With the return to work looming, and the school year beginning in September, it is important to consider what employers can do to support parents and carers who have children through this time.
Whether children are starting school for the first time, moving into a new school year or starting at secondary school, all are major changes, not only for the children themselves, but also for those around them. Many employers are adopting, or plan to adopt a hybrid approach to working as a result of the pandemic which adds a further layer of potential complications.
Employers who remain supportive during stressful periods of time can result in employees being more engaged and happier at work. This is turn can help to reduce any negative impact on the business. We detail suggestions for consideration ahead of September below.
Open the discussion early
Opening the discussion well in advance of the start of the academic year will enable both employer and employee to plan and communicate the plan accordingly. Having the conversation and making a plan in advance of time should help to reduce the stress in the lead up to the schools going back.
You should ensure that discussions cover what the employee plans to do, and highlight any concerns that may require the parent or carer to be absent from work. You should also allow time to highlight any areas of concern that may require the parent or carer to be absent from work.
With the rise in remote working, it would be worth considering if hours could be ‘made up’ in a more flexible way, to allocate for half days (which are becoming increasingly common in primary schools in reception induction weeks), or school pick up times. If the role merits flexibility in hours, this could be another way to accommodate employees, with minimal impact on the business.
Changes to ways of working
Employees who have worked with you continuously for 26 weeks are entitled to put in a flexible working request. The request doesn’t have to be related to childcare. It can be for any reason at all, e.g., requesting a change in working hours to fit in with further education courses or other outside commitments.
A YouGov poll recently found that half of employers expect to see increases in flexible working requests as a result of remote working through the pandemic – on top of these, there may be an additional increase in employees requesting a reduction in their hours to coincide with the school day.
Full consideration must be given to any flexible working request. Should a flexible working request not be granted, there must be good business reason(s) which support the decision. As many studies have found in the last year, employees who work flexibly may have reduced absences, improved wellbeing and a higher job satisfaction due to a better work-life balance. Therefore, it is vital that these requests are considered fully and fairly, as this can benefit both employees and employers.
If flexible working is not suitable for either party or other arrangements cannot be made, employees may have to book annual leave during this time.
This will usually be on a first come first served basis so employees should be aware of this and encouraged to put in any annual leave requests as soon as they can to avoid disappointment. This again highlights our first pointer, opening the discussion early – the sooner the discussion can be had, the sooner arrangements can be made.
Should your SME be affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, please contact us today.