Parenting is already a demanding job, and many workers who have children may struggle with work-life balance. It can be particularly challenging for workers who are caring for children with developmental disabilities because they often need to take their children to extra doctor appointments and meetings with specialists and teachers, not to mention the extra duties they may face at home.
Besides having compassion for parents of disabled children, why should employers pay more attention to such employees? Employees who care for children with developmental disabilities are likely to be more stressed, which can affect their productivity at work.
In her article “How to Support Employees Raising Children With Developmental Disabilities” in the October 2019 issue of Benefits Magazine, author Angela Nelson offers some ideas for supporting workers to help them manage stress and minimize the impact at work. Nelson is the executive director of family and clinical services at Rethink, a health care technology company that provides resources, training and support to parents, special educators and clinicians.
Nelson notes that work can be a protective factor for these employees: “ . . . workplace participation is actually associated with increased social support and decreased feelings of isolation, improved self-esteem and an identity outside of being a parent of a child with a disability,” she writes.
Although workplace participation can be positive, there is no denying the flip side of added stress and its potential impact on productivity.
Here Are Four Ways Employers Can Help Employees Who Have Children With Developmental Disabilities:
1. Allow Flexible Working Arrangements
Allowing employees the flexibility to leave work early on Tuesdays to run to speech therapy, telecommute on Fridays, pick a child up from school because of an aggressive episode, or arrive later because their child’s tantrums during the morning routine make getting out of the house on time impossible can mean the difference between keeping or losing their jobs. Having the understanding that the work will get done by the deadline but may be completed when most other colleagues are already off the clock can send the message that the company values employees’ input and contribution.
2. Provide a Supportive Workplace
It’s important to examine the types of relationships managers have with their teams and consider how to individually support the employee as a person. Sometimes parents feel they are not excelling in any area, whether it’s in their role of parent, employee, family member or friend. Having a manager who can sympathize with and accommodate the employee is priceless. One way to do this is by being clear that the manager has an open-door policy for employees to share struggles and concerns, he or she will handle employees’ issues appropriately and proactively, and he or she values confidentiality.
3. Provide Medical and Dental Benefits and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) to Cover and Save for Therapy Costs
The costs associated with extra services and therapy—for example, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism—can be astronomical. While there are laws that mandate insurance coverage for autism services across most states, the types of plans that employers have can still impact whether companies offer it (e.g., self-insured plans). Allowing parents to save for medical and other expenses with an FSA is one way to ease the financial burden of these extra services.
4. Offer Access to High-Quality, Affordable Support Programs
Parents need education and empowerment to manage the challenges attributed to their child’s disability at home, Nelson writes. There are a number of online support programs that employers can provide to employees that offer services such as parent training videos, printable materials and individualized parent coaching via teleconsultation to the employee. These programs also provide services such as referrals to caregivers, simple electronic systems to store medical and educational records, and personalized benefits with a navigation concierge.
Employers are likely to reap the benefits of these efforts, Nelson concludes. By creating an environment that positively reinforces their employees’ self-esteem and identity, as well as providing a source of support, employers can foster a sense of loyalty among their employees and help them reach higher levels of productivity and engagement at work.
[Related Reading: 21 Ways Employers Are Helping Workers Achieve Work/Life Balance ]
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications, at the International Foundation
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