Although schools have been in session for about a month now, back-to-school season frenzy is still in full swing, and will likely linger for several more weeks.
Just like any major event or holiday, the start of the school year brings with it a certain degree of stress. Working parents have been swept up by the back-to-school tornado of school supply shopping, meet-the-teacher nights, and first-day jitters.
As an HR professional, witnessing the effect the back-to-school season can have on the workplace isn’t difficult to see: employees with school-age children stressing about being available for first-day-of-school photos, managers stressing about handling staffing needs amid multiple time-off requests, and the list goes on.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little preparation, companies can turn the stressful back-to-school season into an opportunity to show their employees a little love and understanding.
Below are several tips organizations can use to effectively balance the needs of their employees with the needs of their business in a way that not only increases productivity, but also morale.
- Get to know your people.
As an employer or manager, it’s important that you get to know the members of your team. Take the time to have ongoing and engaging informal conversations with your employees about their family, interests, etc. If you have a large population of employees with school-age children, make sure you know whom those people are.
If your company is in a large metropolitan area, find out what areas of town your employees with school-age children live in and look ahead at school start dates in those areas. The more you know about your employees the better you can anticipate how events like the back-to-school season will impact your workforce and your business.
- Start preparing early.
School starts around the same time every year—it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact, the schedule for the following year is often published before the current school year ends. That means employers and managers can (and should) start preparing for back-to-school almost as soon as the spring semester is over.
Encourage your employees to start thinking about their plans for the start of the school year early as well. Bring up the subject with your employees at the end of a team meeting in June or early July and ask if they’ve thought about how they’re going to handle the first day or weeks of the next school season.
Encourage the working parents on your team to think about school-related decisions sooner rather than later, such as which parent is going to drop the kids off on the first day, or how the kids are going to get home from school. Several weeks prior to the start of the school year, collaborate with your team to create a plan that works for everyone.
- Be flexible when you can.
As much as you may want to please everyone, the truth is, as an employer or manager; sometimes it’s simply not possible. Not everyone in a particular department can take off on the same day, and staffing and business needs have to come first.
A great strategy to employ in situations like this is to encourage your employees to problem-solve amongst themselves. If one employee desperately wants to be able to take her daughter to her first day of kindergarten, another employee may volunteer to cover that shift in order to leave early to see his son’s first football game. When employees participate in the solution, it boosts employee morale and makes employees feel like they’re being treated as people first and employees second.
- Keep lines of communication open.
Back-to-school stress often lasts longer than the first few days or weeks of the season as working parents adjust to a new schedule. Touch base with your employees who are working parents during this time with questions like: “How did the first day go?” or “How’s everything working out with the new school schedule?”
Informal questions like these show your employees you value them as an individual and care about their personal wellbeing. Your employees will then feel more comfortable coming to you with concerns about their schedule or stress levels, allowing you to help them proactively address potential problems before they occur.
Although we can help employees avoid some of the stresses of the back-to-school season, we can’t eliminate them entirely. What we can do, however, is minimize the effect back-to-school stress has on the workplace by encouraging managers to build strong relationships with their employees to anticipate and prevent problems before they arise. Helping your employees find solutions for back-to-school stress is a simple, yet meaningful way to keep your workforce happy and productive all year long.