After the COVID-19 pandemic, working parents are taking stock of what matters most to them and looking to make career choices that align their work with their personal priorities. Salary alone isn’t enough anymore to keep someone at their current place of employment. Benefits are driving job choices now more than ever, and companies that provide those choices and meet the needs of their employees will see greater retention and a happier, more satisfied workforce.

Many employers have faced pandemic-related disruptions and labor shortages, and more of them have started to see child care as a workforce issue, according to Tom Weber, who leads The Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education.

According to research by McKinsey, 34% of working mothers reported child care concerns as a top reason for leaving the workforce. Moreover, additional research from Bright Horizons’ Modern Family Index confirms working parents prefer a job that works well with their family responsibilities and child care needs (35%) and is just as strong a motivator to stay with their employer over the next 12 months as doubling their compensation (36%).

The unpredictability of the pandemic brought to light just how important high-quality reliable child care is to so many working families. The pressures working parents face can often lead to burn out, lowering employee satisfaction and ultimately affecting their opportunities in the workplace. The Modern Family Index found that 88% of employed moms and dads report they are currently suffering through some level of exhaustion and fatigue at work, and 40% report that they feel this way frequently. Worse, for many working parents, the exhaustion feels like a never-ending loop where they are unable to focus on work due to family (23%) and unable to focus on family due to work (18%). They are just trying to survive, with no extra time or energy to even think about their career trajectory or explore any additional learning or growth opportunities.

Front-line of Exhaustion

The COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on front-line employees, particularly working parents who were more likely than other parents to feel exhausted, burned out and ready to leave their jobs. Like their peers in remote jobs, working parents in front-line roles reported extreme stress, but they were more than twice as likely as other working parents to say the stress was constant. Roughly one-in-three are working longer days (32%) and they are having more trouble managing their workloads compared to other working parents (33% vs. 28%).

A recent report released by the surgeon general in May 2022, Health Worker Burnout — Current Priorities of the U.S. Surgeon General, references being responsive to health care workers needs and showing they are valued by promoting family friendly policies like offering child care benefits for front-line workers.

The Modern Family Index shows that parents in health care are more likely to cite access to regular child care as a way their employer can help them in 2022 (35% vs. 29%).

By offering child care support to employees, employers promote better work/life balance, which then results in feeling less stressed by personal responsibilities. Employees now have the mind space to think more about career growth and take advantage of opportunities to innovate and learn. This all adds up for employers as it increases retention and job satisfaction overall.

Onsite Child Care

Clients like Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Podium Software and Horizon Therapeutics all opened centers during the pandemic, while many of Bright Horizon’s hospital clients, like Wellstar and Mass General Brigham to name just a few, kept their centers open throughout the pandemic to support their employees.

Take client Recursion Pharmaceuticals in Salt Lake City. When the company opened its onsite center in the summer of 2021, the goal was to make the workplace a compelling destination for employees. “My belief, and Recursion’s belief, is that employers have a responsibility to be part of the solution,” says Recursion chief people officer, Heather Kirkby. “I’m proud to work for a company that’s willing to commit to supporting working parents in such a meaningful way.” By offering onsite child care, the company is providing a high-quality, reliable child care for employees, making it easier for them to stay in the workplace.

Results from the Modern Family Index showed that 46% of parents also want an emergency/back up child care benefit option. In fact, Bright Horizons has seen a 28% increase in the number of U.S. business clients who’ve added back up care since the pandemic. Back up care allows for flexibility for working parents by offering in home or center-based care on an as needed basis, should a last-minute meetings or new training opportunities pop up on their calendars.

As we saw over the past few years, families without access to child care see their careers suffer.  Companies that provide child care benefits have a more satisfied workforce overall. This helps not only in terms of retention for the company, but advancement for the employee. They want to bring their whole selves to work. Without external worries, they can focus on their careers, and even participate in training and development opportunities for career advancement, knowing that their children are in a safe, supportive environment.

Moving Forward

Employers that do offer child care support likely have an advantage when it comes to retaining employees and promoting a more productive workplace, in part due to the time they give back to working parents to focus on their professional development, which is tremendous given the current labor market and The Great Resignation we find ourselves in.

Companies are finding that employer-sponsored child care promotes a family-friendly “employer brand” that helps satisfy the kind of talent businesses need to remain competitive. Organizations that adapt their benefits and policies to meaningfully support their employees will reap the benefits of a happier workforce who will be both more productive, and willing to stay.