As September winds down, we at Josie have had time to reflect on this back-to-school season. There are many great articles and posts about the transition back to school for working parents. But thinking beyond getting kids on the bus or re-establishing routines that shifted during summer, an important change is occurring for parents whose children are transitioning from daycare, nannies or other forms of full time childcare to school for the first time, when children are usually ages 3-5. The significance of this milestone is often overlooked by employers (and sometimes parents themselves!), but merits consideration and conversation.
Recently, Josie had the honor of meeting with Danna Greenberg of Babson University who has conducted research on this very topic. We spoke with Danna about how this evolution in childcare impacts working families and the need for employers to recognize this critical transition period.
According to Danna’s research, daycares or other full-time childcare providers are open / available year-round, whereas the average school is closed for 29 days during the months it is “in session” and the number of days off increases when we look at summer break. Additionally, the hours that school is in session are inconsistent with the traditional workday: whereas daycares are often open before and after working hours, schools let out early and many may not have before or after school care options. This leaves parents in the lurch to find additional childcare coverage.
Our conversation with Danna also highlighted an often-overlooked change in communities. We can expect that daycares will have communities of two working parents, but with the shift to school, we start to see an increase in the number of families with one working parent. This community shift can leave working parents feeling left out, especially those who are not feeling engaged or supported by their employers.
The misalignment in day-to-day hours, gaps in school schedules, and shift in community can significantly impact how working parents feel at work and can lead many to reevaluate their employment status. According to a report from Vivvi, more parents with toddlers and preschoolers took career pauses than parents who stepped away to care for their infants. Among parents with children aged 0-5 years, the top three reasons for taking a career pause were: 1) amount of time with children; 2) cost of childcare; and 3) flexibility in hours.
So how can employers help their working parent employees who are approaching this key school age transition?
- Manager Training. Parents value a workplace culture that supports and respects employees’ personal lives and one that recognizes their value to the organization and team. Culture tone is often set by leadership, so it is critical that managers and people leaders have the right skills, tools, and education to appropriately lead their team members during these times of transition. Training around the value of working parents and ways to mitigate challenges will go a long way to show employer commitment to and respect for employees with caregiving responsibilities. Even educating people leaders as to available supports both inside and outside the organization so they can proactively share these with team members is a great start.
- Implement or maintain flexible work hours. While the reasons for flexible hours evolve as children age (from managing the many infant doctor visits to juggling school drop off and pick up), the need remains. Providing parents with flexible hours allows them to be present for both their families and their employer. Extending this benefit to all employees helps booster a culture of inclusivity and support and ensures that employees are less likely to feel resentment on occasions where they pick up any slack.
- Establish and Maintain Working Parent & Caregiver Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Parent & Caregiver ERGs are growing in popularity, and can provide a sense of community, inclusion, and belonging at work – often as communities are shifting in parents’ lives outside of work. ERGs support parents by reducing stress, increasing engagement, and contributing to a positive and supportive company culture. They can also help employees understand benefits and raise awareness of working parents’ needs with management.
Back to school season is the perfect opportunity for employers to examine and evaluate their policies, programs, and culture of support for working parents during the often overlooked but significant life transition.