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The COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of people across the globe, including working parents and school-aged children. Families were forced to balance work with remote learning, isolation, new routines, and other stressors. And the stress took its toll: a recent survey showed that since March 2020, 27% of parents reported worsening mental health, and 14% observed worsening behavior in their children.
As many pandemic restrictions have loosened across the U.S., most, if not all, students are returning to school after COVID in person. Yet challenges to mental health remain. Parents must now navigate a dizzying array of COVID guidelines from local governments, schools, and care providers, while simultaneously supporting their children’s mental health as they face a school year full of uncertainty.
Your employees may need greater support from management, coworkers, and human resources while going back to school during COVID. “Any transition can be stressful for families, including changes in environment and routine. Even going back in a normal school year can be tricky,” noted expert child health clinician Katherine McKenna, LCSW. “Some families are going to be excited about going back to school. Some are going to have a hard time. You may have one employee reacting one way and one might react another. There’s no one right way to respond.”
In years past, back-to-school often signaled relief for parents, offering respite from planning activities, attending summer programs, and entertaining kids at home. But this year, the pressure on parents may not ease when returning to school, for several reasons.
A new poll from the American Federation of Teachers indicates that 73% of parents are comfortable with their children returning to school in the fall. This means that more than a quarter of parents still have concerns about their children being in the classroom. These parents may elect to continue with remote or hybrid learning models for a variety of reasons, including fear of infection for younger children, vaccine hesitancy, and kids finding remote learning to be a better fit for them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines for the coming school year regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, and other safety protocols. But each state, district, and individual school has its own guidelines and policies. This could leave some parents with different sets of rules from child to child. For example, some children in a household may be required to wear a mask and submit regular health-check forms each day, while others will not.
In addition, some schools may not return to pre-pandemic schedules, leaving parents with multiple children to juggle different schedules and learning platforms.
Remote employees in different cities or states may experience different guidelines. This may make it difficult for some working parents to operate on the same schedule as the rest of the team, which could affect team dynamics.
In the age of COVID-19, every sniffle can potentially upend a family’s routine for weeks. New guidelines may require children exhibiting signs of illness to stay home for weeks and document a negative COVID test and/or be symptom-free upon return. They could also be sent home for weeks without warning if a classmate or teacher tests positive for COVID-19. This adds to the day-to-day uncertainty for working parents and children.
The average school day is shorter than a full-time workday, so working parents often rely on after-school care, sports, or activities. But these programs have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Some have reduced their capacity, dropped staff, or increased costs. Others may have shut down completely, leaving parents to scramble for care.
Your employees may have children home with them in the afternoon. This adds another stressor for parents and could make it difficult to return to an office full-time.
Managers can help by acknowledging these extra challenges and supporting working parents in the workforce. For example:
Recognizing that your employees with children will face unique challenges this school year, and taking action to address it, can help create an environment where your employees can thrive.
For more proactive strategies for supporting employees with children going back to school, download our leader’s guide.
For more resources for your employees who are parents, check out our back-to-school guide here.
If you want help connecting with a therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
For employers who want to learn more about how Lyra addresses network adequacy and quality issues, download our white paper on quality or get in touch.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amanda Riddle is a content marketing and operations manager at Lyra Health where she plans and executes various content initiatives. She has worked in content marketing for 20 years and has a background in clinical writing for health systems and medical device makers.
ABOUT THE EXPERT:
Katie McKenna is a Clinical Lead at Lyra Health and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in depression and crisis management in adolescent and adult populations. She has 15 years of experience providing community-based mental health and crisis services to underserved populations. Prior to joining Lyra, Katie was a therapist with a clinic providing evidence-based treatment to suicidal teenagers involved in the San Francisco foster care system. Katie also provided in-person mental health services for San Francisco based non-profits. In her current role at Lyra Health, Katie consults with employers and managers on crisis management strategy for employees in distress, and offers clinical support to the clinicians in the Lyra Health network.