Today, U.S. families are spending more money than ever on care for their children, paying an average of $18,000 per year. For many families, the expense is a heavy but necessary burden, especially since nearly half of America’s two-parent households report that both parents work full-time.
In addition, many working parents are feeling the pain of juggling work and family life. A Pew Research Center study reveals that 56 percent of working parents find it difficult to balance their jobs and families, and it can impact their career decisions and attitude toward parenting.
With so much on their plates, working parents are looking to their employers for support. Unfortunately, though, few are finding it. A Care.com survey finds that 85 percent of working parents wish their employers offered childcare benefits. Further, 74 percent of working parents’ jobs are affected when childcare plans fall through, resulting in employees using unplanned paid time off, falling behind on work, or even taking leave without pay.
All of this evidence points to a significant gap between employees’ need for childcare support and employers’ current financial ability to meet it.
Helping to pave the way in closing that gap is the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. It recently committed $1.1 million in grants to help states and municipalities research how to develop and implement paid-leave programs nationwide. However, there’s no need to wait for government grant funding – there is plenty employers can do to help working parents with childcare responsibilities. Here are three strategies to consider:
Dependent Care Assistance Programs and Flexible Spending Accounts
Both Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) allow employees to use pre-tax dollars to pay for care. DCAPs are likely a familiar option to employees, and can be used to support childcare as well as other ongoing dependent care, such as for an aging parent or a disabled spouse. What is likely unfamiliar is that FSAs can also be used to help pay for childcare – including daycare, before- and after-school programs, and even summer camp.
Both of these programs require a fairly small investment from employers, yet can make a big difference to working parents overwhelmed by childcare costs.
We’ve previously discussed the value that flexible schedules can bring to both employees and employers. And with the need for childcare support at an all-time high, the case for flexibility has never been stronger. Allowing the freedom to adjust work hours or work remotely to accommodate family can be a huge benefit to employees and allow them to deliver better work without being distracted or stressed about juggling schedules.
Another advantage to flexible schedules is that it’s practically no cost to employers. If anything, it has the potential to improve the bottom-line by encouraging better employee productivity and engagement. As we’ve said before, as long as employees deliver on their responsibilities, when and where they do it from doesn’t matter so much.
This tactic is the most difficult to make a reality, as there are a number of hurdles organizations have to overcome. Employers must understand how to comply with legal requirements, be prepared to take on a greater liability risk, identify an appropriate space for children and vet qualified caregivers, among a number of other considerations.
While it’s a hefty lift, onsite childcare provides tremendous relief to working parents and can be quite beneficial to employers, too. For example, it can serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool and can also make your organization eligible for certain tax credits. Perhaps most importantly, it can improve employee productivity and engagement. According to a study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, employees using onsite childcare delivered a higher performance and had a lower rate of absenteeism than employees who took their children to an offsite facility.
If onsite childcare isn’t feasible for your organization, consider setting up a childcare resource center, either online or in the HR office, that offers recommendations for daycare centers, nanny and sitter services and other care options. If you go the online route, the resource could also serve as a forum for employees to share tips and reviews. Giving working parents a place to start and options to consider is an easy way to provide support.
No matter your approach, the need for employer provided childcare options has reached a critical point and shows no signs of coming down. Organizations must start exploring and implementing ways to close the gap. Learn more about how to engage and support your employees.
Marcy Klipfel is the Senior Vice President of Employee Engagement at Businessolver.