How to evolve benefit programs to support working parents


The past couple of years have been exceedingly difficult for everyone, and even more so for working parents as they juggle working with increased child care challenges, including difficulty finding quality child care and the rising costs of care.

There has been a mind-shift amongst employees, especially working parents, who do not want to return to the old status quo and who are seeking flexibility and supportive employers. Employers have a unique opportunity to adapt to better support working parents. In doing so, can demonstrate they value their employees. New data shows that employers who prioritize culture, benefits and the overall employee experience will see a huge increase in productivity and happier employees who feel valued–thus increasing retention rate and retaining top talent.

Ohio State University surveyed working parents and found that 66% were feeling “burned out.” In April 2022, more than 4.1M employees quit their jobs. Plus 26% of working parents with children say it’s now harder for them to balance work and family responsibilities. These caregiving demands combined with the rising cost of child care is putting a major strain on working parents.

Read more: Caregiving efforts are excluding Gen Z and millennials

More than half of working parents said balancing child care and work at home during the extended pandemic was difficult. Unsurprisingly, families who had child care were able to better balance their workload and parenting responsibilities. However, for many families child care is too expensive or too difficult to find, with 71% of parents stating that child care is difficult or very difficult to find, according to a survey by UrbanSitter in March 2022. The pandemic exacerbated the child care situation that was already challenging pre-pandemic. With more than 30% of child care centers and 25% of in-home centers closed during the pandemic, the supply of child care providers–which was already insufficient pre-pandemic–is now completely constrained.

As a result of the constrained supply, there has been an increase in child care costs. One study reported that the cost of child care has risen 41% since the beginning of the pandemic. In addition, babysitting rates have increased drastically making it more costly and harder for parents to take time away from their children. Overall, babysitting rates rose 11% in the past year, outpacing inflation at 7% (for comparison, rates rose just 3.9% from 2019 to 2020). That makes getting out to reduce stress cost prohibitive for many families. Without an outlet to reduce stress, the feeling of being burned out becomes more pronounced.

Working parents are reprioritizing aspects of their lives and the way in which they worked pre-pandemic is not how they want to work post-pandemic. The concept of a “new normal” must be considered by employers when determining how they can adapt to offer new, supportive options, such as flexibility, working remotely, and family-friendly benefits. Companies that lean into flexibility and offer comprehensive care benefits report higher employee satisfaction. The three main aspects are: Remote work, flexible hours and child care benefits.

Read more: ‘I was just a daughter and a mother’: Sandwich caregivers struggle to manage it all

1. Remote Work
During the pandemic, companies were forced to test out remote work models across many fields of work and populations and a large percentage of those employees discovered and appreciated the flexibility remote work allowed. They could go anywhere and work. This flexibility was critical to the happiness of the employee. Owl Labs found that 90% of full-time workers surveyed said they were as productive or more productive working remotely, compared to when they were in the office.

Additionally, offering these benefits may be the key to retaining working mothers: those who work remotely are 32 percent less likely to leave their jobs in the next year compared to those who couldn’t work from home, according to Catalyst research.This same study also found that employees who could work remotely had lower rates of burnout.

How to offer it:
●      Good: One-off work from home days. Employees are able to work remotely every once in a while with their manager’s approval.
●      Better: Hybrid. Employees work remotely a set number of days each week and in the office a specific number of days (i.e, 2 days in the office, 3 days remotely). The employer may decide employees all work in the office on specific days and remotely the rest.
●      Best: Employee driven. The employee decides when and where they work at any given time.

2. Flexible hours
It’s an interesting time in the history of the U.S. as employers are quickly pivoting to accommodate the ways in which their employees want to work. Once remote work became the status quo, employers began questioning its impact on productivity. They began searching for other ways to allow flexibility for their employees (many of whom were simultaneously taking care of their children) without impacting the quality of work and deliverables expected. One approach: flexible hours.

Read more: Papa brings on-demand caregiving support to employee benefit plans
In a report from Future Forum by Slack Technologies, 95% percent of people surveyed want flexible hours. A company that has embraced flexible hours is Salesforce stating “the 9-to-5 workday is dead”. They implemented new flextime, including flexible schedules, where employees don’t need to set a strict eight-hour work schedule and they can work remotely some days. Making the changes has reportedly led to an increase in productivity and employee enthusiasm.

How to offer it:
●      Good: Set a 10-hour period during which employees should complete their 8-hours of work. Offers the flexibility for some to start earlier or later, depending on their preference.
●      Better: Designate a few work hours in the day as mandatory for all employees during which team meetings can be scheduled. Otherwise, employees are free to work the hours of the day they wish.
●      Best: Employee-driven. Employees decide the hours of the day that they work.

3. Child care benefits
Working parents are overwhelmed balancing child care and work at home in tandem. Families who have access to child care are achieving a better equilibrium. It’s been shown in report after report that child care falls disproportionately on women, in addition to them maintaining a full time job, taking care of the home, and organizing the family calendar and activities.

Adding a child care benefit can also be used as a recruiting tool. McKinsey found that with women who had children ages five and younger, 69% would be more likely to accept a job offer from an employer that offered assistance with child care expenses or provided access to on-site child care. They also found that 83% of women (and 81% of men) stated child care benefits are very important or somewhere important in whether they decided to stay with their current employer. 38% percent also stated a main factor with staying with their current employer would be if their company helped with child care expenses.

Read more: 9 employee benefit programs that support caregivers

How to offer it:
●      Good: Provide a child care service or app. Pay for access to a child care service that parents can use to find child care providers when they need one, whether it be a backup care situation or long term nanny.
●      Better: Add on cash subsidies. Provide access to a child care service and include a monthly or annual stipend to to offset the high cost of child care.
●      Best: Offer a family care benefit that extends beyond child care. This may include elder care, pet care and household care (housekeeping, errands, etc.) to serve the diverse care needs of an employee population. 

Aside from cost, a couple challenges to providing child care benefits are the desire to serve all segments of your employee population and whether a working parent wants on-site versus in-home child care.

With the majority of jobseekers cite work-life balance, compensation and benefits as their top priorities when choosing a new job, according to LinkedIn, it’s important for employers to offer benefits focused on flexibility that allow employees to achieve this balance. Remote work and flexible hours provide the flexibility that so many workers are craving. Combining flexibility with benefits assisting employees with child care — and even elder care or pet care — can be a compelling way to help employees strike their ideal balance.

It’s a pivotal time for employers to adapt to the “new normal” and determine how they can embrace the changes employees–particularly working parents — are demanding. To keep working mothers in the workforce, employers need to offer benefits focused on reducing the high level of burnout they are experiencing, like flexibility and increased family-friendly benefits, such as child care subsidies, as well as well-being benefits in order to remain competitive, show employees they are valued, and to retain top working parent talent. Employers that raise the benefits bar will not only see their employees’ productivity and retention rates increase, they’ll find that they are happier and healthier, too.

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