While health insurance, a retirement savings plan and paid time off remain the most wanted – and provided – employment benefits, access to and help paying for dependable child care is becoming a priority for working parents and their employers.
A survey conducted this year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that nearly all businesses (98%) offer some type of coverage for medical, dental and vision care expenses, with 72% saying they offer a fully insured health plan and 26% saying they offer a self-insured plan.
In 2022, most employers offer some type of retirement savings plan to their employees, with 94% offering a traditional 401(k) and 68% offering a Roth retirement plan.
Nearly all employers offer paid vacation leave (99%) or paid sick leave (96%), with 67% indicating they offer a bank of paid time off (PTO) covering both vacation and sick time.
One in five employers offer mental health days above and beyond regular sick leave.
Family care benefits are viewed by 70% of employers as being important to offer, down from 76% during the coronavirus pandemic when they became increasingly important, but up from 52% before the pandemic, according to the benefits survey.
The study also found that family care benefits are viewed by 70% of employers as being important to offer, down from 76% during the pandemic when they became increasingly important because many schools were closed, but up from 52% before the pandemic.
“It has always been a need, but through the pandemic, all of our lives came into full view. That we are needed at home and we are needed at work became prevalent,” said Priya Krishnan, chief client and experience officer for Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC.
Established in 1986 and based in Newton, Massachusetts, Bright Horizons operates nearly 1,100 child and older adult care centers in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and India, including three centers in Jacksonville.
“Our origin is in employer-sponsored child care. Working parents want child care to be equal to what they can provide at home. It has become a much broader discussion among employers,” Krishnan said.
The post-pandemic trend for many people to continue to work remotely also is affecting the demand for child care.
“There is a lot of attention on mental health and wellness. People are feeling stretched and overwhelmed with responsibilities and employers are paying attention. It was a need before, but now it is more pronounced,” Krishnan said.
One of Bright Horizons’ Jacksonville centers serves employees who work for Citibank at its facility in South Jacksonville.
The center opened in 2000 and had more than 300 families enrolled before the pandemic closed Citi’s headquarters and employees began working remotely.
With some employees returning to the office, enrollment at the center has rebounded to about 50 families, said Lori Szerencsy, global head of Citi Benefits.
“Citi’s childcare centers positively impact recruitment, retention, well-being and affordability for our colleagues and support new parents returning to the workplace. Citi offers a comprehensive suite of benefits to support our employees in Jacksonville and across the U.S.,” Szerencsy said.
Krishnan said before the pandemic, more women were entering the workforce and they tend to have children later than their parents did. They might be with a company for several years before becoming a parent who needs child care and could consider leaving the workforce if care isn’t available or affordable.
That factor is contributing to the rise in the number of companies that provide child care benefits.
“They might have eight or nine years at the firm and the cost of replacing someone who quits and then training their replacement is higher than keeping them,” Krishnan said.
Bank of America began offering child care benefits for its working parents in 2007, helping employees pay for the expenses.
“Our Child Care Plus program reimburses up to $275 a month for employees making under $100,000 a year in cash compensation. We have been aware of the need for years and support our parents in all of their transitions in life,” said Anne Oxrider, senior vice president and head of wellness programs at Bank of America’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In addition to the reimbursement for monthly care expenses, Oxrider said the bank also offers reimbursement for up to 50 days of backup child care – when a school closes or the regular caregiver isn’t available – as well as up to 50 days annual reimbursement for care related to employee’s older relatives.
“If we want to ensure team members are their best selves, they have to be confident in not only how they perform at work, but also that those around them are being cared for,” Oxrider said.
How the pandemic changed the workplace reduced the number of child care options. Many were forced to close because parents were working at home and also taking care of their children.
“We saw 30% of child care centers close because of the pandemic. A lot of the industry is mom-and-pops. They had expenses for rent and for teachers. With no tuition coming in, viability became an issue, especially for small providers,” Krishnan said.
“Hopefully, as more families and employers need the service, we’ll see a resurgence and centers will return,” she said.
The need for child care for working parents is expected to remain level, or possibly increase.
“The population of children under five in the U.S. has stayed at about 25 million for the past four or five years. We see child care as something parents need. It’s not a declining trend,” Krishnan said.
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