The Child-Care Crunch

How some retailers are helping employees find affordable, reliable child care.

The Child-Care Crunch

March 2020   minute read

By: Stephenie Overman

Child care is expensive: The 2019 Cost of Care survey found that more than 70% of families reported paying more than 10% of their income on care. More than 40% of families spend more than 15% of household income on care. (The U.S. government defines “affordable care” as no more than 7% of family income.)

Child care can also be unreliable: More than a third of employees surveyed reported that they missed work because of child-care issues (see sidebar: The Numbers). For employers, those burdens translate to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Some companies are taking steps to lift some of that weight. Allowing employees to bring children to work in an emergency has become relatively common—about 25% of organizations allow workers to do so, according to SHRM Employee Benefits 2019. Eleven percent of companies surveyed said they provide employees with names of child-care providers.

But few companies provide on-site child care, according to the SHRM study: Only 4% offer a subsidized child-care center or program, while another 4% offer a nonsubsidized child-care center on-site or nearby.

One company that does is Sheetz, which has the Little Sproutz Early Learning Center at its operations support center in Claysburg, Pennsylvania, just south of its Altoona headquarters. Built about two years ago, “It’s state of the art. It’s fantastic,” said Stephanie Doliveira, Sheetz’s vice president of human resources. The center is open to the children—and grandchildren—of the more than a thousand support workers at the Claysburg site.

“It’s for age 6 weeks up to pre-K. We also have a summer program for children in elementary school up to the sixth grade. This year we instituted backup care for long holidays, or when school has a service day,” she said. A big plus, she added, is that Little Sproutz opens at 4:45 a.m. “We have employees who start very early. Sometimes employers forget employees need to get their children to care and then get to work on time.”

Sheetz partners with Bright Horizons, a Watertown, Massachusetts-based child-care provider that also offers back-up child care and elder care. “We recognized early on that we are not the experts in early learning or child care,” Doliveira said.

Casey’s Child Development Center at its headquarters in Ankeny, Iowa, provides care for about 80 children every day, starting at 6:45 a.m. There are developmental programs for newborns through pre-kindergarten, and children up to 12 years old can attend during school breaks and the summer months. The center provides both full- and part-time care, in addition to drop-in options, according to Kate Petru, director of communications. “The child care center is highly subsidized through Casey’s,” she said.

“Not only do our team members appreciate the [center], our teachers love working at Casey’s and having a positive impact on the lives of our Casey’s families. We are proud of the education, training and long tenure of our teachers; this includes half of our teachers working in their role for 10 years or more,” Petru added.

The on-site centers are not only convenient for employees, they also have the added benefit of allowing them to have more contact with their children. At Casey’s that includes providing children lunch at the corporate cafeteria.

At Sheetz Doliveira said, “We’re proud of the fact that we have this facility on our campus. We have great interaction with children. Kids will come over in their costumes at Halloween. People will read to the children. It has a great effect on morale.”

By the Numbers

U.S. businesses lose about $44 billion a year in employee absenteeism as a result of child-care breakdowns, according to a Child Care Aware report.

A national poll of working parents commissioned by Workplace Options found that 23% of employees considered quitting a job due to child-care issues.

Of those polled by Workplace Options, a company that offers dependent care and wellness programs, 37% reported they had missed work in the prior three months because of a child-care issue; 30% reported taking unpaid time off when child-care issues caused them to miss work.

When it comes to how frequently employees miss work due to child-care issues, 22% reported “occasionally,” while 7% reported “somewhat frequently,” and 6% reported “very frequently.”

Women were three times more likely than men to have considered quitting over a lack of adequate child-care options. And 41% of the women surveyed reported missing work because of child-care issues, compared with 32% of the men surveyed.

In the poll, 82% of employees reported their employers did not offer resources for finding child care. However, of those, 32% reported the service would be “helpful,” and 18% said it would be “very helpful.”.

In the Field

Sheetz does not currently have a company-wide child-care program for workers in its nearly 600 stores in six states, Doliveira said. “That’s the next work that we are embarking on. We are going to help retail employees find solutions in their communities. We’re working with Bright Horizons to get some options.”

Sometimes employers forget employees need to get their children to care and then get to work on time.

Vintners Distributors Inc., which operates about 130 convenience stores in California, also is working to provide child-care options for employees in the field.

The company, based in Fremont, California, has no on-site child care facility, said Valerie Kosteka, director of human resources, payroll and workers compensation. “We’re not able to support that. We’re so spread out. There isn’t a central location. It’s not like an office building. You have to look at insurance. There’s a lot to take into consideration.”

Instead, Vintners Distributors is working with Care@Work, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based company that assists people in finding not only child care but also senior care and even pet care through a digital platform and mobile app.

Kosteka said it’s particularly important that Care@Work helps workers find backup and emergency care because many of the 1,400 field staff workers are single parents who sometimes work unpredictable hours. “We are 24-7. We have day, swing and overnight shifts. That’s why the flexibility of child care is so important. If someone works days and they suddenly have to work overnight, how do they find care?”

Kosteka added, “We are looking at subsidizing it. It will help improve attendance, morale; if somebody doesn’t have child care they can’t come to work,” she said. Not long ago, an employee contacted Kosteka saying she would have to resign because her child-care provider quit with little notice. “She didn’t know where to go. We went to Care@Work. They were able to find at least short-term child care and then to work to find child care longer term.”

She also helps employees find affordable care through California’s Child Care Resource Center (CCRC). “A lot of our employees are not computer savvy. We can help them look it up. They may not be comfortable; they may need help with that first step.”

Doliveira said Sheetz regularly surveys employees to find out the types of benefits that are most important to them. “We annually ask employees about how we can make their work-life better. We hold focus groups.” That’s how the company decided to offer child-care benefits to grandparents and why senior care is not currently offered. “We’ve had that conversation. There is definitely a sandwich generation, but at this point the need has not been great enough to explore the option on our own campus.”

With so many types of benefit options, “it’s important as HR leaders to ask. A benefit offered that doesn’t matter to employees is a benefit lost,” Doliveira said. Communicating company benefits is also critical. Sheetz relies on the company intranet, a quarterly benefit newsletter, an annual townhall meeting and a team benefits expert to keep employees up to date on what’s available.

Child care “is truly a service that benefits our current workforce. Employees have said even if they don’t have children and couldn’t personally benefit from Little Sproutz, it still has a positive impact on engagement,” Doliveira said. “But the other thing is that by investing in high quality care, we are also investing in our future workforce. The first five years are most critical for brain development.”

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Stephenie Overman

Stephenie Overman

Stephenie Overman is a workplace writer and author of Next-Generation Wellness at Work.

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