By Robyn Chapman
Parents have been confined to their homes with their kids and without school or childcare for months. States like California have taken extraordinary measures to provide childcare for frontline families, so they can go to work. After issuing stay-at-home orders on March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order giving frontline workers priority access to childcare and subsequently released $100 million to support childcare providers serving essential workers and vulnerable populations. But, this is challenging in different ways for everyone.In article after article, parents are confessing how hard it is to work without childcare. Some cities and states are making efforts to re-open, but the crisis is far from over—our return to normal will not be the normal we remember. While it’s impossible to know what that future is, we already know what it was like as the crisis developed—and that can help us predict what businesses will need to get back up to speed.
Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic reveal the importance of things we take for granted in normal times. Over the past several months, demand for care support has surged as a nation in crisis realizes what working families have long known: you can’t work without care. In normal times, family care benefits were on the fringes of voluntary benefits, somewhere between gym memberships and perkier offerings like on-site massages. But social distancing has shown us that benefits like paid family leave and backup childcare are, in fact, essential to employees’ ability to do their jobs. As the pandemic forces employers to re-evaluate their benefits packages, care benefits are moving closer to the core—right after health and dental.
In mid-February 2020, Care.com conducted a survey of more than 1,200 full-time American workers, just as the first effects of the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation. The results describe a workforce caught in a constant state of work-life imbalance, feeling as though they’re letting down both their families and their employers.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, America’s care crisis was in full swing. More than half of respondents (53%) say they’ve had to stay home from work to care for a family member as often as once a week—a figure that climbs to 86% who’ve had to stay home at least a few times per year. Another 53% say they’ve shown up late or left early as often as weekly because a family member needed care. This adds up in a big way. Over the past decade, U.S. businesses annually lost multiple billions of dollars in lost productivity due to care-related absenteeism, distraction, adjustments and turnover.
There’s also a significant cost to families. Caregiving—whether for children or aging loved ones—takes a significant financial, emotional and physical toll on the lives of employees. Almost half of our respondents (47%) said they’ve missed family events due to work as often as once per week. And 73% told us they occasionally feel like they’re letting down the loved ones who need their care—more than half told us they feel this way on a weekly basis.
In this article, I’ll offer three reasons why family care benefits should move away from the fringes of voluntary benefits while we’re in the throes of the coronavirus crisis and remain a core offering even after the pandemic passes.
- Care needs cut across all generations.
Our workforce may be more multi-generational than ever before. Each generation has its own care needs—Millennials starting families, Gen Xers, and Boomers caring for aging parents—but our research found old demographic assumptions about who needs what are blurring. A growing number of Millennials are taking on senior care responsibilities, half of Gen Xers are in the Sandwich Generation caring for both their children and aging loved ones, and more Boomers are getting involved in the care of grandchildren. And you have Gen Z looking at what’s ahead of them. It’s not surprising then that when we asked employees about benefits they respect their employer for providing, we found respondents from all generations most frequently selected family-friendly benefits—whether they personally needed them or not.
- Family care is not (just) a women’s issue.
Historically, women have handled the brunt of household responsibilities. And there’s no shortage of data showing the connection between care responsibilities and gender inequalities, such as the wage gap and underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. Care benefits, like paid maternity leave and childcare assistance, have proven to have a positive impact for working mothers and daughters. But we don’t often hear the other side of the story—perhaps because men are less forthcoming about their care needs. Today’s fathers have become more involved as parents than past generations, and a growing number of men are taking on senior care responsibilities. In our sample, 67% of male respondents told us they provide care to an elderly person on a regular basis. More than half of male respondents (59%) said at least a few times per year they felt their career advancement had suffered due to caregiving responsibilities. Across generations, the men we surveyed placed a high value on care benefits. Nearly as many men as women indicated paid leave and backup senior care would make them more likely to stay at their current jobs, and more men than women cited coverage for fertility treatments, adoption assistance and personalized guidance from a senior care advisor.
- Family-friendliness is the new corporate social responsibility
Conscious capitalism has been on the rise in recent years, as perceptions of how ethical and socially responsible a company is have taken on more and more importance in the eyes of job-seekers, consumers and even investors. While charity and sustainability have long been examples of corporate social responsibility, the findings from our research suggest family-friendly benefits will play an increasingly larger role in guiding decisions of where to work and what brands consumers favor. A whopping 83% of our respondents agreed offering family-friendly benefits like paid leave and backup care for children and seniors is a marker of a socially responsible company. An even larger 84% of respondents told us treating its workers well is important in helping decide which brand to buy from.
Our HR partners want to stay on-trend and track with the needs of their employees. We’re in position to help define those trends and anticipate needs. Family-friendly benefits, like paid leave, backup care and flexibility are benefits that a diverse, multi-generational workforce values in good times and in bad.
Robyn Chapman has been in HR, talent acquisition, staffing and benefits for more than 10 years. As VP of broker and channel partners at Care.com she spends her days educating and enabling benefits consultants and other partners about the importance and necessity of employer-sponsored family care benefits. Reach Robyn at (404) 663-0447 or firstname.lastname@example.org