At Work

Companies grapple with caregiving challenges for workers as school year starts

Key Points
  • Back-to-school is underway around the country, but this year schools are rolling out virtual, in-person and hybrid learning programs.  
  • Employers grapple with how to provide child-care resources for employees during the pandemic while managing costs due to the downturn.
  • Forty-three percent of working adults also said that they are likely to consider taking a leave of absence due to Covid-19-related family issues, and a quarter of the cargiver respondents say they are struggling, according to a recent Wellthy survey.
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Back-to-school is well underway around the country, but this year the pandemic has made the process much more complicated. With some schools offering virtual learning, some mandating in-person learning, and some offering a hybrid of the two,  students and parents are feeling the pressure. The situation has become a thorny issue for workers juggling job and education responsibilities for their children. It's also major challenge for employers, particularly those that rely on essential workers. As of July, only 32% of companies returning to work have plans for employees' child-care needs even as the majority of schools postpone reopening full-time, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

"Setting up an office is straight forward, setting up care-giving is not," explains Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, CEO of Wellthy, a health-tech care concierge focused on helping families care for loved ones with complex, chronic, and ongoing care needs. Launched in 2014, Wellthy partnered with companies as a resource service for employees to utilize particularly for challenging care giving situations, but this year, as the pandemic strained care-giving needs for many families, Wellthy saw a major pick up in business for broader uses.

And as the school year kicks off with so many unknowns, care giving is on the top of mind for parents and their employers. As many schools choose to open school remotely parents will have to find a way to balance the impossible tasks of simultaneously acting as a teacher and full-time employee. In many cases, companies are trying to meet the needs of their workforce.

Expanding workplace flexibility

In June, Wellthy surveyed nearly 1,200 working adults nationwide to see if they felt if their employers were meeting their  needs of their employees during these nervous times. Luckily, 81% of full- or part-time workers felt supported by their employers through the pandemic. For example, Ernst & Young will provide discounted tutoring and double its benefits program that offers employees access to care-giving. PwC is also doubling its back-up care reimbursement to $2,000 and are offering discounts on nanny placements, tuition programs and tutoring. PwC is also expanding its workplace flexibility plan as the pandemic enters its sixth month, ranging from -- allowing employees to block time during the day for personal reasons and firm-wide "no video Fridays" to offering sabbaticals and reduced schedules to take care of personal priorities. 

Still, the support and benefits companies provide to their employees may not be enough. The Wellthy survey also found that nearly half of caregiver respondents (48%) have increased how much time they spend per week on care-related activities of their children and elder care; and of those polled, 43% of working adults also said that they are likely to consider taking a leave of absence due to Covid-19-related family issues. A quarter of the caregiver respondents say they are struggling to manage their work responsibilities and their caregiving demands, 

The upheaval also comes at a financial cost to companies during this economic downturn. " These are tough times and we are hearing that companies can't always afford to do things to support their workers," says Jurist-Rosner. "But there is also a huge cost in not doing so. Missed shifts of essential workers can cost a company 1.5 to 3 times [that individual's] an hourly wage. Not having a way to support your workers when it comes to care-giving can be a huge detriment to everyone." 

Caregivers also risk losing income. According to a survey from Debt.com, nearly half of the 590 parents surveyed said they expected to lose some of the household income often due to cutting back on hours or missed shifts because of childcare issues. 

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While some employees are eager to ditch the Zoom meetings and get back into the office, others are far more hesitant. The Wellthy survey also found that 70% of employees are concerned about going back to the office due to potential Covid-19 exposure and caregiving needs. Additionally, 15% said they never want to go back to full-time hours in an office. 

The new school year may be shining the light on how closely childcare is linked to the overall health of the economy which may be the start of some long-term change in child-care benefits offered by companies nationwide. In the meantime, while the care giving issue may cause strain on many workers and companies, 41% of those surveyed say they have loved the extra time with their family. 

To explore more great leaders balancing current challenges with future opportunities, join CNBC Events at the next @Work CFO Spotlight on September 23rd, featuring discussions with current and former finance and talent executives from Hilton, Levi's, Gilead, Coca-Cola and more. You can also be a part of the @Work Summit on October 6th, where we'll chat with Stewart Butterfield of Slack, Vasant Prabhu of Visa, Aaron Levie of Box and so many others rewriting the rules for the future of work.