Synchrony supports working parents with after-school activities for their children

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Parents have faced an avalanche of challenges since the start of COVID-19, tasked with balancing their own work responsibilities and keeping their children engaged and active. One company has responded by offering a full roster of virtual learning programs for children of working parents.

Synchrony, a provider of consumer financial services, polled its employees in May, and found many parents were concerned after camps, recreational activities and childcare programs had been canceled. The company launched a virtual summer program with scheduled sessions of arts and crafts, cooking, fitness, language and more for kids aged 4 to 14.

Sessions were delivered by a core team of volunteer employees and high school and college-aged young adults who became “externs” to gain valuable leadership and teaching experience. Topics included everything from tie-dying and cooking to yoga and American Sign Language workshops.

“All of this was really to make sure there was something for everyone, some interest that any child would be able to gravitate towards,” says Liz Heitner, SVP of Talent and Transformation at Synchrony. “If it helped a parent for just an hour a day, that was really a win in our book.”

After a successful summer program, with almost 4,000 people participating, Synchrony is extending the program to include tutoring support and after-school activity sessions to meet the demands of the fall back-to-school season.

See also: Why working parents need extra support during coronavirus

“Parents are really concerned that their kids are not going to be engaged by the virtual learning activities, and they're going to fall behind,” says Heitner on the need to make tutoring support front and center.

Many parents were also concerned about the amount of screentime for children, so the company is introducing off-screen activities and challenges that children can complete on their own for prizes and recognition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for working parents: parents have nearly doubled the time spent on education and household tasks, and many parents feel their ability to perform at work has dropped, particularly those with young children, according to a spring survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group among working parents.

As schools debate reopening plans, back-to-school concerns are top of mind for parents. Seventy-seven percent of parents cited safety as their top concern followed by the value of in-person instruction (55%) and value of social interaction (44%), according to a back-to-school survey conducted by Jefferies.

The Synchrony program team prioritized making it easy for parents and children to access virtual sessions. No advanced registration is required, and the sessions are available outside of the company’s firewall so that parents can set them up on personal devices.

The team also created an employee resource group for parents and caregivers. Feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, and for the HR team, the pandemic has revealed the strength of addressing concerns holistically, Heitner says.

“When our parents are feeling more connected to their kids and happier at home, that's good for all of us,” she says.

Synchrony has also instituted a wide range of initiatives such as no-meeting days, extending emergency care benefits for child care and elder care and training managers to respond sensitively to virtual work requirements.

Much of the success of the initiatives can be attributed to a simple effort: asking employees what they need, whether through a poll, survey or resource group, Heitner says.

“If we, as employers continue to ask these questions, we're going to get to the root cause of different issues that perhaps we wouldn't have had the willingness, the appetite or the curiosity to really address,” she says. “That's going to make us a stronger company, and that kind of inclusivity and thinking that progressively is really the future of HR and our function.”

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