For HR leaders, navigating the return to the workplace is filled with variables. Some may want their workforces back on-site full time, but they're worried about the very real backlash from employees who have become accustomed to working from home. Many HR pros report that they're coming up with return-to-work policies on an employee-by-employee basis, since everyone has different needs and preferences.
But one thing is for certain. Wherever employees are getting their work done — remotely, in the office, or a mix of the two — they need child care in order to be able to focus 100% on their jobs. And that child care needs to be flexible enough to adapt to their unique working arrangements.
Let's look a little deeper into this issue, and explore how employers can help as their employees return to work.
The Child Care Crisis
As everyone who had a Zoom meeting interrupted by a fussy toddler knows, the issues surrounding child care became apparent during these past 18 months. The myth that "parents who work from home don't need child care" proved to be just that, a myth. The impossibility of juggling work responsibilities with child care is the reason 3 million women left the workforce during the pandemic. That should be a wake-up call for employers about the absolute necessity of child care, wherever their employees are working.
The question now becomes, what's the best way for employers to help their workforce with child care needs today?
Why Flexible, Affordable Child Care Is the Answer
Child care benefits are a must-have in today's hiring market, and those options need to be flexible and affordable enough to accommodate employees' varying needs. Here's why.
Uncertainty of where work will happen. Most companies are figuring out where their workforces will get the job done: in the office, at home, or a mix of the two. It's likely their employees will have varying schedules. That's why flexibility is the key to meeting your employees' child care needs. It can't be one-size-fits-all anymore, even if you provide onsite child care.
Child care is a must-have benefit in a tight hiring market. The other factor contributing to the necessity of providing a child care benefit is the state of the economy itself. Demand in all industries is ramping up at the same time the hiring market is tightening. Hiring top talent to position your company for our generation's version of the Roaring '20s is going to be a challenge. You need to be armed with a solid benefits and salary package in order to compete for the best people.
Employees and job seekers want more meaningful benefits. One HR truth that has emerged out of the pandemic is that people's preferences about benefits have changed. Not so long ago, it was all about the employee experience in the office — beer fridges, free lunches, and ping pong tables. People don't care about frivolous perks anymore. Job seekers and employees alike are looking for benefits that mean something, and employer-sponsored child care tops that list. If you're not offering child care that meets their needs, whether they'll be working in the office, at home, or a combination of the two, the best talent will look elsewhere.
Without affordable child care, employers experience turnover. A recent study in Forbes found 47% of working parents are worried about being able to afford child care when they return to work — and it's no wonder. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises child care should cost no more than 7% of a parent's household income to be affordable. But the reality is, the average cost of child care in the U.S. is about 11% of the median two-income household and 35% of a single parent's income. Those figures vary widely by location. In Seattle, for example, child care can cost 62% of the city's median single-parent annual income. At that rate, many parents are leaving the workforce, while others need that fraction of remaining income to pay rent or buy groceries. Neither option is acceptable.
Employers who provide their employees with affordable, flexible child care options will gain a more loyal, engaged workforce and will also have the advantage when battling for top talent.