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Create Child Care Benefits That Work

Are you struggling with recruitment, retention, or productivity of your workforce because of child care challenges? Are you concerned about Vermont's economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic? We are here to help! We created this Child Care Benefits Resource Guide in partnership with Adaptiva HR to help businesses who are ready to support the child care needs of their employees but need a roadmap of the process to get started.

What does “family-friendly workplace” mean?

Essentially, this refers to employers making an effort to help employees meet their work and family needs. It is a holistic approach to employee support and development that recognizes that stability at home impacts our ability to be focused and effective at work. Stress about the well-being of our children and loved ones has a significant impact on our productivity. Family-friendly practices and policies honor many types of families—from those welcoming new babies or adopting children to those caring for children as they grow, supporting family members with special needs, and caring for aging parents. 

Why implement family-friendly policies and practices?

This answer is part economics and part ethics. Finding ways to help employees meet their family and workplace responsibilities leads to more engagement and productivity. Implementing family-friendly benefits can help with recruitment and retention while reducing absenteeism and stress. Businesses with family-friendly practices are good stewards of their communities. By supporting working parents and quality child care programs, they help to support the current workforce while building a strong foundation for the future. You can read more about the economic impact of child care in the Research and Reports section of our website.

How do family and child care demands impact employees? 

Child care facilities can't always offer the hours needed, there are long waitlists for child care, there is no child care on snow days, and often work schedules do not allow families to attend school functions, to name a few. Additionally, there is the high cost of child care. Middle income families are spending 20-40% of their income on child care, and 77% of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality care.

How is this related to workforce development?

Working families rely on the child care system to be able to accept new employment and arrive at work ready to be productive. When you support your employees’ child care needs, you’ll see the return on your investment by retaining valuable staff, recruiting new employees, and reducing absenteeism and turnover. Through family-friendly practices, you are also developing the workforce for the future. With 90% of the brain developing by age 5, supporting high-quality child care is critical to help ensure children are gaining the cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary to become the next generation of talented employees.

How much is this going to cost?

Keep in mind that being a family-friendly workplace is an investment, not a give-away. Like any other investment, this should be a thoughtful process. Direct costs will vary considerably, depending on the type of practice or policy chosen for investment. Multiple studies looking at the return on investment of different initiatives consistently reveal that family-friendly investments either have a neutral financial impact (increase in productivity and decrease in turnover offsets the direct cost) or increase profitability.

What kind of benefits should I offer?

There are a lot of different ways to make your workplace more family-friendly, regardless of the size of your company or the type of work you do. The first step is asking the question, “What do my employees need?” It’s best to find out directly from employees what will be helpful through surveys, focus groups, discussions at staff meetings, 1:1 conversations, etc. Then examine what you are already doing, what you can do, and when you can start doing it. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Start with one or two initiatives and evaluate their effectiveness, then decide if other changes would be helpful. 

Where do I begin?

We created this resource as a roadmap to guide your process toward creating more family-friendly benefits and practices. We also understand that getting started can be overwhelming! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Natalie at any point along the way. If you would like more personalized support, ask us about our Business and Child Care HR Pilot.

 

In this stage you will:

Define your need and your business’s goal (i.e., reduce turnover, improve morale, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism)

Assemble a diverse team including senior management to front-line staff; a variety of family structures; etc.

In order to get started, we suggest convening a diverse group of employees to manage and inform this process with clear expectations for participation and time commitment. You will likely be meeting for 3-9 months, depending on the size of your staff and the initiatives you choose to roll out. During your time together, you'll walk through the process outlined in this guide together to:

• Assess employee needs, current benefits, and identify gaps between the two

• Develop initiatives that address those needs and create a plan for implementation

• Launch new initiatives with materials, and staff support employee adaptation

• Evaluate effectiveness after a period of time and consider adjustments as necessary

Resources to share with your team

Child Care Benefits to Consider

COVID-19 Benefits to Consider

Casella Waste Systems' Profile

The Alchemist's Profile

Bolton Valley Resort's Profile

Seventh Generation's Profile

 

In this stage you will:

Survey your employees to assess their needs  

Examine current company policies and benefits

Identify “gaps” between employee needs and current policies and benefits

Resources to help you

Sample Employee Survey

Sample Email for Sending Survey to Employees

Focus Group Outline

Sample Email for Focus Group Invitation

Why do a survey?

What are employees’ greatest concerns when it comes to their family needs? When it comes to benefits and practices at work, what is helping them address those needs? Resist the temptation to guess based on your perspective and observations. You may “have your finger on the pulse” or you may only know what a sliver of the employees think about this. Asking them these questions demonstrates that you care about their experience and see them holistically. Asking them how helpful your benefits and practices are as well as what else could help them does not imply that you will do anything more or differently. It is simply gathering information from them that you may act on if possible.

Designing the survey

The survey that we have developed seeks to find out three pieces of information:

1. What are their family-related needs, particularly for child care?

2. What are you, as an employer, currently doing to help them address those needs?

3. What else could you, as an employer, do to help them?

This survey template gives you a place to start. The questions cover the three central elements above and generally take only about 10 minutes to complete. You may want to adjust/add/remove some questions. It is recommended that you use a survey platform like Mailchimp to create a convenient user experience and make it easy to compile the data. This will then make it easier to analyze the data for themes and correlations.

When considering changes to the questions, make sure that the format is such that you are only asking for one piece of information per question. In other words, avoid using the words “and” or “or” in the question.

Rolling the survey out to employees

Communication about the survey is key to its success. We have developed a sample email message that explains the purpose of the survey and how to participate. It is also upbeat and encourages employees to take a few minutes to share their input. Engagement typically is highest immediately or soon after email messages are sent to employees. A window of one to two weeks is usually sufficient to gather responses. A reminder message can help to boost participation midway through the survey window. 

Finding meaning in the results

Once the survey is over, you will need to devote some quality time to review the data. This will likely include both closed and open-ended questions. The closed questions (yes or no, scales, multiple choice) are best analyzed by looking at visuals such as charts and graphs. If you do the survey in a platform like Survey Monkey this work will be done for you and you can modify it easily (i.e., change from a bar graph to a pie chart). Reading through the answers to the open-ended questions helps to bring some of the closed questions to life and also often reveals some additional information and details that would not otherwise be captured. Since it can be overwhelming when you are faced with all of this data, the following sequence may be helpful:

1. Do an initial read-through of all the data (compiled results of the closed questions and all of the answers to the open-ended questions).

2. Return a day or two later and look at the charts and graphs only. Look for any connections that seem to relate OR where there is a discrepancy. For example, high marks on being a “family-friendly” place to work followed by several responses on a multiple choice question that includes “improve family-friendly practices” should raise some questions for further exploration.

3. Read through all of the answers to the open-ended questions. Look for trends or themes. Reserve judgement or feeling offended by remarks. Instead, try to be curious about them.

4. Look again at the compiled data (charts/graphs) and notes you have on these responses and also notes you have on the answers to the open-ended questions. Ask again, “What connects, what does not?”

5. Summarize your findings. You will likely need to share this with one or more groups in your organization and putting your observations and questions in writing will help you to solidify what you discovered.

What to do with the results

If you are taking the step to have a focus group, share the summary with them. This will help the focus group prepare for the meeting without having to wade through all of the data. Also, only one person, or a select and small group, should read the answers to the open-ended questions. You want to take measures to avoid guessing who the author is of the comments you read, particularly ones that are critical of the organization.

Whether or not you have a focus group, these results should also be shared with those in senior leadership positions who will have a role in making decisions about what to do with this input.

Communicating the results to the entire workforce is a decision each organization needs to make for itself. Some options are to share all the compiled data (but NOT the open-ended question answers), a summary of the data, or a brief of the results as they relate to actions that are being taken (i.e. “In the survey, we learned that affording child care is a significant burden to many employees. As a result, we have decided to offer partial scholarships for child care costs, funded through Dependent Care Accounts.”). Consider the following questions as you decide how much detail to share:

• What is the culture of our organization when it comes to sharing information (i.e., how much transparency is typical and expected)?

• What is the goal for sharing this (the level of detail)?

• What is the best way to share this information so everyone has access to it?

• How will we field questions about the information we share?

• What is a realistic timeline for us to take action on some of the information from the surveys?

 

In this stage you will:

Consider options for new initiatives  

Anticipate the impact to company and employees 

Decide which initiative(s) to introduce with alignment to goals and company mission

Develop a plan for implementation (i.e., timeline, pragmatics, internal PR)

Survey results + Focus group + Gaps in benefits & practices = Next steps

After the survey and focus groups, you will likely have more ideas than time or financial resources to implement. It is best to start with an initiative that is attainable and build from there. You are on a journey to becoming more supportive of employees with families ... plan a trip to the park before you try to plan a trip to Paris!

Here’s a simple one: many employers underestimate how easy it is to set up a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account benefit. Employees save pre-tax dollars from each paycheck that are then used to pay for child care expenses. This creates a savings account for an expense they are going to pay anyway, and it reduces their tax liability. Employers can contribute to this as well, and also save pre-tax dollars ... a win-win-win!

Most benefits and practices fall into one of the following categories. Review them to get an idea of what options may work for your employees and organizations, but don’t skip on the assessment phase!

Family Supportive Policies & Practices

Examples of some policies that have a big impact on employees are: time off, flexible work schedules, paid (or unpaid) leaves, and babies (or children) at work.

Finding Child Care

Provide resources at work (intranet, bulletin boards, newsletters, etc.) about child care options local to your place of work and where employees live.

Affording Child Care

Provide employees with a stipend to help offset the costs of child care. This offers tangible support, shows that the employer cares about this struggle, and can be a tax-deferred cost for the organization.

Tax Savings

A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account, a medical expense Flexible Spending Account, and other tax-deferred benefit accounts are very helpful to employees and employers.

Employee Resources

Make resources for finding child care, paying for it (i.e., state subsidies), and navigating work and family commitments (i.e., EAP) widely and clearly available. You can use our Child Care Resources for Families handout or create your own.

Sample Policies

FSA, HRA, and HSA – What do these acronyms mean and how can they be implemented?

Sample Flextime Policy

Sample Child Care Scholarship Policy (created by Harvard University)

Sample Babies at Work Policy (created by Badger)

Check out this video on Badger's Babies at Work program:

 

In this stage you will:

Develop materials, procedures, and accompanying forms

Communicate and roll out initiative(s)

Monitor and troubleshoot as needed

The time has arrived! 5...4...3...2...1... Launch your new initiative! Even if your first step is a small one, make sure you follow these steps to successfully inform employees and generate as much interest and participation as possible. Work backward from the launch date to plan the communication and implementation strategy. There may be a hard deadline (such as when an employee benefit will begin) or a soft one that you have chosen to start the initiative.

Think about the "user experience" of this

• How will employees make use of or sign up for this benefit or practice?

• What do managers need to know about employees using it?

• What might be some potential challenges or points of confusion about it? 

Communicate the benefit or practice in an employee-friendly way

• Describe it in "everyday language" with little jargon.

• Use existing means of communication AND think about additional ways. If you only do this in writing, consider working it into meeting agendas as well.

• Make sure organizational leaders talk about it in positive and knowledgeable ways.

Encourage and model the use of the new benefit or practice

• Whenever possible or applicable, have managers and senior leaders use or talk about their use of the benefit or practice.

• Remind employees of it in both formal and informal ways. Make a checklist of these to help create new patterns ... it will be easy to forget about this.

• Have informal and genuine conversations (i.e., at lunch time) about the new benefit or practice.

 

In this stage you will:

Follow-up to determine effectiveness of any initiatives

Consider alterations and further initiative(s)

How and what you communicate will depend on what initiatives your organization tried out. In many cases, a brief survey will be most useful to determine the impact the initiative has had on employees with regards to the targeted family-related need.

When should you send out the survey? 

Again, this depends on what you are evaluating. Here are some sample timelines:

• Change to schedules/scheduling process ... Three months

• Ramping up benefit outreach efforts ............ Three to six months

• Provide a child care stipend ......................... Six months

• Dependent Care Account ............................. Six months to a year

Keep in mind that your goal with a follow-up evaluation is to asses, “Did this help?” Because our memories are often short, the survey needs to be soon enough after the benefit or practice change (before employees feel like it is the status quo) but not so soon they have not had a chance to feel the impact.

Designing the survey and communicating results

Keep surveys short. Generally, you can get meaningful feedback in three questions or less. If you implemented more than one change, be sure to ask be sure to ask a different question for each change; do not lump them together. Here is an example:

Three months after the change

In January, we changed the scheduling system to allow employees more autonomy in setting their work hours. 

1. Has this had a positive impact on your ability to manage family needs? (yes or no)

2. Have you encountered any challenges with this change? (yes or no)

3. Please share any feedback you have about this change. (open-ended) 

One year after the change

Last year we added a Dependent Care Account to our benefits. If you signed up for this please let us know:

1. Overall, did this help you manage your child care expenses? (yes or no)

2. Did the initial stipend the company provided impact your decision to participate in this benefit? (yes or no)

3. Please share any feedback you have about this change. (open-ended)

Make sure to close the loop by communicating results back to employees.

 

Once you have taken internal action to support your employees' child care needs, it is our hope that you will partner with us to become a public champion for child care. Email Natalie to learn more and create your own customized action plan!

Actions you can take

Write an op-ed about the importance of investing in high-quality child care

Testify (virtually) at the State House

Participate in other public speaking opportunities

Work with Let's Grow Kids to profile your business

Offer peer-to-peer support to other businesses

Give a gift to Let's Grow Kids

Share information about joining the Let's Grow Kids movement with employees

Profiles of family-friendly businesses

Casella Waste Systems

The Alchemist

Bolton Valley Resort

Seventh Generation

Op-eds from business champions

Emerson Lynn (Editor Emeritus, St. Albans Messenger): Child care – Can’t ignore it

Betsy Bishop (President, Vermont Chamber of Commerce) & Aly Richards (CEO, Let's Grow Kids): Vermont could lead in remote work

Adeline Druart (President, Vermont Creamery): Recovery isn’t possible without child care

Dimitri Garder (CEO, Global-Z International): Vermont's crucial need for investment in child care

Robert Haynes (Executive Director, Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation) & Damian DiNicola (Co-Chair of the Randolph Region Reenergized Economic Development, Tourism & Child Care Task Force and Attorney, DiNicola Law, PLC): Child care shortage impacts rural communities and businesses

Lisa Ventriss (President, Vermont Business Roundtable): Courage to change

Walter Frame (Director & Executive Vice President, Trapp Family Lodge): Child care package will benefit kids, families, employers

Michael Seaver (President, People’s United Bank): Quality child care is a worthwhile investment

Sarah Kaeck (CEO, Bee’s Wrap): Reliable child care key to strong workforce

Tom Torti (President & CEO, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce): The antidote to our shrinking workforce is affordable, quality child care

 

Below is a comprehensive list of the resources linked throughout this guide. Please also feel free to reach out to Natalie with any questions!

Communication with employees

Sample Employee Survey

Sample Email for Sending Survey to Employees

Focus Group Outline

Sample Email for Focus Group Invitation

Sample policies

FSA, HRA, and HSA – What do these acronyms mean and how can they be implemented?

Sample Flextime Policy

Sample Child Care Scholarship Policy (created by Harvard University)

Sample Babies at Work Policy (created by Badger)

Child Care Resources for Families