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Don’t have budget to provide childcare as a benefit? You might be wrong.


By Merritt Quisumbing Anderson

In September of 2020, over one million Americans left the labor market. This figure alone is striking, but the gender breakdown reveals something even more sobering: four times as many women as men left their jobs. The pandemic has radically contracted the number of childcare options, and the work of raising children falls disproportionately on women.

With predictions that this childcare crisis will set back women's progress by a generation and cost the economy tens of billions of dollars, the issue of childcare is no longer possible to ignore - for employees, yes, but also for employers.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 6 percent of companies offer comprehensive childcare benefits, but the pandemic is causing many employers to consider expanding their offerings. Prior to our current crisis, many employers had not historically considered offering childcare as a benefit, assuming it would be too pricey. But the fact is that childcare benefits, such as subsidized backup care, often cost less money to provide than many other benefits to employees that are currently widespread. For example, the cost of providing free daycare annually for one child is often lower than the cost of a free daily catered lunch or quarterly Friday and Saturday corporate retreats

If you are an HR manager or people leader, here are some ideas for how you can make a case to management to find the budget to support parents and caretakers, and help leadership see why it is in their business interest to do so.

First, as a people leader, it’s important to do your research. Performing a needs assessment based on the demographics of your company will root any proposal on solid ground. Make time to meet with people across your organization to hear about what’s important to them and what impactful action from the company looks like. Use the data you gather to make both a plan for now, and a forecast for the future.

In addition to this internal research, it's imperative to have a finger on the pulse and a deep understanding of what is evolving in the market. Seek out studies and data about the changing dynamics of the workplace. Start following progressive thought leaders that focus on the future of work, the shifting dynamics of the workplace, and who have proven, innovative ideas about how to foster an inclusive workplace. Gather data on what candidates are asking for during their interview process, beyond compensation and traditional benefits. Figure out what's important to the people you want to hire, beyond the paycheck. 

The benefits to companies for offering childcare are well-established at this point, but these can be important to raise with management. Benefits that support families decrease turnover, cut absenteeism, increase job satisfaction, boost performance, and broaden the pool of talent from which employers hire. There are all kinds of ways a company can support childcare, ranging from providing on-site facilities to offering predictably flexible schedules and subsidies to parents for on-demand apps. Tax incentives for employers are another reason to consider offering childcare support. 

The fact is that employees have long cared deeply about benefits like paid maternity leave and free daycare – 26% of respondents in one survey reported changing jobs for better benefits in these areas. After the pandemic, employees are likely to want this benefit more than ever. While the media will sometimes hype perks like free kombucha, beer, and coffee, the same study suggests that such amenities are relatively low on the scale of priorities for most employees and their impact on engagement and job satisfaction is minimal.

At the heart of childcare benefits is an idea of creating a culture that is inclusive of families, supports their growth, and creates more gender parity in the workplace. Make the case that a more inclusive, more intentional, more impactful workplace for folks from all stages and walks of life will not only make a company a better place, but will result in a more engaged, committed workforce.  

With one study from Pew Research reporting that 53% of parents with a child under the age of 18 struggle to balance the responsibilities of work and the work of parenting, and 40% of working mothers reporting feeling constantly rushed even before this pandemic, our parents are at the breaking point, if they haven’t broken already. As we emerge from the pandemic, childcare support should be viewed as a part of any employer sponsored benefits package, alongside medical, dental, or vision care. These are not perks, but rather an essential element of a total rewards offering, and a signal to employees and candidates alike that companies value and support the development and growth of families.  

Providing affordable childcare is a smart strategic and economic decision, but it's also a deeply moral one. If we want to promote the flourishing of workplaces with gender parity and a diverse range of talent, childcare is a good place to start.


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