One of the most significant silver linings to come out of the pandemic was the newfound appreciation for caregivers in the workplace, and the attention being paid to family-friendly benefits. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. workers identify as a caregiver—whether for children, siblings, pets, neighbors, aging parents or others—and for at least a brief moment, it looked like employers were beginning to pay attention to them.
But on the heels of a good dose of post-pandemic optimism—and expansion of both the workforce and workplace benefits—many of those same companies that had high hopes for supporting their caregivers are now facing budget cuts. And, as a result, HR executives are being forced to make challenging choices about where to invest to keep employees happy and thriving.
As the SVP of People at a child care benefits company, I have the unique perspective of not only implementing benefits for our own employees, but also seeing how our clients are reacting to this new cost-conscious benefits landscape. And what I can report is that caregiving benefits remain critical, even in a budget-constrained world.
A strategic investment in caregiving benefits—like child care subsidies, back-up care and even flexibility in the workplace—serves a range of interests, on both the employee and employer side. From a competitive lens, caregiving benefits help companies stand out from their competitors, and give them an edge in attracting and retaining talented employees. From a financial perspective, they help increase productivity and reduce absenteeism; and from a cultural standpoint, they engender loyalty and working parent satisfaction.
Caregiving benefits are also a powerful aspect of a company-wide DEIB strategy, helping to level the playing field for caregivers at every stage of their journey (not just during parental leave or the newborn phase), as well as increasing your support for working moms, single parents, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and/or those who may be caring for aging parents, or people with disabilities who require third party support to care for loved ones.
Offering caregiving benefits doesn’t mean you have to invest in a full-scale on-site daycare at your office (although there’s a range of proven benefits if you can!). There are so many ways to invest in your caregiving employees no matter what size budget you have… and even if you have no budget at all.
If your company has tightened its purse strings, and there’s no sign of loosening them in the foreseeable future, you can still show your support for caregivers in a variety of ways.
Write a statement of purpose for your company. Include specific language around valuing caregiving and supporting employees and their families. This acknowledgment will help your caregiving employees to feel seen and appreciated.
Communicate about your efforts to support working parents. Even if you don't have a concrete budget to support your caregiving employees, let them know you empathize with them and their caregiving challenges, and that you're looking for ways to better support them in the future. If you're silent, employees will fill in the blanks and assume you don't care.
Manage employees for outcomes versus attendance. Retrain your leaders to focus on objectives and key results rather than time spent working on those objectives, so your caregiving employees have more flexibility around hours and location.
Initiate a flexible return to work plan for employees coming back from parental leave, and an easy on/off ramp for other parenting-related career pauses. A recent study, conducted by Werklabs and The Mom Project, in partnership with Vivvi, found that the majority of career pauses for parents actually happen during the toddler and preschool years—not immediately following parental leave. Acknowledge that a caregivers’ career path is not always a straight line, and support them through those twists and turns.
Create connections for working parents. Set up a caregiver slack channel where they can share ideas, names of babysitters and working parenting hacks. This not only helps working parents to find community and resources, it also signals you value their caregiving.
Be intentional about scheduling. Survey your employees and find out when schools are off or when they might be tied up for other parenting responsibilities (think: school dropoff and pickup; family dinners. etc). Be mindful about scheduling required meetings during those days or times, and consciously ask about ways you can support them, particularly when they don't have child care. Our recent study indicated that team & leader support has the highest impact on working parent satisfaction—higher than flexibility or even compensation—so a well-intentioned conversation can really move the needle for your caregivers.
Create transparency in caregiving. Encourage parents in leadership roles to parent loudly. That could mean taking their full parental leave (this is especially critical for male leaders), leaving the office at the same time as the rest of the team, or sharing photos of their family. If you don’t have parents in leadership roles, work to change that dynamic; a working parent is more likely to work at a place where they see they can grow their families and their careers.
Low Cost Options
If you only have a few dollars to spare for your caregiving employees, put them to work in the most efficient way possible. These small but critical investments can make a big difference for a working parent.
Establish a parenting or caregiver Employee Resource Group (ERG)—and fund its programming. An ERG not only provides a community for parents to communicate with each other, it also offers an avenue for parent employees to advocate to company leadership as a group, and to have a productive, streamlined dialogue when they do. It’s a low-cost investment that’s worth its weight in employee satisfaction; according to a Maven survey of the Best Workplaces for Parents, 61% have ERGs for working parents.
Provide backup care or care reimbursements instead of expecting your employees to use PTO. One of the most striking revelations from our Beyond Parental Leave study was that PTO is consistently ranked as the most useful—and most readily available—backup child care option. But PTO isn’t a caregiving benefit! Using PTO for child care or elder care not only deprives caregivers of the opportunity to use it for the needs it was intended (including vacation and time to recharge) but also stigmatizes parents who need to tap into it more often than non-caregiving employees. Bonus: Providing a day of emergency backup care as a benefit is often less expensive than paying for a day of PTO.
Make a switch from a less effective benefit. If your company is mired in dated benefits, it might be time for a refresh… especially if you're looking to signal that you’re a family-friendly workplace. Trade in gym memberships, foosball tables or splashy happy hours for child care subsidies or other caregiving benefits, and show your employees that you’re there for them for the long-run, not just the next game of ping pong.
At a time when many of your competitors are frozen in their tracks, making a strategic investment in caregiving benefits will truly help you stand out. And since child care benefits offer a significant return on investment, these up-front costs will help you save money in the long run.
Think beyond parental leave. Parental leave is table stakes and makes a huge impact on the trajectory of a working parent’s career. But if the majority of benefits and support at your company only address the first sprint of parenthood (like fertility benefits, parental leave and lactation support), then you’re missing the support that parents need for the marathon that encompasses the vast majority of their career. By implementing solutions that address the following years specifically, your workplace can not only retain this critical part of your workforce but also help them grow during an incredibly impactful phase of their career.
Invest in backup care. Our Beyond Parental Leave study revealed that while 78% of parents have needed backup care at some point in their career, just 8% of parents actually had child care subsidies. Breakdowns in child care not only cost parents—nearly 1 out of 4 parents reported last year being fired from their jobs due to the continuing breakdown of child care for their kids—but they also cost businesses in absenteeism and productivity, and the economy overall…. to the tune of a whopping $122 billion.
Consider on-site or near-site care. For parents that can’t work remotely—think nurses, teachers and other front-line workers—child care becomes even trickier and on-site or near-site care can be customized to meet their unique needs. Even for those workers that have more flexibility, finding a child care seat at an existing provider can range from challenging to nearly impossible. When employers offer on-site childcare, employee absences and job turnover decrease by 30% and 60%, respectively. A dedicated facility for your employees guarantees affordable, accessible care, and keeps them dedicated to staying at your workplace.
Worried your non-caregiving employees will feel neglected if you invest in such a specific benefit? If your organization is offering tuition reimbursement, a career training program, or even a 401K, then you’re already meeting individual groups of employees where they are. It’s not about favoring caregivers, it’s about recognizing and meeting your employees’ needs when they arise. When everyone’s getting what they need—and that includes caregiving benefits—they can show up to work as their best selves and be more productive for each other and for your company’s bottom line.
Vivvi provides flexible, cost-effective caregiving solutions that fit the needs of the workforce today. Whether you’re a global company looking to switch from a legacy provider with outdated pricing models, or a small business that didn’t think you could afford caregiving benefits, Vivvi’s suite of customizable solutions—including onsite and near-site care; backup care; care reimbursements; and virtual tutoring—is meeting companies where they are, at every budget. Learn more about Vivvi and how to support your caregiving employees.