Life is likely becoming more hectic for working parents as their children prepare to start a new academic year. Employers can ease this stress and back back-to-school easier by penciling in some supportive parenting-related benefits
And the return on this investment can mean better retention, productivity and recruitment, experts say.
For example, 80% of employers saw a positive impact on productivity from childcare benefits, while 78% noticed a similar effect on retention and recruitment, according to 500 HR and business leaders surveyed by Care.com, a childcare, senior care and pet care service agency.
Parent employees face these back-to-school challenges
There are two phases of back-to-school—preparation and the actual beginning of school, says Ariel Smith, senior director of the National Parents Union’s (NPU) Policy & Action Center, a parent advocacy organization. And both can impact how working parents show up to the job.
The preparation phase calls for parents to gather up school supplies and, in some cases, new clothes—which can affect a parent employee’s financial wellbeing, Smith tells HRE. And parents may be particularly hard hit this year, as school supply costs have jumped 28% since last year, according to a recent study by WorldRemit.
The National Retail Federation estimates that parents will spend an average—and record—$890.07 on supplies, about $25 more than in 2022. Ultimately, the organization predicts, total national spending on back-to-school shopping will top out at a record $41.5 billion, compared to $36.9 billion in 2022.
In addition to the financial concerns, before school starts, working parents may also need time to communicate with teachers and school officials, as well as take their child to screening tests and assist with summer assignments.
And when school starts, parent employees may have to navigate new schedules, attend parent-teacher conferences and spend time collaborating with teachers on their child’s individualized learning plan, says Smith.
Wes Burke, CHRO at Care.com, tells HRE that the time between school letting out and the end of the workday is a particularly stressful period for working parents.
“While not as prevalent in back-to-school conversations as the school supply spending woes, employers should take note that this window of time causes scheduling chaos for parents,” Burke says. This, in part, is contributing to the dead zone time of 4 to 6 p.m., for example.
Back-to-school can also bring more exposure to germs and colds, which means parent employees could need time off to care for sick children or themselves, he notes.
How employers can earn high marks for back-to-school
With 58% of Americans living from one paycheck to another and so few having an emergency savings account, employers are already concerned about the financial wellbeing of their workforce—before factoring in back-to-school expenses.
“I think offering stipends for families to do back-to-school shopping would be really helpful,” says Smith. Or, she says, employers may want to consider it as a total rewards offering for parent employees.
Employers could also help offset back-to-school costs, as well as general parenting expenses, by supporting an expansion of the existing child tax credit, Smith says. The current child tax credit allows parents $2,000 per qualifying dependent child, but it’s set to expire in 2025.
The expanded child tax credit introduced in the House of Representatives in June could increase the credit to as high as $5,300 per child depending on their age and reinstate a temporary expansion of the tax credit that was issued during the pandemic but that expired in 2021.
“This would be a real key moment for families across the U.S. because families would have additional resources,” she says.
Some employers may want to bolster their free online mental health resources for both parent employees and their children. For example, non-profit Mental Health America recently partnered with Walgreens to offer a free toolkit that aims to promote mentally healthy practices for teens and adolescents.
Another way employers can help offset costs is to provide complimentary access to an online caregiving platform for backup care, so an after-school caregiver could pick up and care for an employee’s child when they are stuck in a meeting or at the office unexpectedly, Burke says.
In addition to these monetary benefits, both Burke and Smith point to a flexible work schedule as a critical benefit for parent employees.
“Employers should be open to flexibility, whether that’s modified hours to handle school transportation or hybrid and flexible options to manage afternoon childcare,” says Burke. “Lack of flexibility will likely lead to lower productivity and higher absenteeism for working parents as they struggle to juggle the conflicting demands of work and life during back-to-school season.”