2020 will go down in history as the year the earth stood still.
It may well also be known as the year one idea moved forward – that child care and business results are inexorably linked.
“This [the pandemic] will change how employers, including us, think about child care as a support system,” a Mass General Brigham human resources administrator told the Boston Globe, “and we will need to decide what our approach will be.”
The realization is hard to miss. Tens of millions of working parents in this country make up about a third of the workforce. They’re in every industry. And right now their participation is in jeopardy as the loosely knitted safety net they’re used to relying on – sitters, school, camp, enrichment activities – has evaporated beneath them. Many parents have dialed back hours. Some are exiting jobs entirely. Their absence is leaving a giant hole where exceptionally talented multitaskers used to be. It’s led employers to the irrefutable conclusion that child care is not a personal dilemma – it’s a business problem.
“In the COVID-19 era,” wrote the Globe, “employers are realizing the outsize role they can play in helping.”
The good news is they are realizing it; and employers across industries are getting creative, knitting a new support net using an evolving list of offerings – including subsidies, back-up days, and search tools – provided by the employers themselves. A sampling of what some employers are doing:
Mass General Brigham: Child care for a hospital is essential “since so many can’t do their jobs remotely” wrote the Globe. Mass General Brigham responded with increased child care subsidies, expanded backup child-care options, and flexible schedules. They’re also exploring virtual tutors and learning pods.
Citi: The company’s chief human resources officer expressed the employer’s unequivocal commitment to employees on LinkedIn. “If you’re looking for primary care for young children,” wrote Sarah Wechter, “we offer 40 days of subsidized back-up childcare, preferred enrollment and tuition discounts for Bright Horizons Early Education & Preschool centers across the country, nanny placement services and waived membership fees and discounts to SitterCity.” Citi also provides tools for online and small-group learning support
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard: Earlier in the summer, the employer checked in with employees on what they’d need to work effectively. “The Broad not only increased child-care subsidies to employees during the pandemic,” wrote the Boston Globe, “but also set up a backup care center over the summer that could accommodate older children.”
Our own CEO Stephen Kramer says there’s more, telling the Globe about at-home child care and working with clients to create alternative classrooms at the work site. “I’ve been really impressed with how progressive many of our clients have been,” said Stephen. “They recognize the need is so incredibly great.”
And the need stretches beyond the response to the current moment. Even amid historically high unemployment, “companies are increasing child-care benefits to maintain productivity and to retain talent,” wrote the Globe, “especially women, because the bulk of caregiving falls on them.
“These solutions could end up outlasting the pandemic.”
We can only hope.