by Kai Andrews, Brian Balgaard

A project leader at a Fortune 500 company noticed a sudden drop-off in one of her team member’s performance. The employee began missing deadlines and producing sub-par quality work, and the manager assumed her team member was not pulling their weight. It took a co-worker to remind her that this specific team member’s children started school the same week as the change in performance.

As employees grapple with a new school year that continues where last spring’s sudden pivot to remote schooling left off, employers need to look for ways to extend what previously were short-term fixes with long-term solutions that benefit all. But how?

First, acknowledge that the struggle is real. Juggling work with at-home schooling is unprecedented for many. While parents with younger children face their own unique challenges, parents of older students also need support. The need for empathy has never been greater.

Next, evaluate the steps your company will take to help working parents. There are several responses to aid your teams, including:

  • Reach out. Call, email or message employees and gather insights to understand who is having challenges and what help they need.
  • Acknowledge your employees’ challenges. This is the most basic and effective way to help your employees. Communication and shared empathy can go a long way in helping parents feel heard and understood. This acknowledgement can take place on a company-wide scale or at an individual level.
  • Leadership training. Create and distribute a video or training slide to your managers and executive team to help them understand the issues your employees are facing, with tips on how they can best communicate with their teams and navigate challenges that impact work. Flex work should also be considered. Give your employees the ability to shift workdays and hours to align with family needs.
  • Build community. Create a place where parents can connect, leveraging technology such as Teams or Slack to share articles, resources or just connect to talk about the challenges they are facing.
  • Employee assistance. Assistance can take many forms. In addition to social forums for parents to connect and share ideas, such as help with education pods, consider establishing or expanding benefits ranging from stipends for childcare and tutoring to paid time off.

Employee work experiences continue to be disrupted as the business world transitions through a series of “next normals.” Organizations need to be vigilant, work to understand new challenges, maintain flexibility, and take proactive steps to acknowledge their employee needs and help them maintain a healthy and productive work/life balance.