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Pandemic silver lining?  Employers are beginning to recognize the importance of caregiving

For millions of Americans, the pandemic sparked an acute crisis in caregiving, with working parents quitting their jobs as weeks of distance education turned into an entire year. But it has also forced U.S. businesses to consider the day-to-day demands of working caregivers in general – and working mothers in particular.

“Child custody and balancing the demands of, say, caring for a sick child, have been eternal issues, even before Covid,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of the company. Executive outplacement Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The pandemic, Challenger said, essentially pulled the curtain down to expose a rickety, fragmented system that wasn’t performing very well, even in the best of times.

The pandemic has drawn the curtain to reveal a shaky and fragmented system.

When school resumed last fall, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force between August and September alone, and women’s participation in the labor force continued to fall: last month, the male participation rate of over 19 years was 69.5%. For the corresponding cohort of women, it was 57.4%.

What will happen next – and how much of the lessons of the pandemic will be learned in the future – could prove to be an unexpected ray of hope during a year of unprecedented stress and challenges.

“Sometimes it takes a big crisis to trigger pay changes,” Challenger said.

“It’s always been part of the conversation – how do you give flexibility to the worker while maintaining consistency for the employer? This is something that was exacerbated during the pandemic, ”said Aliya Robinson, senior vice president of retirement and compensation policy for the ERISA Industry Committee, an association focused on the benefits of large companies. “With all this shift to working from home, I think a lot of employers have realized that there are a lot more opportunities than expected to have employees working from home,” she said.

This, in turn, paved the way for greater acceptance of remote working, flexible working hours, and a greater willingness to expand benefits specifically for caregivers – especially as employers are faced with the prospect of losing valuable talent.

“I think this indicates that this problem, especially for women in care and careers, has at least been recognized by a lot of organizations. In this crisis, we have seen such an exit of women from the workforce when the coronavirus hit, ”said Challenger. “I think you’re starting to see smart companies recognize that if they want to be the best company they can be, which means having a diverse set of people running their organization, it will take an active effort to bring women back. in the pipeline and back to the office. “

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that women fear – often rightly so – that dropping out of the workforce could hinder their career advancement: a recent survey found that 27% of women who also work as that caregivers said the pandemic had hurt their professional development, compared with just 10 percent of men who said the same.

According to surveys conducted by of 500 human resource managers, human resources departments are re-evaluating the types of benefits they offer to employees – and making adjustments to bridge the yawning gap between care demands and demands. adaptation of employers to these obligations. More than three in five survey respondents said they plan to increase child care benefits, while about two in five would expand the provision of care for the elderly.

“The challenges of caregiving are not new to families. They were really highlighted during Covid, and that’s because we were literally “zooming in” on people’s homes, ”said Alyssa Johnson, senior director of account management at “Employers have literally had a front row seat in people’s homes and lives, and they have seen the challenges families face,” she said.

Employers have literally taken a front row seat in people’s homes and lives, and they have seen the challenges families face.

“It’s just a recognition of this idea that emergencies arise, child care emergencies arise. Companies that have now been forced to contend with a massive child care emergency now have the tools and the means to help their employees, ”said Challenger.

Tackling this problem is less altruism than accounting.

“Half of HR managers see lower productivity among working parents,” Johnson said. “It has never been clearer – employers are realizing that care challenges have had a significant impact on their workforce, and there is just a real connection between child care and employee performance.

In addition to the drop in productivity, employee departures have a tangible financial impact on employers. “They can actually lose a significant portion of their workforce. This may affect the results, ”said Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management Knowledge Center. The opportunity cost of having to devote resources to recruiting, hiring, and training replacements when women leave the workforce can be high: pre-pandemic research from SHRM has suggested that replacing a salaried employee can cost anywhere from six and nine months of this worker’s annual salary.

“Hiring and re-hiring is really expensive. Companies are always looking to reduce their turnover. There is real recognition that this is a problem that needs to be resolved, ”said Challenger.

HR experts report that employers are experimenting with different tools and approaches to ease the burden on caregivers trying to balance work and family obligations. In addition to greater acceptance of remote work and non-traditional working hours – including longer breaks for parents to supervise their children’s distance lessons – some have extended paid or unpaid time off, provided subsidies for on-site or home-based child care; or offered on-site child care for employees who cannot work from home. “Employers have come together and are making these accommodations,” Clayton said.

In a recent survey of over 200 HR executives, Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 84% said they offered more flexibility to workers, with many making changes specifically in response to workers’ care obligations. Two in five said they specifically gave parents more flexibility, with 23% increasing paid time off and 13% offering childcare options.

Of these, the vast majority – 95% – said they plan to make some or all of these changes permanent. “I think it was very revealing for employers,” Clayton said. “It forced them to look at their policies and procedures as a whole.”

It’s a long overdue paradigm shift, experts say.

“It underscored the need for employers to step in and play a role,” Johnson said. “When families are forced to choose between family and work, no one wins.”

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