It is somewhat cliché to say not all about the pandemic is bad, perhaps even more so given the devastation it has caused, but for working parents, it has provided the stimulus employers needed to look into the benefits provided to employees with children. This has been fueled in part by the total lack of affordable childcare and the closure of schools. Notwithstanding the positives, it is a potential minefield for employers who are charged with balancing the rights of the childless with the rights and needs of those with children. However, the evidence is clear that the economy needs working parents to remain working if it is to recover. Several companies have introduced innovative solutions to the childcare crisis ranging from virtual babysitters, Camp Twitter, after school programs, and even hiring a teacher for employees children. The question remains to be seen whether these will remain when the pandemic is over.
Impact of Pandemic on Working Parents
- Working parents had to cope with a disrupted system when school went back this fall. It was most certainly not a case of business as usual. This is wrecking havoc as working parents have to juggle work and family commitments. To put this in perspective, 40% of US families have at least one child under 18. 64% of the families had both parents working and 30% of the workforce are single working parents.
- The seriousness of the issue facing employers in relation to working parents should not be underestimated, but implementing future-thinking strategies will likely pay dividends. Regardless, it must be addressed, given 20% of working parents are considering quitting their jobs due to childcare issues. This is hardly surprising when the average mother is undertaking 22 hours of childcare a week and maintaining her “day job.”
- The following graphic shows how the pandemic has impacted on working parents.
- As a result of the pandemic, 45% of parents have had to revise career plans and ambitions, 43% have been unable to perform optimally, and 42% feel disconnected from the organization.
Parental Preferences and Perceptions
- A Meredith Corporation survey of Moms found 82% are worried their child is falling behind at school due to the remote learning. The survey also found parents will face increased financial pressure, with many schools moving to a paperless system, which will require suitable technological devices to access. This will be an additional financial cost for parents.
- As schools reopened, 66% of parents had a child in 100% remote or virtual learning. Parents are expressing concern that this will negatively impact their careers. 41% of working parents feel they have less job security due to the pandemic and are scared they will be penalized due to their childcare responsibilities. 42% of parents think it would be disadvantageous to their employment were they to use their working parent benefits. 39% do not use them out of fear; they will be fired for doing so. Sadly, 41% of working mothers felt they needed to hide their childcare struggles from their colleagues.
- 49% of working mothers and 39% of working fathers were unaware of their employer’s plans for parents. 60% of senior-level working mothers and 43% of non-senior level mothers were worried they would end up using and caring for their children at home.
- 57% of parents worry they will be adversely impacted should their employer have to cut costs. 54% fear their chances of promotion have been reduced because of a lack of caregiver supports from their employer throughout the pandemic.
Work Benefit Packages for Parents
- For working parents, the role of the school in providing “childcare” is key to managing their commitments. This will create a childcare void for some families. Benefits offered to working parents could include: flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, job sharing, reduced scheduling, utilization of current leave, pandemic leave, making referral, navigation, or placement resources available, virtual education opportunities, support for the creation of a care cohort or co-op, childcare subsides or full childcare support.
- Other options for employers include allowing the employee to bring the child to work or a one-room school-house. However, the pandemic means any issues relating to COVID-19 liability, visitors in the workplace protocols, and COVID-19 hygiene and safety protocols would need to be evaluated first.
- Dependent Care Flexible Savings accounts are a great way to assist employees. The pretax accounts enable parents to save approximately 30% on qualified care expenses for children under the age of 13.
- 73% of employers offer paid parental leave to mothers. This will rise to 82% in 2022. 64% of employers offer paid parental leave to fathers. This is expected to rise to 80% in 2022
- 19% of employers offer paid leave to care for a child. The number of employers offering paid childcare leave in the next two years is expected to at least double. The median length of this leave is currently 3.6 weeks on full salary.
- 34% of employers offer access to a referral service for obtaining information about childcare. 19% of employers offer backup childcare services. Dependent care spending account aside, the average employer pays $1,600 per employee annually on childcare benefits.
- Other family-orientated benefits provided by employers include a dedicated nursing room (86%), phased return to work program (29%), parent support group (15%), milk shipping (15%), and flexible work schedule (77%) or location (75%).
- 57% of working parents say the balancing act required between work and childcare is too much for them to handle, yet only 4% of employers offer subsidized childcare; a further 4% offer non-subsidized childcare.
Childcare is Becoming the Biggest Obstacle to Work
- A 2019 report from the Council for a Strong America found that in an average year, $13 billion in potential revenue, productivity, and earnings is lost by companies in the US due to inadequate childcare.
- Childcare for working parents throughout the pandemic has become an increasingly bigger obstacle for working parents as the pandemic has progressed. Reports from both parents and employers suggest it is about to become an even bigger issue. The number of childcare centers has decreased noticeably during the pandemic, and the laws of supply and demand have kicked in, meaning fees have gone up. Only 18% of childcare centers expect to survive the pandemic.
- In some instances, fees are four times the pre-pandemic level. 75% of parents say their employer has offered no additional childcare benefits during the pandemic, while they have faced extra time and financial pressures. With fees at a record high, many parents are reporting it is not worth them working. In fact, in 33 states, childcare is more expensive than college.
Long-term Sustainability of Pandemic Measures
- One of the difficulties for employers when considering child or family-focused benefits is sustainability. Small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and for some affordability is a real issue when trying to meet their obligations to parents. Many companies that provided increased benefits at the start of the pandemic are finding it more and more difficult to sustain the initiative.
- When considering childcare benefits, it seems an inherent failure that no recognition is given to the challenge initiatives like this can create for smaller businesses who often do not have the economic resources to offer these solutions to staff. Smaller businesses rely on creative or innovative solutions to keep up with the bigger companies.
- The daily expense to employers of providing a childcare partner for employees ranges from $125 to $200 per child. This is dependent on the type of childcare partner chosen and the location of the company. As a result, some companies are looking to offer a concierge-type service where a coordinator is made available to employees to assist them in finding appropriate and affordable childcare options for their children.
- Credit must be given to a number of employers who have genuinely tried to improve the work life of parents but It is becoming increasingly apparent that the increased time off and flexibility of the last several months is not sustainable, and both employees and employers need to come up with some more sustainable options. As CEO of Bright Horizons Stephen Krammer has said, “As we’re staring down the barrel of many schools starting virtually, employers recognize that what employees have been doing for the last five months is absolutely not sustainable.”
Working Parents Benefits Packages and the Pandemic
- Although 30% of companies provide backup childcare, only 6% of companies offer regular childcare, according to a survey in January 2020. This is against a background that sees both parents working in 63% of families with children. However, only 13% of women and 10% of men were dissatisfied with their workplace’s childcare. Notably, 31% of the participants in this survey represented small businesses, who have found it challenging to match the benefits offered by larger companies due to their smaller workforce and limited budgets.
- Despite a number of companies working hard to provide appropriate childcare benefits to employee parents, especially in light of the impact COVID-19 has had on schools and education of those companies where employees have returned to the office, only 42% have a dedicated plan to help parents balance the responsibility of childcare. Of the organizations planning a return to the office, only 32% have outlined childcare plans.
- The following graph provides an outline of the childcare benefits that employees are currently offering parents. Flexible hours is the most popular benefit, with 59% of companies offering this benefit. A further 11% of companies are planning on introducing flexible working hours for parents.
- The unprecedented position the pandemic has placed both employers and working parents in may require a “horses for courses” approach, whereby an individual working parents benefits may need to be customized to their situation so the effectiveness of the benefits are optimized.
Not All Benefits Are Created Equally
- One potential difficultly with offering subsidized or discounted childcare options as part of a workplace benefits package could be how it is funded. Employee uptake of tuition benefits and the reasons employees do not take up the opportunity provides insights into why employees may not take up tutoring or educational benefits, which should be considered when evaluating workplace benefits that require some form of payment from the employee. How and when this payment is made will dictate, to a certain degree, the employee uptake.
- Despite a number of companies offering adult tuition as a benefit, less than 10% of employees take up the offer. Those that do are often more affluent. This is because most companies require employees to make the payment upfront and then reimburse them when the proper paperwork is submitted. A number of less well-off employees cannot afford this initial investment. There is potential for this to be an issue concerning some of the proposed childcare benefits.
Issues Around Fairness & Equality
- Implementing a workplace benefits package based on whether an employee has children is not an easy road. Prior to the pandemic, there were already tensions within the workplace environment regarding the perceived better treatment received by those with children.
- If anything the pandemic has served to heighten this tension. There is an increasing perception that the needs of employee parents are being met at the expense of childless employees. Childless employees are becoming resentful feeling they have been co-opted to shoulder the heavier load but employee parents are reaping the benefits. This potential minefield must be navigated if childcare benefits and support are to be introduced to a workplace.
- All the best intentions in the world cannot hide the fact disparities exist and in relation to work benefits for parents there are noticeable disparities both within companies and between companies. A New York Times survey found highly educated, high-income employees are more likely to be offered time off, flexible schedules, subsidized childcare, or tutoring than those on lower incomes with lower education levels.
- 29% of those on high incomes with a post-graduate qualification have been offered paid time off compared to just 9% of those without a college degree. 21% of those with a high level of education receive payments towards childcare or tutoring compared to just 5% of those who are less educated.
- Changing needs and demands have seen educational benefits become more popular across the spectrum. Consultancy company, Mercer is receiving four times as many inquiries compared to March 2020 relating to childcare subsidies and educational benefits.
- TutorMe and Varsity Tutors, two educational benefits providers, were struggling to build traction before the pandemic. As the pandemic has lingered, both companies have experienced rapid growth due to a marked increase in demand.
- It is difficult to remember another time when children were unable to attend school for several months. This has caused some parents to become increasingly concerned that their child is falling behind. A recent Californian survey found 70% of parents are worried about their child losing learning opportunities and falling behind as a result. No doubt, this is contributing to increasing preference for work benefits that offer educational opportunities for their children.
- The cost of a tutor or classes outside of the school situation is often unaffordable to most parents ranging anywhere from $10 to over $100 an hour depending on location and experience level. A well-thought-out employee benefit will provide an opportunity many employees would not previously have been able to give their children.
- A New York Times survey has suggested subsidized childcare or educational opportunities may be of more value to employees than a flexible work schedule, which 87% of employers offer. Currently, only about 10% of employers provide subsidized childcare or educational opportunities.
COMPANIES PROVIDING INNOVATIVE CHILDCARE BENEFITS
- Accenture has 500,000 employees across 200 cities and 51 countries. It is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and provides services and solutions in strategy, consulting, and digital technology to various industries.
- Accenture has entered a partnership with Bright Horizons to provide new school-day supervision for employees children. This program provides supervision for children as they work through the online learning curriculum in small groups. Supplementary activities are also available between classes if required. The company picks up 75% of the program’s cost, with the cost to employees $5 per hour.
- The Human Resources Manager at Accenture, one of the most progressive companies in this area, Ellyn Shook, has talked about Accenture’s decision to provide heavily subsidized tutoring to employees children. She said, “Employees had been through two and a half months of Zoom classrooms, and it was a nightmare, even for the most tech-savvy parents…. Parents said they needed educational support, not just babysitting.”
- Citigroup is a US multinational investment bank and financial services’ provider. They are headquartered in New York. Citigroup came into existence upon the merger of Citicorp and financial conglomerate Travelers Group.
- The investment bank has partnered with Bright Horizons to provide caregivers trained in education to supervise online learning and find tutors or small learning groups for the children. Recently, they have added a nanny placement service to their workplace benefits. Citibank offers a 10% discount on these services to employees.
- The Vice President of Human Resources, Doug Miller, has said, “Citigroup initially ventured into child care as an employee benefit when it opened its first full-service center in 1986 in Sioux Falls, SD. That center, which has a penetration rate of about one child care slot for every seven employees, was a way to gain an edge in a competitive labor market.”
- Citigroup has been named one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers by Working Mother magazine on multiple occasions due to its commitment to parents and subsidized childcare.
- Contec is a South Carolina based company that is “the leading manufacturer of contamination control products for mission-critical cleaning in manufacturing environments worldwide.” The company´s products are used in biomedical, pharmaceutical, medical device, microelectronics, optics, semiconductor, data storage, animal lab, automotive OEM, aerospace and other critical industrial applications.
- Contec has taken a balanced approach over the course of the pandemic. With sales up 300%, all Contec employees received a 20% bonus on their monthly pay for the first three months of the pandemic. The company has also allowed shift swapping to enable parents to be at home with their children during the day before working the night shift. However, Contec is the first to admit that it is not a sustainable solution.
- Contec developed its own version of the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. After being with the company for six months, employees are entitled to six weeks of pandemic childcare leave at two-thirds their salary to a maximum of $5,000. Once the employee has been with the company for 12 months, they are entitled to 12 weeks at a two-thirds salary to a maximum of $10,000.
- Approximately 10% of those eligible have taken the pandemic leave.
- Despite the company’s efforts, CEO Jack McBride worries it won’t be enough, saying, “Now all of a sudden we’re in one of the worst hot spots. We’re not sure what’s going to happen. If people start getting sicker, then there will probably be a change in [our] policy.”
- He went on to say, “We’ve got to get creative as a country to keep this industry alive and make sure our kids are getting educated because otherwise, I see this being a huge economic burden for us to bear for the years to come. If we want to stay as a world leader, we’ve got to take care of educating the next generation.”
- Amazon is one of the largest online retailers offering a range of new, used, and refurbished goods. It is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and is only the fourth company to achieve a $1 trillion in valuation.
- Amazon and Sitterstream have entered into a partnership that sees Sitterstream provide 30-90 minute virtual babysitting and tutoring to Amazon employees children. Sitterstream is a virtual babysitting service. It gives parents an alternative to bringing an outsider into their homes. Amazon will also offer back-up child care to its 65,000 employees in the US.
- Beth Galetti, Amazon senior vice president of Human Resources, said of the new benefits, “We’ve heard from our employees that access to affordable family care, for both children and adults, is particularly challenging during the COVID crisis and we are committed to support them in this unprecedented time. This new child and adult care option will add to the comprehensive benefits we provide to all regular, full-time Amazon employees, including comprehensive health insurance, a 401(k) plan, and 20 weeks of paid maternity leave, among others.”
- Synchrony is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. It is a consumer financial services company founded in 2003. It employs 16,500 employees globally.
- Realizing that parents were struggling, overcome with an avalanche of challenges due to the pandemic and struggling to balance their work and home lives, Synchrony introduced virtual summer camps, which had 3,700 attendees this summer. They have also introduced an after school homework help and extracurricular activities program.
- Synchrony was recognized for its efforts in supporting working parents when it was named near the top of the People “Companies that Care” list.
- DJ Casto, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Synchrony, said, “Synchrony was founded on a belief and value system that focuses on caring, bold actions and passion. At the start of the pandemic, our leadership team jumped into action to ensure that our employees, customers, and communities were supported as they navigated a time of unprecedented uncertainty. We are humbled by PEOPLE’s recognition as one of the top companies supporting employees and their communities during COVID-19 and will continue to lead with a focus on a culture of caring both now and in the future.”
- Kroger is a large American retailer. The company sells its products through a large retail network. It also has a strong digital shopping network. Kroger’s brands include Abound, Dip, Simple Truth, and Comforts.
- Grocery chain Kroger has made $15 million available through the Kroger Family of Companies Helping Hands fund to provide financial assistance to associates facing hardship due to Covid-19, including lack of access to child care.
- The company also put together information for its employees on available child-care resources, both locally and nationally. They also provided additional financial bonuses to all employees to help them cope with the pandemic
- “Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic, said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May.”
7. Graham Personnel Services
- Graham Personnel Services is a Greensboro, NC-based staffing firm specializing in such essential industries as manufacturing, distribution, and health care. The companies stated mission is to “match great people with great companies.”
- The company has been busy throughout the pandemic, and many of the jobs cannot be completed remotely, meaning the working parents on the staff have started to feel the pinch.
- Given the company has been voted one of the best places to work, it is probably not surprising that staff pulled together when schools first closed, cobbling together day-to-day solutions for their children. The difficulty was by the time fall came round, and school wasn’t going back. The pre-summer approach just wasn’t sustainable in the long-term.
- HR Director Gregg Danzer has taken the pressure of the working parents by hiring a full-time teacher for the children of staff. He recognizes the importance of ensuring parents are in a position where they can succeed, saying of the teacher, “It’s worth it. We’re not going to thrive if our people can’t concentrate on their work. And they certainly can’t concentrate if they’re worried about whether their child is safe.”
- Classes are to be held for eight hours each weekday at the Graham Personnel Offices. Children aged 5-11 have been invited to attend, with the class able to accommodate 16 students in total.
- The President of the company, Gary Graham, said, “Our team members are the most important part of our company, and their families are part of our team at GPS. Providing an option for teaching/childcare in this unprecedented environment of COVID-19 has been a fantastic choice for Graham Personnel Services. It was a very easy decision for me and my business partner to make. We did not hesitate to come up with a solution because our team members and our team members’ children needed a solution. We have their backs!”
- Twitter was founded in 2007 in San Francisco, California. Twitter is a social media platform that allows users to contribute ideas, opinions, and comments to a live feed.
- A range of different programs have been set up to assist the working parents of Twitter. Camp Twitter, a virtual program the company runs for children of its employees. These sessions may see the kids being “read Dr. Seuss books by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and learning about literary terms through the Harry Potter series… Their kids stay entertained all day with live educational classes and virtual sessions filled with activities like cooking, yoga, and music. And parents have access to webinars from psychologists and health experts.”
- Twitter employee Andrea MacDonald describes Camp Twitter as a “gift.” She also said, “A lot of employers will say ‘do what you need to do,’ but parents won’t take them up on it because they feel guilty or they don’t have the time to even think of it. The beauty of Camp Twitter is that it goes beyond simply being lenient or otherwise relying on the discretion of individual managers.
- Vice President Tracy Hawkins said, “With many schools and summer camps being closed due to the pandemic, we wanted to step in and provide a fun, educational and meaningful alternative that is accessible to all of our parents around the world.”
- Salesforce is an American cloud-based software company. It was founded in 1999 and has its headquarters in San Francisco, California. They trade using the messaging, “We bring customers and companies together.”
- While Salesforce’s initiative may not be as innovative as some of the other companies, it nonetheless is of some value to its employees who are parents. Salesforce has expanded on its parental leave and backup childcare policies and told employees they can work from home until schools reopen properly. Employees who are parents will be entitled to an additional six weeks of leave.
- Chief People Officer Brent Hyder said, “We understand that moving our offices to our homes is not always easy or comfortable — especially for those with families at home or for those who are feeling isolated — and we’re working hard to address the unique needs of our employees during this time.”
- Patagonia is a designer of outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports: climbing, surfing, skiing and snowboarding, fly-fishing, and trail running. The company is based in California.
- Prior to the pandemic, “the retail brand accommodated about 150 children across three on-site care centers through kindergarten. At its headquarters in Ventura, Patagonia also offered an after-school program for kindergarten to third graders.” This was closed when the pandemic started gaining momentum. The care center was vital in retaining a number of the company’s female staff while at the same time recouping almost all of its costs.
- Throughout the pandemic, Patagonia has been proactive in ensuring it was doing everything it could to help the working parents in the company ranks. They extensively surveyed parents to ensure that help was being targeted where it was needed.
- Patagonia then took flexible hours to the next level. “Depending on their childcare setup, employees were encouraged to shift to more asynchronous work—say, switching to long-term projects if their usual responsibilities were more time-sensitive. Patagonia, even armed parents with activity calendars adapted from the childcare program and, when necessary, brought the program director into conversations about their workload.”
- CEO Rose Marcario has said of Patagonia’s initiatives for working parents, “Patagonia offers that benefit first and foremost because it believes it’s the right thing to do for employees, working parents, and the life of the workplace.”
- KPMG has expanded its existing benefits as a result of the pandemic offering discounts of between 10-30% on “one-on-one or small group tutoring, academic support, test prep, and homework assistance.” Learning pods have also been created throughout KPMG that enable parents to team up and create both virtual and in-person learning environments for their children.
- Shipstation is providing a virtual wellness back to school program whereby nutritionists have been provided to advise on lunches and healthy snacks. There are also stress management webinars available for parents.
13. Bank of America
- Bank of America ended its backup childcare benefit in August 2020, opting to provide a childcare reimbursement of $75 or $100 per day (depending on salary). Bank of America has also entered into a partnership with Bright Horizons to provide workers children with access to learning hubs, childcare, and educational resources