8 trends in employer support for the childcare crisis

Direct assistance with childcare arrangements is just one benefit on the rise.
By: | August 24, 2020 • 3 min read

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The statistics surround the growing childcare crisis are sobering: Nearly half of working American parents have lost the childcare arrangement they had before COVID-19—and about half of Americans had already lived in what’s termed a “childcare desert,” where care is hard to come by. Working women are handling nearly 70% of childcare responsibilities during business hours, and nearly 75% of parents juggling work and childcare report higher anxiety levels.

The numbers are bleeding into the (virtual) workplace: In one employer survey cited by Bright Horizons, the nation’s largest provider of employer-sponsored childcare, on a recent HRE webinarabout 13% of working parents have quit or reduced their hours in the last few months because of childcare conflicts; another quarter of those surveyed are considering leaving, and about half are hoping to modify their work schedule.

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As parents gear up for a new school year, what are employers doing to confront these numbers? Bright Horizons leaders said this week that they’ve seen an “unprecedented volume” of employers seeking to create childcare solutions for their workforces. Here are a few of the strategies they’re seeing rise to the top of the pile:

Emphasis on wellbeing: Employers should ensure workers are aware of their PTO and other leave programs and should share information about resources such as EAPs.

Support for flexibility: Jennifer Vena, vice president of consulting services at Bright Horizons, noted that one of her direct reports asked if she could begin her remote workday at 10 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.; the employee is a single parent of an 8-year-old daughter who has ADHD, and the child is most focused and successful in virtual learning early in the morning. That simple shift in her schedule, Vena said, made the employee more satisfied and productive, a “win/win” for the company.

Wellbeing, benefits apps: Many employers are turning to science-backed applications that promote better sleep, activity levels and nutrition to help employees cope with the physical, mental and emotional stress of the childcare crisis.

Childcare center access: When it comes to direct support, Bright Horizons is seeing more employers seeking to connect employees with childcare—especially at an affordable rate, such as through employer subsidies. Nigel Birtwistle, head of client services at Bright Horizons, noted that employee concerns about the safety protocols of such centers are also resonating with employers.

Micro-school support: Some employers are helping employees get their children into smaller, facilitated learning programs.

Related: How a ‘menu of options’ can ease the childcare burden

Nannies: Employers can recruit, place and provide subsidies for one-on-one care, such as nannies, who may be qualified to provide educational support for school-aged children.

Tutoring: Virtual and live tutoring options are being offered at discounts to employees, with programs that offer coursework for all ages and abilities, along with access to individual support and learning pods.

Backup care: Childcare coverage for gaps—such as when one parent is working from home and the other outside of the house—is becoming increasingly popular, said Birtwistle. Many employers that already assisted with backup care are expanding their coverage allowances.

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Considering the uncertainty around the pandemic, and its effects on both schools and workplaces, employers need to view their family support programs as part of a marathon—not a sprint. “We’re in this for the long run,” noted Birtwistle.

Given that, more employers are recognizing the long-term individual needs of their employees and tailoring programs to fit them.

“Previously, employers may say, ‘This is our approach and here’s a great solution.’ Now, however, they’re offering more of a choice,” Birtwistle said. “They’re giving employees the option to select programs and solutions that fit their needs and their preferences.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.