Holidays are stressful in general, with everyone trying to shop, tick things off their to-do list and attend holiday outings, but they can be especially taxing for working parents of young children who need to find child care in order to free up their time to get things done and enjoy the season. As part of their health and wellness initiatives, companies such as PayPal and Microsoft offer ways to relieve some of this burden.
The online payments company and tech giant have teamed up with Bright Horizons, a provider of employer-sponsored child care, to hire and pay for babysitters so employees can attend the holiday party or work during the break when the kids are off from school.
For Dijana Kvakic and Kasey De Goey, both customer solutions specialists in PayPal's Omaha office, this was the perfect holiday gift.
Kvakic had at first declined when the email came around the office last month notifying PayPal employees of this year's annual holiday party. As a single mother of two children, she said it was just too costly to hire child care for the evening.
De Goey hesitated to respond at all until the news. Having moved to Omaha a year earlier, she has no family nearby and often struggles to find child care for her 18-month-old son beyond the typical working hours. "Hiring a babysitter during those hours would have been too [cost]-prohibitive," she said.
PayPal's announcement that they were teaming up with Bright Horizons and paying for babysitters in employees' homes or at the hotel where the party was being held was a game changer.
"Having this option is one less stressful thing to worry about," said De Goey. "It lets us know that PayPal is a company that cares about its employees. I'm not just another employee that works in the call center but an individual that needs time to themselves to relax, go out and have fun."
Kvakic agreed: "It's a huge weight off my shoulders, and now I'll be able to enjoy my time with my colleagues [and] network with new co-workers. It would have been a lost opportunity for me if I couldn't attend," she said.
Indeed, the office holiday party is not just a social event but a good career move, as it is a prime time to network with executives you might not otherwise have access to," said recruiting and career consultant Abby Kohut. "Going to the party enhances the view that you are a team player."
There are other benefits to the holiday party as well: A recent Gallup poll reports that workers with close friendships experienced improved employee satisfaction by 50% and make them more engaged team members.
According to PayPal's senior benefits program manager Kelli Dickeson, about 300 employees take part in the service. "Wellness is one of our core values, and we were hearing we could provide more support to our employees so they could attend holiday parties. It's a busy time of the year, and it's difficult to find a sitter, and there's a financial burden that goes along with that, too."
Hiring babysitters to reduce employee stress, especially around the holidays, is a growing trend, said Bright Horizons' CEO Stephen Kramer. "Thirty years ago we wouldn't have dreamed of an employer stepping in to help out at the holiday party. It really is reflective at how times have changed and companies are recognizing the need to integrate work and life," he said.
Watertown, Massachusetts-based Bright Horizons currently serves 1,200 clients, 800 of which provide backup care for their employees, said Kramer, especially around the holidays. Although the employee child-care provider has 1,000 offices worldwide, Kramer said the U.S. has been the most progressive in providing backup care beyond working hours.
"Employers in the U.S. recognize that the holidays are busy for everyone, but especially for working parents. The workplace is especially busy at the end of the year, so companies are trying to have additional support so employees can focus on their job," said Kramer.
For a number of years now, Microsoft has been providing child care to its employees over the holiday break and other times of the year when they need to meet a business commitment when kids are off from school.
In truth, hiring child care is not only a boon for the employee but for the employer as well, Kramer explained.
According to a study conducted by Finder.com, workers spend about 1.7 hours of the day shopping online. Overall, 57% of employed Americans confessed to shopping while on the clock, the personal finance site said, totaling some 234 million hours a day browsing the internet.
This adds up to millions of hours of lost productivity.
This year sales on Cyber Monday hit a record record $9.4 billion, up 19.7% from a year ago, according to data released by Adobe Analytics, solidifying it now as the busiest shopping day in America. The peak time? Between 11 a.m. and noon, with 25- to 34-year-olds making up the second largest portion of shoppers, at just over 18%.
Employers such as PayPal believe that providing in-home babysitters or child care on weekends leading up to the holidays so working parents can run errands, or renting out a Bright Horizons center in the evening so parents can shop, can offset that. And offering babysitting during the holiday party increases attendance and fuels better relationships at work.
Bright Horizons' Kramer said that with the lines between work and personal life increasingly blurring, multitasking at work during the holidays — shopping online and planning a family vacation — has become commonplace, but "employers are working really hard to try to get employees not to do online shopping and keep the workforce productive."
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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Microsoft offers backup child care year-round for its employees.