Parents face unique challenges in the working world. The high cost of child care sometimes forces one parent – usually the mother – to stay home with the children despite wanting to work. The “Motherhood Penalty” refers to the idea that those who jump off their career tracks to focus on raising children – by leaving school, leaving work, reducing hours, or switching to a more family friendly career – see significant decreases in their wages.
The Fiscal Times reports that 75% of parents of both genders feel like they don’t have enough time to spend with their children. Companies tend to view parents – again, especially mothers – as less dedicated to their jobs. Working mothers get passed over when it comes to promotions and raises. The outlook is grim.
The good news is that there can be a happy balance. Surprisingly, when people become parents, they tend to become more efficient at work.
Since a recent Gallup poll shows that over 90% of Americans either have children or would like to have children some day, business owners would do well to take a better look at how their policies help or hinder parents. Employee retention is a big money-saver, and if you’re losing good employees for family-related reasons, some of the following ideas could help you attract and keep some of the best workers out there.
1. Child Care
Child care is expensive. According to Child Care Aware, child care costs more than 12% of the total household income in about half of the states in the U.S. When new parents crunch the numbers, they sometimes see that the cost of a daycare center is about equal to one parent’s take-home pay. At that point, staying home with the children looks like an attractive option financially, even if it may not be the best choice for that parent’s career.
Even when daycare is affordable, it can be difficult to find a center that has the right hours hours, highly-trained staff, low employee turnover rates, and a convenient location.
Companies can support working parents by offering an on-site daycare center. This is the choice that Patagonia made long ago, and it’s one of the reasons why the company has a 100% retention rate for moms. With on-site daycare, parents are able to reduce their commute time and spend more time with their children – both on the way to work and by stopping in for lunch breaks during the day.
This is an expensive option that may only be realistic for large companies. Smaller companies could support parents by providing a list of nearby trusted daycare centers.
2. Family Leave
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers within the public sector, public and private elementary schools, and private companies that have more than fifty employees to provide eligible employees with up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs. It’s usually referred to as “parental leave” because most people take their leave after the birth of a baby or the adoption of a child. Employees can also take leave for medical reasons or to care for a family member who’s sick.
It’s important to note that the law simply states that employers must hold the job – and seniority level – of the worker while they’re on leave; they don’t have to pay a salary. While some states do require full or partial pay during the leave, it’s a far cry from the twelve months of paid leave offered to citizens in other countries.
A family friendly company should have a generous leave policy. You might offer this benefit even if you have fewer than fifty employees. You might offer paid benefits even if the law doesn’t require it. You might foster a company culture that encourages fathers to take parental leave as well. With a great family leave policy, you can be certain that you’ll attract top talent.
3. Flexible Work Arrangements
Parents also tend to appreciate flexible work arrangements. The traditional eight-to-five or nine-to-six work schedule can be difficult to manage. Parents might struggle to pick up their child before the daycare center closes. They might have a hard time getting kids to after-school activities like dance or gymnastics. The biggest problem is finding someone to watch children who are too sick to go to school or daycare. Fortunately, companies that want to be family friendly can implement a variety of solutions.
Many companies are starting to allow employees to work remotely from home. Some encourage their workers to do this on a regular basis, while others are simply lenient during the days when children are sick. This solution works best when the employee has a job that doesn’t require a lot of interaction with others on the team, but you can get around this challenge by using virtual conference rooms for meetings or an online collaborative tool like Slack.
Other companies allow their employees to have flexible work schedules. As long as the employee puts in their forty hours each week, it might not matter when the employee is working. Two-parent families, for instance, might prefer to have one parent work from 6am until 3pm while the other works from 12pm until 9pm. This would allow at least one parent to be home with the children before and after school. A single parent might work 9am until 3pm during the weekdays, then put in a few extra hours on the weekends while the grandparents provide childcare.
Many companies are even considering “job sharing.” In this case, two workers split the hours of a regular full-time position. They might have one person work the morning shift while the other works the afternoon, or they might split the days between the workers. This is an ideal situation for employees who want part-time hours but who are overqualified for the type of jobs that traditionally offer part-time hours.
4. Healthy Employees, Healthy Families
Most employees expect a solid benefits package with their job offer. Excellent health insurance options will attract quality employees across the spectrum, but parents will take a deeper look at your choices. Ideally, employees should have the ability to include their children on the plan, and if your company is willing to pick up all or part of the premiums for the kids, you’ll stand out as a great place to work.
Consider other ways that you can help your employees stay healthy. For instance, parents often have a hard time fitting in exercise, which can be detrimental to their health because exercise is known to fight off illness and increase productivity. If you were to create an on-site gym, employees can squeeze in some time for fitness during their lunch breaks or before or after work.
5. Tax Breaks for Families
Families are eligible for different tax breaks, but there are two benefits that an employer can help establish: a Health Savings Account and a Dependent Care FSA. In both situations, the payroll department takes a pre-set amount of money out of the employee’s paycheck to put into the accounts. Employees then use the money in those accounts for eligible expenses.
The Health Savings Account helps them to pay for goods and services that may not be covered in traditional health plans. Typical expenses include things like bandages, sunscreen, and dental work. The Dependent Care account helps employees use up to $5,000 in pre-tax dollars to pay for their child care costs.
6. Family-Centered Programs
Regular events outside of the office can help build team spirit, but parents often feel excluded from happy hour get-togethers and weekend retreats. If you want to build a family friendly company, think about ways that you can include kids in your activities. For instance, rather than having an after-hours meeting at a restaurant, you might plan a family friendly company picnic on a Saturday afternoon. Be sure to plan food and activities that will appeal to children. Alternatively, you could schedule a group event at a local amusement park. Many offer discounted group rates.
Another thing to consider is offering a scholarship program for children of your employees. College is a big expense, and there is often a lot of competition for scholarship programs. If your program is only available to children of employees, there’s a smaller pool of applicants and each student has a better chance of winning the award.
What Family Friendly Steps Will You Take?
Your business’ success starts with having the right people on your side. With family friendly policies, you’ll be able to attract top talent. Better yet, you’ll be able to retain those employees over the years. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.