There’s no question that this year’s back to school season will look different than in preceding years. Uncertainty surrounds every facet of our lives -- if students will resume in-person learning, what that schedule will look like, and how we can keep everyone safe when returning to schools and offices.
This adds yet another layer of concern onto already stressed parents as they try to navigate what the school year will look like, both for their children and for themselves as working professionals.
Now more than ever, employers need to be mindful of their office policies and benefits offerings. They play a crucial role in whether or not your employees feel supported during this uncertain time, which is key for retention and satisfaction.
Employers can assist their employees during this time by carefully crafting a back to school plan for employees who have children.
Involving employees in the process
We talk a lot about the importance of seeking feedback from your employees. It’s even more important right now as each employee is facing a unique situation. With school districts making their own plans and families having children in different age ranges, the needs of no two employees are going to be the same in the upcoming months.
Involving employees in the process is key for creating a successful plan. Take the time to reach out individually to each employee and ask them to share what they think their needs will be as the school year begins.
Childcare benefits are no longer ancillary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72% of mothers and 94% of fathers are employed. It’s likely, given those statistics, that the majority of your workforce are parents. And with current economic conditions often requiring both parents in a household to work, childcare is necessary.
Employers should understand that childcare benefits are no longer a nice perk, but a necessity that working parents will be looking for in benefit plans. Including options to help pay for childcare in your benefits offering is not only a competitive advantage, it's a way to let your employees know you understand their priorities and want to help them alleviate their challenges.
Crafting a successful childcare plan
While most organizations agree that childcare benefits are crucial, many are unsure of the best way to incorporate them into their offerings. While company size, demographics, and budget will ultimately play a factor in which direction employers go, it’s important to keep in mind that childcare benefits are a true investment in your workforce.
Here’s what companies are utilizing for childcare plans:
● Reimbursing daycares. While this may be an ideal option for employees, it can be a bit of an unpredictable cost for employers.
● Giving a childcare stipend. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California responded to changing child care needs when COVID-19 hit by providing a $100 per day payment for employees to pay for childcare. Other organizations followed suit, finding it helped to ease working parents’ anxiety. However, this may not be a long-term solution for a lot of companies as it is more costly.
● Offering Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCA). A DCA is a best-of-both-worlds solution for organizations looking to provide long-term childcare benefits while protecting their bottom line. Employees get to use their pre-tax dollars for childcare which cuts the out-of-pocket expense, while employers see their taxable payroll decrease while still helping their employees. For a full understanding of DCAs and their benefits, or to speak with a DCA expert, click here.
● Provide financial relief with a Clarity Care Account. Making disaster relief funds available to your employees via a Clarity Care Account can relieve financial stress that your employees may be facing and give them financial breathing room to afford changing childcare needs. These plans are customizable and configurable to your organization's needs -- simply designate an amount, determine allowed spending categories, keep track of expenses, and add additional dollars when necessary. Learn more about the Clarity Care Account here.
Flexibility is key
What you offer to your employees is only half of it -- it’s how you offer benefits that really makes a difference. In 2020 especially, one word is key: flexibility.
Even though we are months into the COVID-19 situation, things are still changing every day. Children are returning to schools on an experimental hybrid model that is subject to change at any given moment, adding yet another layer of stress on working parents who are struggling to make childcare arrangements.
If your company is still working from home, have a conversation with employees to stress the importance of taking their PTO, and possibly loosen your PTO policy so parents can take unexpected days off in case their child’s school plan changes.
If your organization is either hybrid or completely remote still, work with your employees to create a schedule that works best for them. They may need hours within the traditional workday to assist their children with remote learning and other needs.
All in all, don't forget a simple act of letting your employees know you understand their challenges as a working parent. In 2020 more than ever, a little compassion will go a long way.