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Family and other interpersonal dynamics often spill over into the workday in the form of worry, stress, and frustration. Difficulties at home can quickly become difficulties at work. This is something almost every employee deals with at some point, especially those who are raising teenagers.
There's a narrative around parenting teens that positions typical teen behaviors as merely annoying—frequent eye rolls and sassy attitudes, for example. But there’s also a more serious side of teen behavior indicative of mental health struggles that’s worth understanding and addressing in a workplace context.
In families where teens are engaging in at-risk behaviors, parents or caregivers often experience a significant amount of chaos and stress while trying to help their children manage the consequences of their actions and behaviors. This stress doesn’t disappear when parents go to work and are disrupted in their daily lives.
Teen at-risk behaviors
Not all teens engage in harmful behaviors, but those who may be exhibiting signs of mental health challenges could be influenced by an interplay of the home or school environment, peer dynamics, and genetic factors.
The particular triggers might involve the teen experiencing bullying at school, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, ADHD (especially relevant regarding impulsive behavior), trauma, and/or abuse, potentially leading to harmful or dangerous actions.
Some of the most common behaviors include:
- Substance use/abuse
- Delinquency/dropping out of school
- Running away
- Social media misuse
- Gang involvement
- Risky sexual behavior
- Criminal behavior: DUI, theft, vandalism
Teens undergo a developmental phase during which it’s common to experiment and take some risks. However, the outcomes can become more serious when teens engage in behavior that endangers themselves or others.
When adolescents demonstrate these behaviors, parents and caregivers may have to manage calls from schools or courts, and leave work to pick up their child or attend meetings about their child’s behavior. At the same time, they have to manage their emotions, stress, and worries.
Understandably, family dynamics can undergo turmoil, making it challenging for employees to be fully present physically and mentally at work.
Why workplace support is key for parents and caregivers
Consider your employee’s perspective. If they’re dealing with the stress and practical challenges of a child who’s frequently involved in conflicts, using substances, or engaging in self-harm, it’s essential to recognize the impact on their professional life and team dynamics.
They might not be as effective at communicating with their team members, be sleep deprived from anxiety, irritable, and/or worn out from conflict at home. Inevitably, performance, productivity, well-being, and creativity will suffer.
However, a workplace with tangible support systems and benefits can lead to:
- Reduced stress
- Enhanced emotional resilience
- Increased focus or concentration
- Lower absenteeism
- Reduced presentism
- Healthier team dynamics
- Lower turnover
- Early intervention
It’s not difficult to imagine a parent or caregiver feeling torn between spending time working with the school system on a teen’s behavior, being a source of support, and also carrying out all the responsibilities of their job. This can be increasingly stressful when they aren’t receiving support at work. Let’s explore how to weave that support into a workplace.
How employers can support parents with struggling teens
Creating a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help starts with leaders modeling empathy and compassion, and providing concrete support.Ensuring managers and supervisors are well-trained in recognizing employee mental health challenges and knowing how to respond is an excellent place to build a foundation.
It takes practice to work on the ability to notice when an employee is struggling, have the confidence to approach them, start a conversation about what’s going on, and then be able to guide them to the appropriate resources and create a support plan.
Let’s unpack exactly what this can look like when it’s done well.
Tangible support from workplace leaders
Imagine that an employee talks to their supervisor or HR leader and says, “My teen is getting into trouble at school for fighting, doing drugs, and acting depressed at home. I don’t know what to do. It’s keeping me awake at night and stressing me out.”
Depending on the specific situation, the supervisor and HR leader might come up with a plan to:
- Give the employee some flexibility with their work hours
- Point them toward a therapy benefit for the family, employee, and teen
- Explore benefits related to outpatient mental health or substance use services
- Temporarily scale back or help delegate and prioritize their work responsibilities or deadlines while the crisis is ongoing
- Allow the employee a window during the week for therapy
- Add a coverage plan for times when the employee needs to attend meetings on behalf of their child
The support plan hopefully aids an intervention in which the teen and their parent or caregiver can get help and solve the issue, while allowing the employee to be fully present at work again once the crisis is over.
This benefits the entire team in various ways. It establishes transparent work expectations, demonstrating to other team members that they, too, would receive support in challenging situations. It also simplifies the process of seeking assistance and fosters a healthier team dynamic.
Confronting stigma, building empathy
Parents and caregivers may be open to discussing the day-to-day challenges of child raising. But it’s likely more difficult to be open and vulnerable about a teen dealing with substance use or stealing things.
Decreasing stigma and building up an empathetic culture usually starts with exposure. Exposure to what other people experience—through community building, training, webinars, or other workplace educational efforts—is vital to building empathy.
It can also be important to follow up those trainings with further conversations, possibly in the form of supervisors or HR leaders checking in with employees, and/or for ERG leaders continuing discussions introduced during educational events.
This also helps parents understand that they aren’t alone, giving them the courage to say, “I didn’t realize that some of my coworkers are also \going through this. I’ve been experiencing the same thing.”
Communication campaigns make mental health part of the culture
When a workplace culture is steeped in regular, ongoing communications and discussions about mental health and associated benefits, it becomes easier for a parent to bring up teen turmoil at home.
Consider promoting awareness of available mental health benefits in:
- Orientation and onboarding
- Manager training
- Workshops and webinars
- Intranet resources
One example of this is the orientation and onboarding process. Usually, this happens over a short time when benefits are briefly mentioned. But it’s a prime opportunity to walk through how your company supports its employees and give specific examples of how and when mental health benefits can be used.
Ongoing benefit education and promotion
Benefits explanations can be expanded during onboarding to include more than just a quick overview.
This is an excellent time to model and show real examples: “If you’re a parent with a teen engaging in risky behavior, our mental health benefit includes therapy for dependents. We also have flexible scheduling and mental health days built in if a caregiver is dealing with things at home.”
This can function as a solid foundation for ongoing mental health support and workplace benefits to make employees feel like they can reach out for help when they need it—from day one.
Strategies for boosting EAP utilization
A central, easily accessible location to find mental health benefits information is critical to increasing utilization. This could be intranet-based or a physical location like a bulletin board. The important part is ensuring employees know where to go. Reminders can be regularly included in emails and other forms of communication.
It’s also helpful to regularly take the pulse of an organization through needs assessments. Finding precisely what a specific population of employees is seeking (i.e., parents with teens) can help create programs that meet those needs. Essentially, this is a great way to discover and fill in any gaps in employee support.
Some other engagement strategies might include:
- Parent-focused ERG surveys
- Personalized outreach to parents
- EAP awareness events
- Customized parent resources
- Benefit reminder emails
- Anonymous helplines
- Co-worker testimonials
Co-worker testimonials can be incredibly effective. An employee sharing, “I was having a tough time with my teen, and here’s how I got through it. I used our benefits and services in this way,” might make getting help less scary for another employee and lessen the stigma.
Teen at-risk behavior is a workplace issue
Teens engaging in at-risk behavior can be terrifying for their parents or caregivers. These situations can be dangerous, have short- and long-term consequences, and sometimes even be life-threatening.
It might be easy to dismiss raising teenagers as something everyone struggles with. But at-risk behavior can be severe and incredibly difficult for their parents or caregivers, with wide-ranging effects on employees’ personal and work lives.
By fostering a workplace environment that acknowledges and supports parents dealing with a teen in crisis, work can function as a lifeline, easing the burden in the face of these challenges. If you think your employee or colleague may have a teen struggling at home, encourage them to seek support.
Learn more about Spring Health’s latest innovation in Family Care services, which provides mental health care and support for all ages.