Supporting Working Parents Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do — It’s a Business Imperative. We Have Bold Strategies to Help Companies
Seven ways businesses can ease their employees’ caregiving burdens during (and after) the COVID-19 crisis to retain talent and stay competitive.
By: Susan McGotty, Vice President, Future of Work Career Design at Prudential Financial. Developed as part of JFF’s Recover Stronger Corporate Coalition and with endorsement from Coalition companies.
“If we truly want to reward work in this country, we have to ease the burden of care that families are carrying. We’re trapped in a caregiving crisis, within an economic crisis, within a health care crisis.” — President Joe Biden
Being a working parent isn’t easy. I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s particularly difficult for women, who often shoulder most of a family’s caregiving responsibilities. Working women want to be great mothers, but they also want to do well and succeed on the job, so they can advance in their careers and help their families advance economically. Balancing the two can be difficult. And when you layer on the additional challenges parents have faced during the COVID-19 crisis, it seems nearly impossible. Across the country, parents are struggling to live up to that super person status — looking for ways to care for their families and still have the time to focus on their career pathways and personal well-being.
Corporate leaders must step up to help working parents deal with a longstanding caregiving crisis that has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents have struggled with a lack of affordable and dependable child care for decades. According to one poll, 83 percent of parents with children under the age of 5 have had difficulty finding reasonable child care options in their communities. And in many states, the cost of child care exceeds that of college tuition. This insufficient child care system is costing working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity.
And that was before COVID-19 shuttered many schools and day care centers. Like so many other disparities laid bare during the pandemic, the lack of equity for working parents has been magnified over the past year.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 40 percent of working parents have reduced their hours or exited the workforce to care for children. As schools and child care facilities closed in all 50 states, the 23.5 million working parents who don’t have a relative or friend who can provide full-time care in the home scrambled to find solutions. Hourly workers and the 16 percent of working parents who are solo caregivers faced particularly difficult challenges.
The fallout of our current caregiving crisis will reverberate for decades.
Parents who leave the workforce not only immediately lose income; they also tend to make less after they return, which has the ripple effect of reducing their retirement savings and social security benefits. Overall, parents lose up to three or four times their annual salary for every year they are out of the workforce, creating an especially difficult burden for low-income and Black and Latinx families, who may have less wealth to fall back on than white families do.
Working mothers bear the brunt of this crisis. One in four women is considering downshifting her career or leaving the workforce, and as of January 2021, the total number of women who had exited the workforce during the pandemic had exceed 2.3 million, putting the women’s workforce participation rate at 57 percent. Experts fear generations of progress for women in the workforce will be wiped out if the trend continues.
It’s time for visionary corporate leaders to step up.
While the government has a crucial role to play in increasing access to affordable, high-quality child care, private employers must also step up. With COVID-19 disrupting so many established business practices, now is the perfect time for visionary corporate leaders to re-evaluate talent management and benefits practices and come up with innovative new approaches to meeting the needs of working parents.
Reducing employees’ caregiving burdens during and after the COVID-19 crisis is good for businesses. Among other things, offering child care support saves money: The cost of replacing an employee is estimated to range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary when the costs of hiring, onboarding, and training and development are factored in — not to mention, the opportunity cost of operating with an unfilled role. Already, 21 percent of businesses say they have lost employees due to the lack of child care and related employee burnout during the pandemic.
We have solutions for employers.
Fortunately, 74 percent of employers say that supporting working parents is a top priority, and corporate leaders across the country are advancing employee-centered talent practices. However, only 39 percent said they feel their programs and policies are effective. To help our employer partners, we identified seven promising new approaches to supporting working parents.
Our list begins with basic, low-cost practices that all employers can implement right away and builds up to higher-cost, higher-impact options.
In a survey of 1,000 working parents across the United States, 39 percent of the respondents said they feared they’d be fired if they took advantage of child care benefits. This may be due in part to a lack of communication between employees and managers that leaves employees unsure of how their requests for support will be received. Leaders can address those concerns by creating a more open and transparent atmosphere and making it clear that management is genuinely concerned about the well-being of employees. Concrete steps include setting up resource groups for working parents and training managers in the best ways to support their employees.
LinkedIn created an employee resource group called Families at LinkedIn to raise awareness of the needs of workers at all levels of the organization who are caring for children and other family members.
Businesses should acknowledge that many of their employees are under extreme stress both personally and professionally. The challenges all employees face are likely to impact their performance, and businesses should adjust their expectations accordingly.
Google combined its usual two review periods into one last fall and is evaluating employees against revised expectations.
Many parents who pivoted to full-time remote work during the pandemic decided to move to be closer to family who can help with child care, and now they’d like to stay where they are and work from home permanently. Corporate leaders can support these decisions, even though they may create logistical challenges; doing so will improve retention rates and increase productivity in the long run.
The HR team at real estate technology company Redfin surveyed employees and researched how other businesses were handling employee requests to work from home and relocate. They decided to allow its headquarters employees to work remotely full time.
Many working parents have been forced to turn to more expensive child care or tutoring services for support during the crisis. Employers can provide subsidies to help offset the extra costs.
Bank of America offers its employees child care reimbursements of $75 to $100 per day for children up to age 12, or up to age 21 for children with special needs.
If possible, companies should offer employees the opportunity to adjust their schedules based on their specific needs. Providing additional flexibility to working parents will enable them to meet their families’ needs while still focusing on their jobs and helping their companies succeed.
Workday provided schedule flexibility to employees who serve as caregivers, and it has allowed full-time employees to transition to part-time work.
Many working parents are balancing homeschooling with managing full-time work responsibilities. Employers should consider offering additional back-to-school support benefits.
Prudential Financial expanded benefits to offer guidance and tools to help employees navigate the academic school year, including access to professional tutors and educational tools anytime, anywhere.
Employers in industries that cannot accommodate remote work can set up affordable on-site child care facilities so their employees don’t have to choose between caring for their children and keeping their jobs. Employers that don’t have space for on-site facilities can partner with day care providers.
In the summer of 2020, the Broad Institute, a biomedical research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, partnered with Bright Horizons to open an employee child care facility a few blocks from its offices.
These solutions are good for workers and good for business.
I once received advice that I needed to think of my career as a marathon not a sprint. There are times when we need to dial back and other times when we need to move at full throttle. We working parents need to allow ourselves a bit of grace, and we’re better able to do that if we know that we are supported by our family, our friends and our employers. My daughters are now adults, and I fortunately have not had to care for young children during the health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But I thought it was important to take this opportunity to try to influence the future of work for the next generation of parents by sharing JFF and the Recover Stronger Corporate Coalition’s insights about the employee-centered talent practices Impact Employers are embracing.
Now more than ever is the time for companies to lead with compassion and provide support to the people who keep their businesses running. We cannot expect working parents to do their jobs as if they don’t have children while simultaneously expecting them to raise children as if they don’t have jobs. We must embrace the value that working parents add while respecting and supporting their needs as caregivers. Helping out working parents is not only the right thing to do; it’s a business imperative.