More than a year and a half into the coronavirus pandemic, with children as young as 5 getting vaccinated, and cases improving across the nation, many companies are returning back to in-person work environments. But what does this mean for working parents?
Charter, an online media company dedicated to transforming workplaces, and Vivvi, a child-care and early learning provider, recently highlighted the need for restructuring the workplace for working parents and caregivers in their report "A Better Future for Working Parents." In 2021, working parents expect their employers to have strategies and initiatives designed to better support them, as balancing caregiving and careers has been an ongoing struggle.
"Child care has long been a drastic, unmet need for working families — driven by fundamental supply/demand imbalances, skyrocketing costs and lack of quality, flexible options aligned with how families live their lives today," said Charles Bonello, co-founder and CEO of Vivvi, in the report. "That pain point is not and never was a cosmetic one — it represents one of the biggest hurdles to workforce participation, generational economic mobility and broad economic growth."
When it comes to redefining what it means to be a caregiver in the workplaces, companies must continue to break the "unnecessarily rigid" work patterns employees endured pre-pandemic. Charter and Vivvi found that the most useful strategies for supporting these employees fall under three categories: flexibility, benefits and culture.
Here are three strategies they recommend for making the workplace more efficient for working parents/caregivers:
1. "Create systems for remote and hybrid work, and encourage working asynchronously to maintain flexible schedules."
With half of America living in child-care deserts and increased child-care costs, there is an immense need for hybrid and remote work options for parents and caregivers. According to a report from LendingTree, child care costs increased over 40% during the pandemic, adding even more stress for working parents and surging the need for versatility. Providing parents with greater flexibility to determine their schedules or work remotely will help them balance work deadlines and family obligations.
Though these options may be more asynchronous, they can benefit caregivers/working parents and help companies retain employees. According to a Catalyst survey of workers worldwide, women with child-care responsibilities were 32% less likely to report an intention to leave their jobs when they had remote options.
Rebecca Gross, head of partner management at Outbrain and mother of 3, called lack of flexibility at work a "lose-lose."
"You're either sacrificing career growth to be with your kids more often or you're sacrificing time at home and tabling bigger ambitions at work," she said in the report. "And regardless of your choice to be at home or work more often I am always left with guilt that I'm not doing either as well as I should or could if I had more time or more help."
The Charter and Vivvi playbook also called for a broadened definition of who counts as a caregiver to include "people caring for older children with learning disabilities, aging relatives, relatives with physical or mental health needs." This ensures that there is no discrimination among parents and caregivers, who often share the same responsibilities, and extends flexibility to all who need it.
In addition to hybrid and remote work, the report also suggested managers use digital tools for collaboration and written communication instead of meetings.
2. "Offer paid family leave for all caregivers, and encourage all parents to take full advantage of their leave, especially fathers."
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey in March 2021 found that only 23% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave. And despite the push by American citizens for paid parental and medical leave, recent budget bills have fallen short in making it a reality.
The report highlights that men, especially, deserve the same access to paid leave as women in the workplace. Data from the Department of Labor shows that 70% of fathers who take parental leave for the birth of a child take less than 10 days. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms and, thinks companies who "stigmatize and penalize parental leave" are to blame.
"I think men want to take it." she told Charter and Vivvi. "They want to be with their kids too. But we haven't created that corporate cultural environment."
The report also called on companies and organizations to help working parents pay for child care, with methods like flexible spending accounts for dependent care, reimbursement of child-care costs, and on-site child-care centers as ways to support working parents' childcare efforts. Offering or subsidizing backup child care is another way employers can help working parents.
"Providing backup child care has immediate ROI on the business as it allows employees to continue to work, and employees feel incredibly grateful to have access to this benefit," said Alison Whalen, Co-Founder and CEO of Parentaly, in the report.
3. "Consider caregiving obligations when designing roles."
Workplace culture plays a huge role in working parents and caregivers being comfortable and feeling supported by their employers. Arguably the most important of the three categories, culture helps create a celebratory and uplifting environment around caregiving.
The report commended Patagonia on its extensive efforts of ensuring an inclusive and supportive workplace culture for their employees. Patagonia provides on-site childcare for children from infancy to kindergarten, with the childcare center at the "center of their community" for easier accessibility. They also let parents eat lunch with their kids while at work, allowing them to "make it for milestones, like first steps, and supports nursing moms to feed their children throughout the day."
Tessa Byars, mom of two and brand & internal communications employee at Patagonia, expressed her dedication to the company, as her children are enrolled in the childcare program.
"It's not just that I'm dedicated to staying here because this is my child care," Byars said in the report. "You have a deep appreciation for a company that meets your needs beyond just a desk and a computer. I was able to nurse both of my children on site, and travel (for work) with assistance through the program."
Ensuring that "caregiving is visible and supported" will help lessen the stigma on caregivers in the workplace and encourage openness.