Back-up care answers the call for working parents – and employers

The following post comes from Bright Horizons US Marketing Manager, Sean McCarthy. 

Not long ago, a busy Unilever employee faced a potential work schedule disaster.

An important client was coming to town just as her husband had an unexpected business trip and her nanny announced she needed a day off.

“It wasn’t even a question,” she told us. “I couldn’t miss that meeting.”

Most working parents would have started feverishly making calls – or apologies. Instead, she fired up her computer and with a couple of clicks to her company’s back-up care provider, she had a childcare professional sent to her house. She made her meeting without breaking a sweat.

“It was so easy,” she told us. “And I didn’t even have good mobile phone service.”

A simmering – and costly – productivity problem

The problem was easily solved. But not so, for those who don’t have such help from their employers. And in a world of sick babysitters and snow days, it’s a looming disaster for parents – and so employers. Lost client meetings are part of a not-so-quietly simmering productivity problem estimated in the billions. More granularly, a Bright Horizons Workforce Consulting study showed that in six months, working parents lose an average of 13 billable hours to care breakdowns — each.

The same study showed that without back-up care through work, parents simply don’t have the resources for emergency childcare. Common obstacles uncovered by the survey:

Not enough babysitters on speed dial

We may have visions of long lists of babysitters at the ready. But more than two thirds of working parents could only think of two they could call in a pinch. A full third could only come up with one.

A network of favours

Parents might have once depended on high-school-age babysitters – at least in summer. But with full-time jobs and sports careers, even teens are hard to find. Most last-minute options are family members. And unpaid care doesn’t always go as planned. Of those who’ve had a caregiver fall through, 70% said it was because a friend or family member just didn’t show up

A limited resource

Guilt is a big price to pay. In our study of people who missed work because they failed to find last-minute care, 25% said they’d asked family so often, they just couldn’t do it one more time.

The challenges highlight the reasons “best company” lists are peppered with employers offering back-up care – it works. Among last year’s Working Mother winners, 92% offered back-up child care: all of the top ten did. “Many of the 100 Best Companies also offer a variety of other childcare options,” wrote Working Mother, including programmes for summer (a notoriously difficult time for employees), before and after school, and school holidays.

And the benefits go beyond just getting employees to work. Looking for care can sap productivity all by itself. “I don’t have to make 20 different calls. I don’t have to ask family or friends 

for a favour. I don’t have to worry about it,” said the Unilever mum.

“By signing up, I’ve taken that responsibility off of my plate and a competent professional has taken that on for me.”