Supporting Your Employees During the Back-to-School Season
As thoughts of changing weather and the impending holidays loom, September (and August, in many states) means back to school for employees with children. Don’t forget about your employees with college-age students, who may be driving them across the country to get set up in dorm rooms and ready to face life on a college campus. Some of your employees may be college students as well, expanding their knowledge base to better their career and serve your organization. Are you ready to support employees with back-to-school obligations?
In addition to your established time off programs (whether an all-encompassing PTO program or vacation time), establishing time or allowing flexible time for employees with school-age children will go far in creating good will in your organization. Any flexibility you offer, such as early start and leave hours or extended lunch periods to attend to school duties, should also be available to your employees who are not parents.
Some states require certain employers to provide unpaid leave to parents and guardians for participation in their student’s educational activities. These laws may be incorporated in a regulatory leave such as school visitation leave or small necessities leave. While many of these statutes allow or even require the use of the employee’s paid leave, it’s important to know the rules for your state for how much time must be accorded under the law and specific usage.
Employees with Young School-Age Children
Do you have plans in place for employees who need to leave early for back-to-school nights, sports, or teacher conferences? What about when a child becomes sick during the school day — can you provide your employees some flexibility to attend to a child who must leave school during the day? Review your policies and the law for your state.
Parents with children just beginning preschool or kindergarten may need a little extra flexibility in those first weeks. If you can provide flexible start times to help ease these employees into what may be a new routine for them and their children, all the better.
Employees with College-Age Children
Employees who are helping their young adult children move into dorm rooms or college apartments are likely already planning that time as part of a vacation or paid time off. However, remember the emotional needs of a parent sending their child off to college. There are strong feelings that can occur at this monumental time in a parent’s life, particularly when sending a first-time college student off, and they may be distracted in those early days or fielding frequent calls during their workday from a nervous student. Offering support in the form of understanding, and flexibility to accept those phone calls (within reason), can go a long way in creating loyalty and good will.
If you have employees who are students, whether in online programs, evening classes, or even day classes that you have agreed to work schedules around, be mindful of their additional requirements to study and produce school work beyond the work required for their job. Student employees may benefit from flex time to prepare for a final or big exam; be mindful of where an employee is in the school year to offer support. Again, when offering support, be alert to how the employee is handling his or her work load and make sure co-workers are not feeling the effects.
What Employers Can Do
Revisit your leave and flexibility policies, and read up on the law in your state for school visitation, parental leave for school activities, or small necessities leave. In many cases, your established policies may not need to change. Be mindful of fairness to your employees who are not parents, and explore ways to be supportive or understanding of those parents who are experiencing parental milestones, such as the first year of any school or a school change. Consider allowing flexibility with work hours as needed to keep parents happy with their work/life balance and satisfied employees in your organization.