How on-site childcare can give companies a winning edge

At a time when the U.S. is facing labor shortage, offering on-site childcare can be one of the best ways to attract skilled talent.

April 26, 2018

Every year, parents across America participate in “take your child to work day” – an opportunity for kids to learn about how their parents earn a living.

Few companies offer parents an invitation to bring their children to the office every day, but offering on-site childcare is actually one of the best ways to attract skilled talent.

“A lack of childcare options and rigid work schedules make it difficult for many working mothers to stay in the workforce even when they want to continue advancing their careers,” says Julia Georgules, Senior Vice President and Director of Research in JLL’s New England region. “Companies that want to attract talent should take a close look at the benefits they offer to working parents—from expanding maternity and paternity leave to providing childcare on site.”

The benefits of on-site childcare

The majority of American parents – 62 percent as of 2015 — have a hard time finding and affording high-quality child care, according to Pew Research Center. As a result, many experienced and educated women are leaving the workforce.

This is exacerbating the skilled labor shortage in the U.S., since the very women leaving are the people most qualified to fill empty roles. Right now, roughly 4.7 million women who hold bachelors or advanced degrees aren’t working, compared with only 2 million unemployed men with the same credentials, according to JLL analysis of the Current Population Survey data.

Offering childcare at the office can attract women to fill stubborn vacancies for the roles that require the most experience and education.

It also directly supports employee engagement, says Georgules. JLL’s Workplace – powered by Human Experience research found that 84 percent of employees who had access to on-site “spaces for small children” felt engaged at work, far exceeding the average engagement rate of 65 percent.

Childcare also seems to have an impact on overall employee satisfaction. Roughly one quarter of Fortune magazine’s “Best 100 Companies to Work For” offer at least one on-site daycare center. Across all companies, the average is a mere 4-8 percent.

The poster child for the emerging trend is Patagonia, which has offered affordable, on-site childcare to all corporate employees since the 1980s. The investment appears to be paying off. In 2017, a Great Place to Work survey found 96 percent of employees are proud to work at Patagonia, and 94 percent agree the company offers special and unique benefits.

So, what does a company need to do to make take-your-child-to-work-day an everyday occurrence? If they don’t wish to develop the function in-house, they have options to outsource it to workplace-oriented childcare services that manage on-site daycares, such as Bright Horizons and KinderCare Education at Work.

“It’s easier for working parents to make that early morning meeting or stay for an evening event when their children are being cared for nearby,” says Georgules. “While onsite childcare may only be feasible for large companies, it’s a smart play for owners of multi-tenant buildings who are looking to attract office tenants.”

Empowering parents with flexibility and more

Childcare is invaluable, but it isn’t the only way organizations can woo working mothers.

More than half (56 percent) of organizations offer “dependent care assistance plans,” which enable workers to allot up to $5,000 for childcare, pre-tax, according to the 2016 Society for Human Resource Management’s National Study of Employers. These plans help offset the high cost of daycare, after-school programs or in-home care.

Employers can also encourage more mothers to re-enter the labor force by increasing paid maternity and paternity leave, offering families pre-tax health spending accounts and supporting employees’ work-life balance.

Flexible work hours and locations are key to attracting talent, especially parents who need to keep school-friendly hours or to work remotely. Workplace flexibility doesn’t just help them personally, however — it can also fuel them professionally.

“Trust and kindness, followed by autonomy, were rated as three of the most important factors that impact engagement at work in the Workplace: powered by Human Experience study,” says Georgules. “Autonomy and trust go hand in hand. When a working mom feels like she has a choice over how and when she works, it can be incredibly empowering, and can inspire her to do the best work possible.”

The benefits can be significant for employer and employee alike. Still, there’s a long way to go to improve support for working mothers in the U.S.—and in turn, the broader economy.

Looking ahead: More action is needed

With fewer women returning to work after starting a family, America’s chronic labor shortage is likely to worsen before it improves.

That has implications not just for women, but for the overall economy.

Right now, American businesses cover just 1 percent of the ever-rising costs of childcare. By investing more into mother-friendly benefits packages, companies could help turn the tide and attract women back to work—and inspire them to stay, too.

“Attracting and retaining employees by offering the benefits they need to stay healthy, happy, productive and fulfilled isn’t just good business sense,” says Georgules. “It’s essential to stay ahead of the competition.”