Most people don’t know the astronomical costs of childcare – until they have children. In fact, I saw one working single mother tweet that the cost of having her daughter looked after while she worked was more than her salary.
So with the expense of returning to work after parental leave largely outweighing the financial benefits, what chance do parents and carers have of forging a career? One solution that’s been widely discussed is on-site childcare in the office.
However, critics have argued that on-site childcare could prove distracting for parents in the workplace. The premise is that they may be tempted to regularly check in on their son or daughter, or be consumed by incidents such as minor falls, or fights among children, that would otherwise be taken care of by nursery staff. Other sceptics say that parents are so picky about who looks after their kids that finding staff who everyone is happy with will be impossible.
I’m not convinced by either of those arguments. As long as clear boundaries are set around the amount of times a parent can “pop in” on their kid, there should be no problem with distractions. Nursery staff should know when it’s appropriate to fetch a parent and when it’s not. Furthermore, as time goes on, parents will let go and trust the system more, freeing them up to work without worrying. As for the second argument? Well, any childcare facility has staff and multiple parents – if it’s not an issue externally, why should it become one in the workplace?
The business case for this on-site childcare is compelling. Many companies that have launched in-house childcare initiatives have seen employee attendance go up. There is also less need for flexible working as parents do not have to do an extra commute in order to pick up their children. That means staff are on-site for longer hours but are actually more productive and less distracted in that time as there’s no need to worry about being the last in or think about being late to pick up the kids.
Another argument for having on-site childcare is that it makes for happier employees. It sounds like a clichÃƒÂ©, but a happy employee is a hard-working employee. The peace of mind that comes with knowing they’re only a minute away if their child needs them is enough to keep most working parents smiling. Not only this, but parents get to spend more time with their children, eating lunch together, for example.
Mothers who are still breastfeeding can also return to work earlier, shortening maternity leave and giving them more of a chance to step up the career ladder in a quicker amount of time. It can be really hard to be away from the office for a lengthy period of time and so being able to come back sooner is a real benefit for some who might not have otherwise had that choice.
Costs of childcare can also be subsidised if managed in the workplace as organisations that can afford the space and resources can usually afford to offer a discount.
Finally, on-site childcare is a big draw for potential new recruits. Nothing says employer of choice like a family friendly environment where being a parent is no obstacle to success. In addition, staff turnover is likely to reduce as loyalty tends to go up where businesses offer such benefits.
In my opinion, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages – and while some employers may be too small to manage on-site childcare, those large enough should seriously consider the long-term benefits of facilitating parents and enabling them to return to work, undistracted and happier.