Even without the significant disruptions of 2020, American workers have been facing reduced productivity and a lack of child care resources that are affecting both family life and employers’ bottom lines.
Facing these challenges head-on with a holistic family-oriented benefits strategy could actually save your organization time and money while creating a worthwhile offering to support workers’ families.
A 2019 study by Ready Nation indicates some alarming statistics on the state of the American workforce and their child care issues. The Ready Nation study found that of the 14 million parents with children under the age of three in the U.S., 78% – or 11 million – are working parents. Parents reported that roadblocks for them were child care access, affordability and quality care options.
Because of these roadblocks, respondents cited issues with their time and effort at work, such as missing shifts, leaving early, being late—sometimes resulting in reduced hours, demotions and reprimands. In fact, productivity problems cause employers to lose $12.7 billion annually due to child care challenges faced by their workforce.
Another impacted group is employees who are caretakers for their elder family members. A recent Harvard Business School study on caregivers found that ”more than 80% of employees with caregiving responsibilities admitted that caregiving affected their productivity—specifically, their ability to perform their best at work all the time (33%), most of the time (14%), and sometimes (36%).”
Caregivers can represent those giving care to all ages, however, a third of employees who left a position reported taking care of an elder and almost 25% left their job to care for an ill or disabled family member.
Beyond putting the call out to our legislators and policymakers, here are some ways organizations and HR can play a pivotal role in dependent care strategy:
- Create a “Care Census.” Track data on employees’ caregiving responsibilities. Gathering that data, even anonymously, will give you a baseline to help shape your strategy.
- Revisit your paid time off and flexible hours programs. Forty percent of employers do not offer a paid time off benefit. Offering some flexibility to attend to caregiving and other family-oriented matters creates a happier and more productive workforce overall.
- Create personas based on your workforce. When evaluating overall benefits, use your empathy skills to view it from various personas in your company. Some examples for dependent care strategy might be single parent, parent of a young child or a caregiver to an elder family member.
- Get feedback from your employees. Those personas are representative of your workforce, so determine ways to gather their feedback – a committee, survey, anonymous email submission or task force.
- Offer a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA). Allowing employees to set aside pre-tax funds for child and elder care can save both you and the employee in the long run. Participants can save up to 30% on their dependent care bottom line with the pre-tax advantage. As child care centers re-open with smaller class sizes and/or increased sanitation procedures, their costs will likely rise—and be passed on to parents. These tax savings can give a leg up to employees paying for care. If you have the DCFSA in place, be sure to review our Dependent Care for Changing Times e-book for information on recent IRS rulings.
- Find partners. Are there groups in your community who are already offering quality child care? Parent support groups? Babysitting services? In-home elder care? Instead of recreating the wheel, see if there are partnering or referral opportunities or negotiate discount programs for child care, camps, after-school or elder care services.
- Communicate the benefits you DO have in place. We know. Employees often don’t know about or use the benefits they have access to. Benefits literacy is a key challenge for the HR professional. Help employees understand their benefits by connecting the dots.
- Instead of saying “We have an EAP available,” educate employees on HOW to use the EAP. “Do you need to talk with someone about parenting? Call the EAP provider for a free consultation.”
- Instead of saying “Sign up for a Dependent Care FSA,” say, “If you are paying out of pocket for child or elder care, you could be saving up to 30% a year.”
- Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. For 2020 and possibly beyond, there may be policies you can revisit to create more flexibility with hours, locations, days on/days off schedules. School schedules across the county are going to vary, and parents will need to juggle new challenges. Day cares and elder care facilities may have to reduce hours. Some examples of ideas to redistribute or realign to this reality:
- Daily work schedule flexibility
- Reduced work hours
- Deadline extensions
- Project reprioritization
There are no easy answers or blanket policies that will cover each employee’s situation. If you communicate a willingness to work with employee-caregivers to accomplish their work and care for their dependents, you may be able to retain essential and talented staff members while increasing overall productivity. Employees who sense a safety net and employer support are more likely to be engaged and productive during working hours, saving employers’ bottom line.
For more information on maximizing dependent care FSAs for 2020, please see our updated e-book.