Most workplaces employ a lot of parents of school-aged children. Even if you consider yourself to be family-friendly, perhaps offering enhanced maternity pay or similar, having school-aged children comes with particular challenges, so it’s worth having a think about how you could support your employees who are dealing with these.
School is only for 38 weeks a year, or less for many private schools. That leaves a lot of weeks parents need childcare and it can be a big headache. Consider whether you are able to offer term-time only working, extra unpaid leave during school holidays, additional flexibility or a temporary reduction in hours to fit around childcare options.
Late-notice events at school
Some schools are better than others, but it’s not uncommon for schools to not give masses of notice of things like class assemblies parents can attend, or open afternoons to look at work. There are loads of these in primary school particularly and while they are usually entirely optional, most parents would really like to attend if at all possible, and if they feel they can at least ask the question, even when they’ve only been given a few days’ notice, and feel you will genuinely try and accommodate, that can go a long way.
In many schools, parents’ evenings are actually not really in the evening, or are early evening at times which will involve leaving work early for many people. It’s nice for both parents to have an opportunity to go to at least some of these, so if you can allow people to make up the time elsewhere and disappear a bit early once or twice a year, employees and their families would really appreciate it.
These are obviously usually during the day, and at primary school they can be quite a big deal, with many parents attending. The good news? There’s usually more notice for this. The bad news is, if the weather is bad, sometimes it’s postponed, at very short notice…
Staggered starts in the first year at school
This one comes as a surprise to many parents, especially those who have had children happily in nursery for a while doing full days. When children start school, many schools operate a system of phasing in, where children might attend mornings or afternoons only for a while, or every other day, or similar, sometimes for a few weeks.
While it can work well at settling children into school, obviously it can cause havoc for parents trying to juggle regular working hours as well as wanting to be there for their child at a crucial time. Is there any flexibility you can offer on a very short-term basis to relieve pressure?
Annual leave restrictions
Schools have to be much more strict these days about allowing children to take time off during term-time for family holidays. Although it’s obviously important to be fair to all staff, and staff without children might also want annual leave during school holidays, it’s worth bearing in mind that if parents can’t take any of their annual leave outside term time, they may not be able to go on a family holiday at all.
Pick-ups and drop-offs
If children have been in nursery or similar childcare before reaching school age, pick-ups and drop-offs can usually happen outside the working day, and are often flexible as well, making life much easier for parents working traditional full time hours. Once they reach school age, that all changes. School start and finish times are not flexible, are within the normal working day, and before- and after-school care can be patchy in its availability or quality.
Enabling parents some flexibility so they can do at least some of the dropping-off and picking-up can be a god-send to families, and there are other benefits to having some playground presence at least part of the week, enabling parents to have a quick chat with teacher, and build networks with other parents (which can in turn help you as an employer, if other people can help out when your employees need emergency childcare/need to stay late at work…).
Most parents would not ask or expect their employer to facilitate sufficient flexibility to enable them to do all of the above. But it’s about give and take, and having a bit of understanding about what issues parents of school-aged children face, and enabling flexibility where you can, makes balancing work and family life for parents significantly easier, and could have a big impact on staff loyalty/retention in your business.
If you need advice on how you can support parents in your business, do get in touch.