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The Back-to-School Challenge: How Employers Can Support Working Parents

The Back-to-School Challenge: How Employers Can Support Working Parents

Working Parent

The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for kids. It’s a fresh beginning filled with new teachers, friends and lessons. But it also means getting ready with the right supplies, saying goodbye to the relaxed days of summer and adjusting to a new daily routine. This routine can be stressful for children as they juggle school, homework, after-school activities, playtime, and sleep, only to repeat it all the next day. Believe it or not, it can be even more challenging for a working parent.

In 91% of families with children in the US at least one parent is employed and, for years, there’s been a disconnect between the schedules and demands of schools and those of the workplace. Parents often find themselves caught in the middle, trying to balance their job responsibilities with their family needs. This includes practical things like picking up their kids from school in the middle of the workday. But it goes deeper than that. Many working parents also struggle with feelings of anxiety, worry and guilt. They feel torn between being there for their children and meeting the expectations of their jobs.

Why Parents Need Support During Back-to-School Season

Parents face different challenges based on their support systems. Some have help with caregiving, while others don’t. But no matter the situation, working parents often feel stressed and anxious, which can affect their job performance. This stress comes from many places. They worry about their kids: Will they adjust to the new school year? Will they do well in their classes? Will they pay attention to their homework? Will they handle after-school activities?

At the same time, parents also worry about themselves: How will they get their kids to school and other activities? How will they balance work and family? How will their boss react if they need time off or a flexible schedule? These concerns are real and common, and they show why the back-to-school season can be a stressful time for working parents.

How to Create a Parent-Friendly Workplace Culture During This Season

What parents worry about during back-to-school season is finding the right balance between work and family life. Their manager or HR department can play a crucial role in helping them navigate this challenge. There are various ways to support working parents, ranging from simple, thoughtful gestures to more targeted, specific actions. Let’s explore some fundamental strategies:

Hear Them Out

Show genuine interest in your employees’ concerns by taking the time to listen. For example, you might schedule regular one-on-one meetings to discuss any challenges they’re facing during this period or create an anonymous feedback system where they can express their needs. Encourage open dialogue in team meetings and recognize and validate their concerns when they speak up. This understanding can help reduce stress and employees under supportive management are more likely to excel in their tasks.

Create a Supportive Culture

Whether you’re a manager or member of the HR team, sharing your own experiences with your team can make a difference. If you need to block off thirty minutes to pick up your child from school, let them know. This openness sets a positive example and helps others feel comfortable doing the same. It’s also helpful to connect employees who face similar challenges. Consider creating a “parents” channel on communication tools like Slack. This channel can be a place for them to share thoughts, tips and experiences, fostering a culture of understanding and support.

Be Flexible

Flexibility is vital for working parents, especially during the back-to-school period. Offering options for hybrid or remote work can make a big difference in their lives. Building trust and maintaining open communication with employees helps ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities. If both the employer and employee have clear expectations, they can work together to achieve the same goals, even if the work is done in a different way or even on a different schedule. It’s important to remember that an employee who is under pressure might not perform at their best, so flexibility can lead to better overall productivity.

Be Efficient

Efficiency is always important, but it might be especially needed for working parents. Encourage smart work, not just hard work. Be mindful of the number and content of meetings you schedule this season and include only essential participants. If a meeting could have been an email, send an email instead. Assign tasks thoughtfully, considering each person’s availability and set realistic deadlines. While urgent matters will arise, it’s wise to carefully evaluate what truly requires immediate attention.

Implement Clear and Inclusive Policies

Implementing the above workplace strategies and policies is important, but their real impact is determined by how clear and inclusive they are. Guidelines on flexibility, remote work and family-related absences during back-to-school period should be outlined in a manner that is straightforward and leaves no room for ambiguity. This clarity is essential for ensuring that every employee understands their rights and the benefits available to them. Moreover, these guidelines should be applied consistently across the board to all employees, irrespective of their role, seniority, or department. This uniform application fosters a transparent, fair and equitable work environment, where everyone is on the same page and feels valued, especially in a difficult period.


In all, back-to-school is a new, exciting project that puts up challenges for all. People will always want to prioritize their family and as HR professionals and managers, we should not be a burden to that. If you are looking to retain your best people, you have to take a step back, evaluate the real concerns and adapt to what is important for all. By implementing these strategies, you can create a supportive and understanding workplace that benefits both employees and the organization.

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