Business Solutions: Working Parents, Summer, and Special Needs Kids

Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight.  Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.  Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:

FLEXIBILITY RULES

1. Children have needs over the summer, and without school providing a predictable daily schedule, parents struggle.  Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the challenges intensify.  Some children qualify for Extended School Year services, yet they're typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. 

SOLUTION:  Provide flexible work hours if not already offered, offer parents remote work opportunities, and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days.  And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise.  If your parental leave policies need evaluation, now is the time to do it.  Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.

PRIVACY HELPS

2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parent assistance.  And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" type of need either.  Therapies, tutoring, and other supports continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with exceptional caregiving responsibilities when it comes to juggling work, appointments, transportation and more.

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SOLUTION:  Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, schedule a video conference with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed.  It can reduce time away from the office and provides employees with the privacy they need.  Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.

SUPPORTS MATTER

3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain.  Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly.  A particular camp may not work.  A childcare provider may leave.  A therapist may request additional evaluations.  These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help. 

SOLUTION:  Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues.  Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention.  And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.

One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school.  And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months as planning for September begins well before this school year ends. 

Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not so apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy.  Offering flexibility and supports to parents throughout the year, especially over the summer months, can make all the difference in helping top performing employees remain on the job.

CEOs and Work-Life...A Hidden Need

Earlier this week, I participated in a podcast on WorkLife HUB, an international broadcast focusing on the work/life arena.  Our discussion revolved around working parents who have children with autism, ADD, learning disabilities and mental health needs and how employees are struggling with these exceptional caregiving responsibilities both at work and at home. 

We discussed a number of topics, including the obstacles facing employees in terms of disclosing to their managers and colleagues that they have a child or teen with special needs.  We touched on the fact that this is now an issue impacting mothers and fathers alike vs. being a “mommy” issue, and that parents are leaving the workforce because the demands – e.g. time, resources -- are simply too great.

One Piece Of Advice To CEOs

At the end of the podcast, I was asked what one piece of advice I would like to share with CEOs.  It was this -- that while CEOs may not see something, it doesn't mean that it doesn't existWhat I meant by this was that employees, particularly working parents and especially those whose children have ongoing and complex needs, tend not to discuss their lives and their daily juggling.  These issues are hidden from the people who need to know about it the most, because they're the ones who can bring about the organizational change and acceptance needed. 

It’s Time To Normalize

Ask any working parent raising a child with autism, depression, or any number of diagnoses and they'll tell you that they could use 12 more hours in a day and another set of hands at a minimum.  Yet until we "normalize" these issues and recognize that these unseen needs are often more intense and demanding than those we can readily see or discuss, these employees will continue to play - and live - a "smoke and mirrors" existence.  CEOs need to know so they can lead the changes needed.

With Microsoft just announcing that they are actively recruiting employees with autism, the shift is underway.  Companies are recognizing that a diagnosis does not mean unemployable and that many with autism and other unique needs can be valuable and valued employees.  Now companies need to know that it's today's working parents who are raising these children and they need support themselves.  And this starts with the support of the people at the top.

To listen to the podcast mentioned in this blog post, please click HERE.

-Debra I. Schafer

 

So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

Ninja Employees & Parents

While talking with a friend earlier this week, I indicated that I won't "be a ninja" in the situation we were discussing.  Yet as I thought about it, I realized that in two areas -- work and parenting -- being a ninja is precisely what separates those who make due and those who *do*. The definition alone is wonderful -- a person who "commits a crazy act with unbelievably good results."  Think about it for a minute ... it doesn't describe a ninja as someone who is aggressive or "takes no prisoners," alienating everyone in their path.  It says that the person is thinking and/or doing something "out of the box" to generate stellar results.  Isn't that precisely what every organization wants -- employees who are not afraid to think creatively, to develop new strategies and solutions, and to help generate stellar bottom-line results?  It's employee engagement on steroids.  And isn't it precisely what every parent wants?  Stellar results (defined very differently for each child) for their children in school?

Many organizations are striving to develop innovative ways for employees to contribute to the health of their companies.  They are encouraging cross-functional collaboration, allowing for flexible work options which can often generate creativity, and "loosening the reins" so that new products and services make it into their pipelines.  It's one critical way to enable employees to make their talents known and voices heard.  They become ninja employees.

Many parents are striving to do the same as they work to jump the hurdles necessary for their children to succeed.  Working with different people and teams, bringing creative thinking into problem-solving, and changing their own status quo.  Often times, in business and parenting alike, the first step involves asking the right questions which may seem basic -- e.g. who, what, where, when, why and how.  Then, the "what to do next" phase is where ninja mode comes into play.

I like the ninja concept.  It paints a picture of an employee and a parent not afraid to question and think innovatively and describes a person willing to take some risks in order to achieve "unbelievably good results". It's the difference between shooting wildly and aiming carefully. Wouldn't it be great if more organizations encouraged ninja thinking and allowed every employee to assume an ownership role in the health of their companies?  And imagine what would happen to the millions of children failing at their job -- i.e. school -- if their parents became "ninja parents".  My sword quivers at the mere thought of it all...