Fire in the workforce: If schools and daycares shutter again, what’s next?

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The expansion, almost standardization, of the work-from-home reality has removed walls. Mind you; these are not necessarily walls that we chose to have come down. Childcare issues among COVID-19 are corporate issues, full stop.

As schools shuttered, daycares closed, and campuses sent students home, many of us had personal circumstances we never wanted to share play out in real-time on Zoom. Over the decades of our careers, we’ve learned who wants to hear about our lives, and who wants us to listen and perform without stories from the homefront.

Not my circus, not my monkeys, not so fast!

The absence of childcare and schools isn’t a parent problem. It’s two locomotives racing toward one another on a single track, and we’re in a moment where companies must begin to think about their workforces and craft a plan to avert disaster.

There are legal and ethical obstacles to ignoring the situation; practically speaking, if companies choose to stop hiring parents, the candidate pool would shrink considerably. And what of the individuals currently in positions?

Parents represented more than 32% of the U.S. civilian workforce in 2016. A survey of 30 companies in Europe, the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand showed that due to COVID-19, more than 60% of executives work from home with family responsibilities. Before the pandemic, childcare challenges were the cause of $12.7 billion in annual losses for U.S. businesses.

There is a reckoning to come if we don’t begin to act now.

How do you plan for the unknowable?

It’s impossible to know what to expect:

  • Will students go back in the fall? The closure of schools in 190 countries has impacted 1.7 billion children, 90% of students worldwide.
  • Will daycares stay open? Between March and April, 336,000 child care workers in the United States lost their jobs. This loss could translate to 4.5 million childcare slots going away.

There’s a likelihood that many childcare centers will not have been able to weather the financial hardship of closure and will never reopen. Childcare was already an issue, impacting men and women, with 2 million parents acknowledging that they made career sacrifices in 2016 due to problems with child care. People dismiss work-life balance until “something is wrong,” – that kind of disregard is a choice, and not a wise one.

Could the solution be that empathy and flexibility can boost the bottom line? The family-friendly policies introduced by Nordic countries since 1970, and associated increases in female employment, have raised growth in GDP per capita by nearly 20 percent.

Childcare issues and COVID-19: 6 solutions to the crisis

Before the pandemic, it was conceivable to maintain deliberate oblivion to people’s circumstances. That’s not possible now.

The individuals we employ are human beings with complex responsibilities and pulls outside of work. The layers that exist in a person’s experience contribute to the richness of creativity and tenacity they use to problem-solve, innovate, and connect with co-workers, clients, and vendors.

The inadequacy and uncertainty of child care on a global level is irrefutable – it’s time to create solutions.

Solutions to childcare issues amid COVID-19:

  1. Flexible work hours: Tying performance evaluation to project completion instead of billable hours can increase employees’ capacity to succeed. This approach allows employees to work when other responsibilities fade (early morning, late night), easing the burdens of the absence of school and the necessity to manage kids during traditional business hours.
  2. On-site childcare: Creating an on-site solution for childcare can lower absenteeism and create a discounted option. On a more long-term view, it can increase the potential talent pool.
  3. Offsetting child care expenses: U.S. based companies can offer a Dependent Care FSA to allow employees to use pre-tax funds to cover some childcare costs leading to costs savings of up to 30%
  4. Creative options for kids: Flexable, a Pittsburgh-based start-up that connects companies and parents with child care providers launch Virtual MiniCamp. It’s a series of 30-60 minute video chat sessions for kids age 3-10.
  5. Four-day work week: Again, this ties into shaping the work time to the circumstances of the employee.
  6. Job-sharing: Considering that the unexpected will happen, having more than one person trained, versed, and ready to work on projects and accounts creates cushion and flexibility.

Release the ideal of everything looking the same

Creating lasting change through an ongoing commitment to support your workforce reflects an appreciation of your team. Ultimately, companies have to believe that these changes are as fundamental as providing health insurance and vacation time. There need to be open conversations about the motivation for these changes. Much of the work that we have to do requires us to let go of “how it’s always been done.”

Introducing new systems is bound to bring growing pains, but on the other side will be a productivity and efficiency spectrum that will enhance the bottom line. We cannot talk about human capital without honoring individual value. As we move forward it is necessary that we do in a way that allows everyone to come with us.

Is your workforce okay? 
Free tools to check in on them can be found HERE.

Amanda Magee
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Amanda Magee

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