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‘Back to school’ support for employees juggling parenting and work – how can you help?

By Laura Knowles

September for most is an exciting and busy time, its the start of the new academic year, and the prospect of a fresh start.

For many parents this is great news after struggling to manage work and childcare for the long summer break. For others it means they’re back to rushing off on the school run and heading back for that early team meeting, often missing out on ‘settling in’ sessions for those younger children starting nursery or their first day at school.

Whichever way you look at it, it comes with its complications so it is important that as employers we are empathetic to the situation some may be in. Working parents are some of the most committed employees and showing some flexibility where possible is invaluable.

Often parents feel they are letting their colleagues down by having to leave work due to receiving a call from school asking them to collect their child. Encouraging your employees to manage their schedule effectively can help those who are having to cover for their colleagues more manageable, leaving less guilt on the parent having to leave work unexpectedly.

If possible, think about whether said parent could catch up from home later that evening, or maybe they could attend the meeting they’re now missing from home via video link? Having these opportunities available makes juggling parental and work responsibilities much more manageable and increases employee wellbeing.

You may be concerned about fairness and how offering flexibility to working parents can be interpreted by employees without children. However, offering flexibility to all is the key to avoiding such situations. For example, having elderly parents who need taking to appointments or last-minute emergencies for situations at home.

Maybe even moving house or staying home to let the plumber in, are all situations that require some flexibility with work, regardless of being a parent. Recognising this and offering some flexibility across the board will drive engagement and increase performance amongst your teams.

Understandably there are situations where employees cannot be afforded complete flexibility as they may have a role where they need to be present in person at a certain time. However that doesn’t mean you can’t support in other ways such as offering an extra half day holiday for a child’s first day at school or nursery.

The key to making it work is ensuring that it is demonstrated from the top down. Ensure your managers communicate with their teams about time they are taking for family commitments, so that employees feel they can have an open and honest conversation about flexible working.

Try to show an interest in your employees' children, for example just simply asking how they are getting on at school can help a working parent feel that their additional responsibilities outside of work are acknowledged. This helps to encourage an open dialogue around personal commitments, and how they can be accommodated to manage all responsibilities with minimal disruption.

We hope you have found some of our tips useful, if you would like some more tailored advice around flexible working or any people management support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at Second Chapter, we have a wealth of experience to draw from and are happy to be of service.

About Laura Knowles

Laura is currently HR Business Partner at Second Chapter where she advises clients on a range of HR matters including performance management, disciplinary and grievance, attendance management, flexible working, and employee engagement. With a HR career spanning more than a decade, she has worked for A4E, Cambion Electronics, BresMed Health Solutions and Kirklees Council. Laura lives in Sheffield with her husband, two daughters and their two cats.

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