No child’s play
The COVID-19-induced childcare crisis continues to weigh on businesses as many working parents proceed with the dual role of teacher and employee. While some schools currently offer full in-person learning, most are still under hybrid or 100% virtual learning plans. Coupled with the surge in COVID-19 cases, there is no sign the demands of a working parent with virtual and hybrid learners at home will be reduced anytime soon.
This strain is having a negative impact as two-thirds of working parents say that their productivity has suffered while trying to manage both work and childcare duties. The disappearance of full-time schooling and conventional childcare options during the pandemic is forcing employers to reassess the belief that employees should be expected to balance their responsibilities at home and at work by themselves.
In fact, 40% have already quit or reduced their hours because managing that balance proved to be too difficult. If employers don’t step in to provide better support, they will continue to lose this population of talent, especially working mothers. An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center found that women left the labor force at four times the rate of men.
More than 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce since the virus hit. More than one-third of parents — mostly women — have yet to return to jobs they lost, largely because there’s no one to look after their kids, according to a report. Economists call the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women the first female recession.
42% of working parents feel it would be a risk to their employment to take advantage of childcare benefits available to them through their workplace. As a result, 41% of mothers and 36% of fathers are hiding their caregiving struggles from their employer. Employers may consider allocating additional budget to offer them benefits that provide greater support.
The cost of child care is overwhelmingly borne by parents — and, at a price that in 21 states exceeds 20% of the household income — it isn’t cheap. Child care expenses have spiked by more than 40% during the pandemic, increasing from $10,000 annually per child to more than $14,000. Care also isn’t guaranteed in most of the US, for kids who aren’t school-aged.
The minimum employers can do is give parents the flexibility to build a working style that suits their needs. This means normalizing ‘do-not-book’ times on calendars, encouraging teams to work remotely when needed, and giving them the autonomy to adjust work hours. For roles that don’t provide this kind of flexibility, consider offering leave or time off.
Flexible work schedules allow employees to arrive in the office or join a Zoom call at times that work around their care recipients schedule. For example, as schools partially open and close, employers need to accommodate shifting school schedules such as pick up and drop off days and times. Nearly one-third of employees are working with children at home so a more flexible schedule means that work and life can be balanced.
Paid time off of 10 weeks or more with 75% of pay can reduce turnover risk by 50% or more. However, 10 weeks is just a starting point, and longer is not only better for the employee, but further reduces the risk of turnover, increases productivity of returning parents, boosts employee satisfaction, and for fathers, lets partners return more effective.
Studies show that even with a return to work, companies still lose out on a mother’s talent as she’ll very likely reduce her hours or pause her career – resulting in a large output gap compared to female counterparts without children. The hit to long-term output caused by the current approach to working motherhood costs companies vastly more than its solution.
More than three quarters of mothers with young children feel childcare is one of their top challenges during this pandemic, as opposed to just half of fathers. On average, mothers have been managing three times the amount of domestic labor than fathers. Mothers are working 20 hours more per week than fathers because of childcare responsibilities.
One of the most effective ways to understand the needs of parent employees is to start a parent employee resource group run by parents within the organization. Fund and empower the group to run initiatives with the goal of making the biggest impact on productivity and retention. Besides founding an employee parenting resource group, start a channel for parents to offer each other support and suggest helpful resources.
The reality is that arranging for childcare is hard enough for employees under normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic when regular options like daycare, grandparents, and school aren’t reliably available. If employers don’t step in to provide support, they can expect more working parents to take a step back from their careers.