The end of summer is rapidly approaching, and, for many, that means cooling temperatures, pumpkin-spiced everything, and the fall ritual of returning to school. As parents post first-day-of-school photos on social media, the uncertainty of what the new school year will bring may lead many of them to add worry for their children’s health and safety to their usual list of back-to-school stressors.
What does this mean for the organizations who employ many of these parents? Parents and guardians may find themselves distracted, anxious, or just generally not at their best as schools influence the health and well-being of their child. Savvy managers will need to draw on several tools to support all of their employees in navigating yet another challenging period while maintaining progress towards organizational goals.
One of the most important skills great managers need is flexibility. This can be both general, as in a manager prioritizing being flexible in their everyday approach to work, and specific, as in how that manager works with each employee’s individual situation. If we have learned anything from the past 2+ years, it is the importance of maintaining a “pivot mindset” towards getting work done. Even the most forward-thinking leaders likely didn’t have a playbook for handling a worldwide pandemic, yet many organizations have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt and overcome truly enormous hurdles.
Finding the best ways to handle back-to-school challenges is an excellent example of how a manager’s behavior can concretely improve their employees’ work environment and demonstrate their value to the organization, both of which are key drivers of employee engagement. Actions managers can take include:
Reminding, but more importantly encouraging, employees to take advantage of organizational benefits available to parents and guardians, including childcare subsidies or emergency coverage, family medical leave, maternity/paternity leave, and mental health support
Recognizing and respecting shifts in time demands before and after usual work hours, such as not scheduling mandatory meetings early in the mornings or late in the day, and avoiding after-hours calls or emails that are not truly time-sensitive
Taking a broad approach to remote work, such as allowing employees to remain at home with a sick family member
Expressing empathy through check-ins with parents or guardians to ask how they and their children are coping with the new routines, assure them of your support, and inquire how you can help
Setting clear expectations and accountability measures to ensure employees without school-aged children aren’t disadvantaged or expected to “pick up the slack” for those with children
Establishing realistic deadlines and project timelines, with buffer time, if possible
Increasing communication, to ensure every employee knows what options are available, can express what they need, and understands the organization’s expectations
All employees juggle work- and home-life responsibilities. Smart managers must be mindful of how much their teams can truly accomplish during the workday and set reasonable limits that respect both business and personal needs. By prioritizing healthy lifestyles with plentiful rest, not expecting employees to sacrifice these for work, and maintaining a flexible mindset, managers demonstrate their commitment to their team members’ well-being and create an environment in which they can thrive.