A profile shot of a woman sitting at a desk with a child on her lap. The woman is looking at two computer monitors, one of which is elevated on a stand. The woman has one hand on a wireless keyboard and the other on a wireless mouse. The woman's hair is pulled back into a messy bun and she sits in a plush office chair, looking focused. The child in her lap is a young girl wearing a floral-print shirt; she looks bored.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed focus to the balance between work and parenting. Working parents are concerned with child care options and spending more time with their kids. — Getty Images/EllenMoran

Employer-sponsored child care is an increasingly in-demand benefit for the modern workforce. According to a Parent Confidence report, 68% of working parents believe employers should offset the cost of child care for their employees, and 81% find a company’s child care benefits important to their job consideration process.

Many small business owners do not believe they have the resources or finances to provide child care for their employees. However, this benefit is becoming essential for employee retention.

“We’ve reached a point where child care is no longer an optional benefit,” said Dan Figurski, President of KinderCare At Work and Champions. “It’s just as critical as medical or dental coverage in determining an employer’s ability to retain current employees and attract new hires.”

This is especially true in the post-pandemic world, where workers, especially parents, have begun to examine their work-life balance more critically.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen that parents are reevaluating their priorities and centering their family in the middle,” Figurski told CO—. “Child care is a key stressor for working families and parents are looking to their employers to provide solutions.”

[Read more: 4 Smart Enhanced Employee Benefits To Kickstart Recruiting]

Post-pandemic challenges for working parents

When companies began bringing employees back into the office full- or part-time, working parents found that many of the same challenges they faced during the pandemic not only remained but were amplified. The Parent Confidence report found the following three challenges to be the most pressing for modern working parents:

  • Uncertainty around child care. Over the last two years, parents have spent more time with their children than they have in the past, leading to a desire to be more present in their lives. According to the Parent Confidence report, 69% of parents are leveraging their work flexibility to be more present with their children. This statistic is up 10% from when the survey was conducted in February 2020. This has been a driving factor in uncertainty about the safety of sending their kids to school or to child care programs. Nearly 44% of parents said this uncertainty has complicated their ability to confidently navigate parenting.
  • High stress levels. Balancing full-time work, social obligations, and parenting during the pandemic has led many parents to feel overwhelmed. Stress levels are at an all-time high, with 59% saying that parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic was the most stressful time of their life.
  • Concern about children’s mental health. Not only are parents having a hard time, but they’re also worried about how their kids are handling the pandemic and its consequences. Children aren’t immune to stress, and 80% of parents believe mental health support needs to be part of school curriculums in the future.

Without proper child care benefits, parents are often left scrambling to make accommodations to deal with these issues.

“A parent who’s trying to care for their child and work at the same time can’t adequately focus on either need,” said Figurski. “Employers can help solve this dilemma and reduce their employees’ stress levels by offering a child care benefit.”

Not every employee has the same child care needs. Some want daycare for their toddlers while others will want schedule flexibility to accommodate their teenagers’ extracurricular schedules.

Why should employers invest in child care benefits?

With parental needs and child care in focus, employers must now be adaptive to their employees’ needs or risk them leaving for another job. The job market is open, and employees are more willing to find a new opportunity if they do not believe their company values their needs.

“Working parents care more about their employers providing child care assistance — either through employer-provided child care tuition subsidies or through care in a center — than they do about employers setting ‘off hours’ where parents are unplugged and unreachable,” Figurski said.

Providing child care support isn’t just a way to show you value your employees; it also keeps you competitive and attractive to prospective employees while also retaining your top talent. Employees will stay with a company that understands their familial situations and provides benefits and flexibility for them to care for their children. In terms of recruiting, a company offering child care benefits is very attractive to talented workers looking for a new position.

“Employers looking to attract and retain the best employees must offer their workers some kind of child care benefit, whether that’s subsidized tuition, emergency back-up care, or access to an onsite or near-site child care center,” Figurski said. “In short, organizations can’t afford to wait for someone else to solve a family’s child care crisis.”

[Read more: 6 Hiring Perks to Attract Part-Time Employee]

How to help employees with child care

Learn about your employees’ needs

Not every employee has the same child care needs. Some want daycare for their toddlers while others will want schedule flexibility to accommodate their teenagers’ extracurricular schedules. To truly know what your employees want, ask them what specific benefits would be most helpful.

“Employers should listen to their employees in whatever format works best for their workers — an open forum, a parent resource group, a survey, etc.,” Figurski said. “Once employers understand what their working parents need, then they’ll be better equipped to seek out and customize the solutions that will best support their employees.”

Provide what you can

While every business would like to provide full-time child care to their employees, many small businesses don’t have the resources to do so. Offer child care services that are within the means of the company and if they’re successful, look to grow them in the future.

“If opening an onsite child care center seems out of reach for your company, start small by offering a tuition discount,” Figurski said.

Implement benefits on a trial basis

If you’re concerned about the return on investment of child care benefits, you can implement new programs on a temporary basis to see how useful they are.

“Test out your new child care benefit for a year or so and then reevaluate: Go back to your employees and ask for their feedback,” Figurski said. “You might be surprised to learn how much the benefit helped with retaining current employees or attracting new hires.”

[Read more: How Employers Can Better Support Working Parents With Childcare Solutions]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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