handling peer relationships and extracurricular activities, or culminating in the high school to post-secondary transition, parents with children of all ages assist with evolving demands while meeting responsibilities outside the home.

Regardless of parents’ specific challenges at home, compounded by co-parenting and single parenting, the back-to-school season can be particularly stressful and significantly impact their work life.

This is an excellent opportunity for employers to prioritize workplace wellbeing and support working parents, typically comprising a large percentage of each workforce. By providing flexible work arrangements, on-demand wellness solutions, and promoting a healthy work-life balance in this busy season, companies can reap the rewards of improved employee morale, productivity, and retention for the rest of the year, while reducing levels of parental burnout.

The hidden struggles of working parents

During the back-to-school season, working parents face extra demands that can significantly impact wellbeing and workplace productivity. In addition to this, parents often feel stressed, conflicted by their priorities, and guilty over how they spend their time.

Juggling work obligations, kids’ activities, and household tasks increase stress levels, with some parents even losing sleep worrying over schedules and responsibilities. This impacts essential cognitive functions like decision-making and mood.

At the same time, demands from work and family pull parents in opposite directions, creating mental and emotional strain as they try to balance competing priorities with little reprieve. The constant workload – and the relentless and unpaid labor of home life – can lead to burnout.

And while many parents are trying to excel at work, they also feel guilty over not spending enough time with kids, worrying if their kids are happy, developing academically, and meeting critical deadlines. All of these struggles take a toll on parental morale and motivation at work.

How do the demands of parenting impact employees in the workplace?

Parental burnout is a recurring concept and significantly impacts the workforce. For years, working parents have faced the ongoing balancing act of juggling responsibilities at home and work, making it difficult to put 100 percent into either role.

It’s no wonder that the dual responsibilities of caregiving and employment are demanding year-round. In recent years, several studies have shed light on the heavy struggles of working parents.

A 2022 study by Ohio State University found that 66 percent of working parents (out of 1,285 surveyed) reported parental burnout in the last few years following the pandemic, decreasing their mental health and wellbeing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revealed in 2022 that 33.3 million US families (or two-fifths of all families) have children under 18. Among two-parent households, 65.0 percent of both spouses were employed.

Combining work and parenting responsibilities significantly impacts productivity and employee stress levels. Disruptions at home often translate to the workplace through increased absenteeism or presenteeism. A recent study by Ernst & Young also found that approximately one-third of working parents have contemplated leaving their job due to challenges in achieving a sustainable work-life balance. Suppose a parent decides to leave their job due to family obligations. In that case, the financial costs of turnover (particularly for highly skilled or management roles) can be substantial, including hiring and training costs for replacements.

Boost support for working parents during back-to-school season

During the back-to-school season, employers can bolster support by refining policies and resources catered to the working parents in their workforce,  such as flexible work schedules and wellbeing resources.

1.     Provide wellbeing solutions through employee benefits

LifeSpeak Inc. offers a suite of solutions to help working parents balance their mental health and wellbeing, especially during back-to-school season. Its caregiving solution, Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving, a product of LifeSpeak Inc., provides extensive resources to support members at all stages of their caregiving journey. Members can access a vast library of resources, tips, informative guides, and expert advice. Caregivers sometimes require specialized guidance, and Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving’s advising services pull in experts to assist and offer advice in a timely manner.

LifeSpeak Mental Health & Resilience, a product of LifeSpeak Inc., is another great resource for working parents. In addition to thousands of expert-led microlearnings, members can attend regular “Ask the Expert” sessions in web chat format for personalized support.

Allison Villa, Registered Psychotherapist and Relationship Expert is among the professionals providing valuable advice through Ask the Expert sessions. In one discussion on managing back-to-school anxiety, Villa discusses overcoming anxiety around this transition period and emphasizes the importance of prioritizing mental wellbeing for the entire family. Villa advises that having a consistent routine helps working parents mitigate challenges in schedule changes.

“Having consistency in your home life (regular family mealtime, bedtime routines, etc.) and talking about what to expect will help to ease the stress and pressure of back-to-school,” says Villa.

In a question-of-the-week resource available to LifeSpeak Health & Resilience members, Villa lists some ways back-to-school season can take a toll on both parents and children.

“Here are some signs of back-to-school anxiety for parents,” says Villa. “Feeling more tired or needing more sleep; less patience with children or partner; over-reacting to something that usually wouldn’t bother you; avoiding going out in public spaces; or noticing your physical response when you hear news or conversation about back-to-school.”

She explains signs to watch for a child who may be experiencing anxiety. “Magnified feelings around something small; telling you how they feel about school; asking a lot of questions or avoiding questions about school; or wanting more screen time (to numb feelings).”

When employees are stressed from their job, compounded by the demands of supporting their kids, this negatively impacts work performance if left unaddressed. By offering employees access to holistic wellbeing resources that support mental health, employers can help ease parental anxieties during this busy season. This allows parents to balance work and family obligations and maintain wellbeing across multiple life domains. Prioritizing comprehensive solutions can significantly benefit employees and businesses by helping parents maintain productivity and mental health even during stressful times.

2.     Offer flexible work arrangements and schedules

Creating policies that support business while balancing employee needs is vital. Employers can provide flexible work arrangements, such as remote or hybrid work options, flexible hours, or job-sharing. Working parents can manage their schedules effectively around flexible work schedules. Open communication between managers and employees fosters a supportive environment where both parties can collaboratively address challenges.

Dr. Winny Shen, Ph.D., is the Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a LifeSpeak Mental Health & Resilience expert. In one video, “Managing Workers in Flexible/Remote Work Arrangements,” Dr. Shen speaks to managers who implement flexible and remote work arrangements. She says that communication and setting clear expectations will help managers and employees stay on the same page about work tasks and minimize doubt about productivity.

“The first thing I would suggest is to set very clear expectations, particularly around communication,” says Dr. Shen. “This will help with the tendency to want to micromanage these remote workers that can sometimes occur when you feel like you don’t know what your employees are doing, which can happen when they’re out of sight.”

Flexible paid time off allows parents to address school or childcare issues as needed. For example, working parents can use paid sick days without penalty when their schedule needs to adjust to their children’s needs. Routine children’s doctor appointments or school meetings are some occasions when working parents benefit from a flexible work schedule. This kind of flexibility reduces the fear of repercussions.

Managers can also consider offering unpaid time off or adjusting working hours as a last resort if paid options are exhausted. Supportive backup plans empower working parents to prioritize their families when emergencies arise without risking their job stability.

3.     Promote work-life balance

A healthy work-life balance benefits all employees, including working parents. Leaders can play a vital role in setting the tone for work-life integration by establishing clear boundaries and showing that they understand employees’ responsibilities outside of work. Employers can encourage everyone to take regular breaks and vacations, which creates a more sustainable and productive workplace.

“As a manager, you want to help support your staff with children,” says Villa. “This is a challenging time for parents. Expect that the productivity of your staff may change in the fall and adjust workload accordingly.”

Aside from supporting time off, employers might consider auditing workloads regularly and ensuring unreasonable demands are not placed upon working parents. As Villa notes, productivity may fluctuate during the back-to-school season. Still, managers can take a proactive check-in approach with parents to understand their scheduling priorities and be prepared to reallocate assignments if needed.

Employers can also modify work schedules during school holidays and events by promoting flexible working hours, even compressed work weeks. Demonstrating flexibility empowers parents to meet work obligations better while still supporting their children’s education.

Another way employers can demonstrate work-life balance is by implementing rolling deadlines instead of arbitrary due dates and permitting partial sick days or vacation days.

An empathetic, understanding, and supportive employer allows working parents to cultivate high productivity and performance levels throughout ever-evolving family seasons.

Set up working parents for success

Working parents with children under 18 at home comprise 40 percent of the North American workforce. As parents form a substantial part of today’s workforce, prioritizing their support becomes crucial for businesses aiming to enhance wellbeing and productivity.

As family schedules evolve each school year, the importance of leveraging digital wellness tools and promoting flexibility and work-life balance increases. These best practices can help companies alleviate stressors for working parents and set them up for success throughout the year.

Request a demo today  LifeSpeak Inc.’s holistic suite of wellbeing solutions, including Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving and LifeSpeak Mental Health & Resilience, can foster improved mental, physical, and family wellbeing for your organization’s working parents and employees.