Back to school is always a busy time, but in 2021 you’ll find that many parents are more anxious than usual. This year they don’t just face a change to their schedules with pickups and drop-offs after the summer break, but also a still-raging pandemic. Additionally, many new parents are struggling to figure out issues like daycare or hiring a nanny. This raises a lot of questions and many parents are frazzled thinking about their children, health, and safety.

We spoke to Allison Whalen, co-founder and CEO at Parentaly, a business that helps help parents and employers improve the experience of parental leave and return-to-work transition. “Through these programs, we’ve coached hundreds of employees and therefore know what parents are most worried about leading into fall,” says Whalen.

Here Whalen shares her insights into the major problems employees with children face and offers solutions for employers that can help their employees during these unprecedented times.

1. Availability of Childcare
Allison Whalen: Parents are really struggling to find quality childcare since so many daycares shut down due to COVID. Even before COVID, it was hard to find daycare and there were big financial implications. Now there’s an additional layer which is, whether parents feel comfortable putting their kids in daycare during a pandemic.

As a result, many working parents are looking into alternative options like nannies or nanny-sharing with another family. Companies can help by providing things like backup childcare or vendors that can help in these situations. Also, childcare reimbursement programs can be very helpful for employees.

2. Childcare Shutdowns
Everyone is worried about how the spread of delta could impact childcare closures. When daycare and schools temporarily shut down due to COVID cases, it usually means that even children who are not infected must stay home for a minimum of two weeks. This puts a huge burden on the parents who now have to figure out how to watch and support their children for an extended period at home.

Because shutdowns are unpredictable, it makes it really challenging to find backup care solutions. That said, solutions I have seen include: designating clear backup childcare plans, for example, a grandparent, a babysitter, splitting the workday with a partner or spouse. Also, like above accessing an employer-sponsored backup care provider that either provides an in-home nanny or reimbursement for out-of-pocket backup care providers that you source yourself. Another helpful thing employers can do is institutionalize flexibility and training managers to have contingency plans when unexpected scenarios arise.

3. Health Concerns
It’s still unclear exactly how dangerous delta is for children, and parents are worried about this. They are debating delaying enrolling their children in daycare (and instead keep them home longer). Parents are also worried about going back into an office this fall and potentially exposing their families to health risks.

One way that employers can help is by providing information and setting health guardrails. This includes vaccine mandates, masking requirements, and allowing employees to decide whether they feel safe working indoors. Companies should get feedback from their employees and iterate from there.

4. Productivity
I hear mixed feelings about returning to the office. While the overwhelming majority of parents we work with do not want to go back full-time, many do want to eventually have some in-person interactions. But their main concern is that going back to the office will result in more wasted time and reduced productivity. They do not want to go back to commuting long distances. So many employees have benefitted from eliminating the long “morning routine.”

Most parents love hybrid models where they get to choose what the hybrid looks like. They don’t want to be locked in into something that makes them less productive. Offering flexibility and experimenting with what works for your employees can help them feel more comfortable and allow them to maximize productivity.

Photo by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash