- Working parents bore the brunt of the pandemic childcare burden when schools and day cares closed.
- As the health crisis subsides, working parents have high expectations around the support they need.
- To attract and retain top talent, organizations need offer flexibility and emergency childcare.
- This article is part of a series called "Future of Work," which examines how business leaders are rethinking the workplace.
When the pandemic hit and schools and day cares closed, working parents bore the brunt of the childcare burden. They became remote teachers, lunchtime line cooks, one-person IT help desks, and de facto nannies and mannies - all the while trying to do their day jobs.
"We used to say people are 'working from home,' but in COVID, people are really living at work," said Maribeth Bearfield, chief human resources officer at Bright Horizons, a provider of employer-sponsored childcare in the US. "Home is their new workplace."
Nearly 40% of parents say they are working more hours now than before the pandemic, driven by greater workloads and childcare responsibilities, according to MassMutual's Consumer Spending & Saving Index. Nearly a quarter of parents say balancing childcare responsibilities with work has had a negative impact on their career progression.
Today, as the health crisis subsides in the US, working parents have high expectations around what they need from employers. "Employers are going to have to get really creative and support employees in any way they can," Bearfield said.
Working parents want flexibility in terms of their schedules and locations, and they also want their employers to provide emergency childcare. "And if they can't get it from their organization, they'll go next door," she said. "It's a talent issue."
Insider recently spoke with Bearfield about how these trends will shape the post-pandemic workplace.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Insider: Describe Bright Horizons' business model.
Bearfield: We are an education and care company that helps employers take care of their employees' families. The company started 35 years ago with a revolutionary idea: If parents could bring their children right into the workplace, they would work very differently. When your child is right there on-site, it relieves the mental load and takes the stress off you. Bright Horizons has expanded into other family supports and needs, such as backup childcare.
Insider: How has the pandemic changed Bright Horizons' approach?
Bearfield: Our Modern Family Index study showed that 91% of parents are concerned about their mental load - their own mental load and the mental load of their spouse or partner. So I always think of it as, how do we help? What can we do to help employees eliminate as much of the stress of life as possible?
With COVID-19, people are living at work, and they need childcare support. And they need school-aged child support, and they may also need elder-care support. Those are all the things that we help employers provide to their employees.
Insider: Are employers rising to the challenge?
Bearfield: Even 10 years ago, employers were not concerned with people's family needs. Benefits were basically medical, dental, and life insurance, and that's it. And then employees started saying, "I need help. I need help with my well-being. And if you don't help me, I'll go next door because another organization will help me." That's when employers realized they needed to offer more because the standard was not doing it.
COVID has really magnified all these issues. Employees are saying, "I can't work at home when I've got a 3-year-old. So how are you going to help?" I really think the employer is now being seen as the supporter.
Insider: You say that childcare is increasingly a talent issue.
Bearfield: We're already very concerned about the number of women leaving the workforce and the impact that it's having on companies. In so many ways, we're truly going backwards. Women are saying, "I can't come back. I don't have the support I need to come back." Employers are going to have to be flexible and really open about supporting employees in a whole different way.
If they fail to support their people, employees will leave.
Insider: If employees are working a hybrid schedule, with some days at home and some days in the office, what will childcare arrangements look like?
Bearfield: We don't know what the hybrid workplace is really going to look like, but I do believe that people are going to work the way they need and want to work. So again, employers are going to have to become really creative. If employees are working hybrid, they need more flexible childcare options.
Insider: How does Bright Horizons fit into the equation?
Bearfield: We'll have to provide childcare in more flexible ways. If employees aren't driving in to work, they may need childcare providers right in their towns. Maybe we will create community centers that are not affiliated with any company but are used by a number of businesses for backup care. Maybe we will create more freestanding centers that anyone can use.
We need to become more flexible.