Culture   //   February 16, 2022  ■  4 min read

Are the kids alright? Working parents ‘at breaking point’ need more support than ever from employers

Many students will return to classrooms after February’s Spring break and some parents are heading back to offices, but the daily routines of life are nowhere near normal in these days of Covid-19.

In fact, in some ways it’s more chaotic for parents than ever — with daycare worker shortages, the unpredictability of whether your kids will be sent home from school unexpectedly to quarantine or just generally trying to avoid getting sick.

A new survey from Bright Horizons, a global provider of child care services, shows how critical the situation is today: almost half (47%) of the employed-parent respondents declared they’re at breaking point.

“We have heard this quite a bit in our surveys of working parents,” said Bright Horizons CEO Stephen Kramer, adding that caregivers remain “fatigued by the toll that the pandemic and its associated disruptions to care have taken on their families.”

This fatigue will show up in their jobs too, according to Kramer. “It is essential that employers provide child care solutions to be able to engage and retain this employee population,” he said. The vast majority of working parents surveyed for the study, released on January 24, emphasized that finding answers to their child care needs are vital. And while efforts have been made by some employers to offer child care support by building on-site child care centers, there is a long way to go.

“Nearly three-quarters of parents said the continuity of in-person schooling or child care is very or extremely important to their children’s well-being and two-thirds said that continuity was critical to their ability to work,” said Kramer.

“This speaks volumes about the worry and stress parents are carrying with them on a daily basis,” he added. “They know how valuable the consistency and quality of care is to their children’s social and emotional development and overall well-being. And when working parents don’t have the support for that consistent care, the impact on them is going to carry over into work.”

Some experts contend the child care crisis could be turned into an opportunity.

Charter, an online media company dedicated to transforming workplaces, and Vivvi, a child-care and early learning provider, have what they describe as a “playbook” for business leaders.

Titled “A Better Future for Working Parents” and published at the end of the summer last year, it highlights the need for restructuring the workplace.

The authors write that employed parents expect their employers to have strategies and initiatives to better support them as they juggle caregiving and careers.

Acknowledging that Covid is likely to last a long time, the “playbook” states, “This unpredictability will only compound the struggles caregivers faced in the workplace before the pandemic — a lack of flexibility, inadequate parental leave policies, a high cost of child care and work cultures hostile to the responsibilities of caregiving.”

The study quotes Rebecca Gross, a mother of three and head of partner management at advertising tech firm Outbrain, speaking about what working parents face. “It’s a lose-lose almost all the time. You’re either sacrificing career growth to be with your kids more often or you’re sacrificing time at home… I’m 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,” she said in the study.

The “Better Future” analysis is promoting several recommendations to transform the work environment into a place more friendly to parents, including creating permanent systems for remote and hybrid work; considering caregiving obligations when designing workplace roles; and offering paid family leave for all caregivers, including fathers.

Kramer believes if employers don’t provide help, they may risk losing talent. He advocates for more businesses to provide work-site child care and early education as a way to provide more consistency for children as parents adapt to a hybrid work model — a move which will boost the productivity of working parents.

“Working parents are clamoring for child care support and showing a real sense of commitment and loyalty to their employer when it is provided on-site,” Kramer added.

Maribeth Bearfield, chief human resources officer at Bright Horizons, said the company’s poll results “shout out” that working parents need more support. She believes some employers are starting to make the link between providing child care support and retaining talent.

For example, Major League Baseball is partnering with Bright Horizons to offer a replacement care program for the MLB workforce. That means whenever parent’s regular care falls through, a back-up system will be in place where the child can attend a local care center or they can provide a caregiver in the home.