For many working parents in America, this summer’s end brings difficult questions regarding childcare in the impending school year. The beginning of COVID-19 closures in the spring left many scrambling to juggle added responsibilities of caring for and schooling children at home, changing work schedules and reducing hours, or paying for alternative care options—if there were even any available. As a new academic year approaches, many schools are scrapping initial hopes to reopen as normal and turning to off-campus learning, delayed starts, and partial reopenings. This includes many larger districts in big cities, like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Atlanta, that do not plan to open for in-person instruction.
Unfortunately, unlike this past spring, more workers have returned to full-time or on-site work, yet companies are still struggling to address employee childcare needs. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 42% of companies that have reopened do not have any new policies to help workers with childcare responsibilities. Not even a third (32%) of companies with reopening plans in the works have addressed childcare support.
When it comes to those companies that are offering support, most are turning to flexible hours. Willis Towers Watson surveyed over 500 U.S. companies with at least 100 employees and found that, as of June 2020, 59% are offering employees flexible hours, with another 29% either planning to offer or considering this benefit. About a third of employers offer caregiving navigation resources. Only 19% offer back-up childcare, while 10% offer on-site or near-site childcare services; while extremely helpful, both of these benefits can be expensive to implement. Modifying performance expectations for employees was another unpopular choice, likely because it could cost employers significant productivity and income losses, implemented by only 13% of those surveyed.
Caregiver-Employees Need More Support
Even before the pandemic, the employee demand for caregiving support for working parents as well as those taking care of elderly or ill family members had been on the rise. COVID-19 has now expanded the number of workers for which these benefits are necessary. Businesses may have delayed implementing caregiver-employee support because they did not believe the pandemic’s effects would carry on for long. Now, it is becoming clear that this is a long-term issue and a valuable investment in worker productivity and wellness.
In the 2020 Wellness Industry Trends Report, Wellable focused on caregiving support as a rising benefit. This pre-COVID report found that employers are overwhelmingly focused on caregiving benefits that deal with scheduling accommodations: 84% of companies offered flexible scheduling, 67% offered remote or telework options, and 53% provided paid time off options. The flexibility all of these benefits provide does offer convenience for caregivers with more commitments during their days. It also prevents employee turnover, which saves money for employers not having to train and fill job positions frequently. However, it is important to keep in mind that a flexible work schedule alone does not completely alleviate the extra burdens created by caregiving. More demands at home can disrupt a healthy work-life balance, compromise energy levels and overall health, and negatively affect job performance and productivity.
Caregiving Benefits Should Address More Than Busy Schedules
According to a 2019 report from the Council for a Strong America, employers lose about $13 billion in annual revenue due to workers having inadequate childcare resources. Employers should look beyond scheduling flexibility and include mental, emotional, and financial support if they want to ensure their workers’ overall well-being doesn’t suffer and, thus, negatively impact productivity.
Providing back-up care services can be incredible for employees left without other options for their kids; however, this is an expensive cost that may not be sustainable for a company. As a more resourceful alternative, companies can provide caregiver referrals or partner with a third-party concierge service that helps an employee find a provider that is right for them. Employers can also lessen the financial burden by investing in a paid family and medical leave insurance program, which provides some financial assistance to workers needing extra time off without the entire cost falling on companies. In order to support mental and emotional well-being, businesses can also expand access to counseling services and other caregiving resources and support groups. With the specific issue of limited schooling options this year, employers may also want to consider how they can specifically support working parents with educational resources and content. While employers may not be able to totally solve the problems caregiver-workers are facing, lessening the stress of these situations can make a huge impact on employee mental and emotional health as well as their focus and performance on the job.