I don’t have children. I’d hope to someday, but on a recently errand to Target, I was relieved that I’m currently able to avoid back-to-school expenses. As I looked around at the families picking up school supplies and clothes for the new year, I suddenly realized that this is an expensive time of year for a lot of people.
Just a few days after that “revelation,” I received a relevant press release: According to a poll of 427 American workers from Workplace Options and Public Policy Polling, many employees who have school- or college-aged children experience financial and personal stress during the back-to-school season. What’s more important for supervisors to understand, though, is that those stressors impact the employees’ productivity and work-life balance.
Sixty-three percent of responders reported noticing that the start of a new school year seems to increase stress for their co-workers with children. Twenty-seven percent said that the start of new school year negatively affects the moods, attitudes and availability of those co-workers, and 46% said it impacts their productivity.
As a manager, you can’t remove the expenses and stress that come with a new school year, but you can take steps to ensure that the workplace isn’t making it worse. Follow these tips to help your employees transition from summer to fall as easily as possible:
- Be empathetic. If you have children yourself, this may come more easily to you. But if you’re like me and had never really considered the cost (or added stress) of a new school year to parents, take a moment to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Also, if your workplace has a policy in which employees are reimbursed for their work and travel expenses, keep in mind that it might not be feasible for them to put a major charge on their credit cards right now. (A post on Ask a Manager made me aware of this issue and how stressful and awkward it can be for some people.)
- Be flexible. The degree of flexibility that you can offer will vary from field to field and workplace to workplace, but be flexible where you can. That might mean allowing employees to leave work early to pick up their kids and then make up those hours from home in the evening. It might mean giving them shifts that coincide better with their children’s schedules. It might mean giving them flex time or even allowing them to leave early if they’re on top of their assignments. Of course, stay within the bounds of your organization’s policies.
- Don’t be a distraction. This should be common sense, but as we all know, common sense isn’t always common practice. Don’t give your employees more reasons to be less productive. That means that you shouldn’t be sidetracking them from their tasks by micromanaging their assignments, forcing them to attend meetings that don’t relate to their work, surprising them with off-topic requests or interrupting their work “just to chat.” I’m not suggesting you be unfriendly, but recognize when employees are in the zone and save the chitchat for the break room.
Have you noticed the effect of back-to-school stress in your workplace? How do you combat it?
[Image Source: Spurger ISD]