This time of year we are typically flooded with back-to-school sales and the anticipation of the upcoming milestones that go along with a new year in education. Parents prepare to return to a more typical schedule as summer ends and they send their children off to begin a new kind of back-to-school adventure. The start of the 2020 school year looks a bit different due to COVID-19, and, consequently, so does our view of work-life balance this fall.
Your employees are likely dealing with a variety of different scenarios when it comes to their child’s return to school. Schools are returning in a multitude of ways (both virtual and in-person) based on local conditions and decisions made on a district-by-district basis. They’re navigating this confusing maze of guidance and protocols while attempting to maintain the productivity levels that they’d otherwise have in a normal societal environment.
As an employer, there are some steps that you can take to ease the burden and support your employees through this difficult and uncertain back-to-school time. We recommend viewing the situation through a health, safety, and wellness lens. Yes, all of the pillars that you maintain in your current culture can be applied by and for employees who may have children learning virtually this school year.
Supporting your employees using pillars of your culture
- Take an objective look at your organization’s culture. Your culture statement and employee handbook likely contain references to employee value, productivity, and, perhaps, even family. There is no better moment than this unprecedented back-to-school time to find creative ways to ensure your employees feel that their mental health and overall wellbeing is being prioritized.
- Consider how we, as a society, have learned to be flexible in ways that we didn’t know we were possible before the pandemic began. We’ve transitioned more employees than ever to remote work setups, provided options for employees to adjust to part-time, and created flexible work hours for those who found themselves in unexpected territory, perhaps caring for a child during a work day, supporting an elderly parent, or helping a loved one who has fallen ill. We know that flexibility is achievable, and that employees feel cared for when their organization provides them with an opportunity to continue to work on a schedule that makes sense, while balancing the unordinary circumstances they find themselves in.
- A lot of time and thought has gone into your workplace architecture and furniture, but, for many employees, this may be the first time they have to consider the impact of their surroundings on their wellbeing. Share the knowledge that you’ve accumulated as an employer with your team to set them up for success. Provide information on the eight dimensions of wellness and consider creating an action plan template that employees can use while working from home and helping their children stay on course with virtual learning. Educate employees on ergonomics, and consider providing a stipend for employees to set up their workspace (and their children’s back-to-school learning area) in a way that won’t negatively affect their physical health. It’s not only smart from a population health perspective, but also from an employee satisfaction perspective.
- The social distancing rules dictated by COVID-19 have resulted in a general feeling of stress, anxiety, and isolation for our society. With these mental blocks weighing us down, it can be difficult for employees to balance the needs of their family, their work, and themselves. Remind your employees of the mental health resources at their disposal through your benefits package, including access to EAP services, and provide virtual social opportunities if desired.
- Finally, childcare concerns are on the top of every working parent’s mind. Employees may be worried about interruptions of their normal routine or accessing child care in our current environment. We recommend researching current childcare resources in your area and compiling a list that you can share with your employees.