According to a 2017 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, only 70 percent of mothers still work full-time after having their first child, and that number skews lower for mothers with younger children. Why are so many mothers leaving the workforce, and could onsite childcare be the solution?
Unsurprisingly, many women cite the reality of new motherhood as their reason for leaving. Many feel it’s easier to leave a one-year old in daycare than, say, a three-month old — especially if the child is nursing. Add in the skyrocketing costs of full-time daycare or babysitting — it’s not uncommon for families to spend close to 7 percent or more of their income on childcare — and the time needed to recuperate physically after childbirth, and the alternative of staying home starts to sound more appealing.
Who’s Staying Home?
Women aren’t the only ones trading the office for the playroom; the number of stay-at-home dads has risen dramatically in the past decade, too, with as many as 2 million self-reporting as the family’s primary caregiver in a 2012 PEW study. Additionally, the Department of Labor’s study shows that only 13 percent of workers have access to paid family leave, while 88 percent of workers have access to unpaid family leave. Further, 11 percent are offered childcare assistance, while only 6 percent have access to flexible workplace benefits.
The growing demand for better parenthood leave comes at a time when the conversation around agile working is livelier than ever. Employees across all industries — parents or not — are finally speaking up for the necessity of flexible hours and time off policies, and clued-in employers are finally following suit. These days, the conversation surrounding parenthood leave isn’t a secondary one, and for young professionals with an eye on family planning, it’s factoring into negotiation conversations now more than ever.
Several corporations have already starting embracing a new kind of work-life balance, especially in the face of the often-criticized and rapidly changing 9-to-6 work schedule. For new parents especially, the notion that work stays at the office and life stays at home, simply doesn’t compute in today’s always-on, fully integrated culture. As a result, companies like Netflix have started offering all new parents up to a year of paid leave, while giants like Microsoft aren’t far behind, bringing beefed up parental leave policies of their own to the table.
Still, the U.S. ranks dead last among developed countries for paid maternity leave, and 1 in 4 new mothers reported taking just 2 weeks of maternity leave in 2014. Two weeks; 14 days. That translates to a mere 336 hours with a new baby before getting back to the office. When faced with limitations like these, it’s no wonder so many parents choose not to return to work.
But for many parents, leaving the working world to stay home with the kids isn’t just unrealistic or undesirable — it’s not an option. Many families depend on the dual-income of two working parents, even in the face of rising childcare costs. While trading full-time work for full-time parenthood works for many parents, for others, the idea of walking away from a career to be a full-time mother or father leaves something to be desired. Thankfully, there’s a middle ground: on-site child care.
On-Site Childcare Is Good for Business
As the poster child for the emerging trend, Patagonia has been offering affordable, on-site childcare to all corporate employees since the 1980s.
What started as co-founder Malinda Chouinard helping an employee balance work with “the isolation and exhaustion of being a working mother,” would become the impetus for an on-site childcare program that would revolutionize Patagonia’s work culture, and provide a model for companies looking to offer better support to working parents for decades to come.
In 1983, Chouinard parked a trailer out front of the company (then known as Great Pacific Iron Works) so that her colleague would have a comfortable place to breastfeed. A few years later, Chouinard upgraded the with a dedicated wing, a full-time teacher and an a childcare staff.
The operation soon became the Great Pacific Child Development Center (GPCDC). Today, the school serves 80 kids ages 0-9 with all-day care, priced on a sliding scale ranging from $500-$1,300 in fees, with need-based financial support available for qualifying families. Patagonia is now also extending the benefit to employees working in their Reno, Nevada distribution warehouse, too.
Onsite childcare could help companies retain workers ... and workers keep their careers.
How Much Does It Cost?
By Chouinard’s estimation, 85 percent of Patagonia employees take advantage of the program. Moreover, Patagonia estimates that it makes up about 91 percent of the program’s annual $1 million expense budget through tax credits and employee retention.
After working out the kinks in the first few chaotic years, they’ve since streamlined the model to one that balances business with the greater lives of its employees. Nursing mothers are able to feed babies in between meetings, or bring them along if necessary, and fathers can pop into the school during coffee breaks or read with kiddos over the lunch hour. And thanks to an interactive learning facility designed with Patagonia’s brand values in mind, the school is raising the next crop of environmentally connected youths, too; the school features a garden, interactive outdoor play areas, and a rock wall for hands-on, outdoor education.
The benefits to creating a pro-family culture are many, not the least of which seems to be increased employee focus. Allowing employees to move more seamlessly between the various facets of their life means less wasted time, less absenteeism at home and at work, and more time plugging in when and where it makes sense.
A Rising Tide Raises All Boats
The long and short of it is that offering onsite childcare isn’t just good for women; it’s good for fathers, and it’s good for business, too. Adjusting policies to accommodate working parents has been shown to dramatically improve employee retention, which is generally a pretty good indicator of overall employee satisfaction. The culture created by Patagonia’s incorporation of onsite childcare has long-since been one of balance, wellness, and family. Further, it allows them to express their brand values of respect and conservation (in this case, as it pertains to family time) more fully.
While not all companies have the funds to support self-sustaining on-site childcare, there are certain measures employers can take to make a healthy work-life balance more realistic, and certain things job-seekers can look for in a company. Namely, a flexible time-off policy — especially when it comes to family planning.
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