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Employers boosting efforts to meet workers’ childcare needs, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Supporting working parents is a top priority for 74% of employers, but only 39% feel their programs and policies are effective

Health and Benefits|Future of Work
COVID 19 Coronavirus

September 17, 2020

ARLINGTON, VA,  September 17, 2020 — U.S. employers are boosting efforts to meet the childcare needs of working parents of young and school-age children, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. The survey, however, found that while most employers (74%) believe supporting these employees is a top priority today, less than four in 10 (39%) agree that their current programs and policies to support them are effective.

Despite this apparent disconnect, more employers are taking steps to help working parents. The survey of 553 employers, conducted during the week of September 7, found that:

  • Three in 10 employers (30%) offer access to backup childcare services; another 30% are planning or considering doing so.
  • More than a quarter of employers (27%) provide discounts or subsidies for childcare centers, tutoring or other educational resources; another 22% are planning or considering offering these discounts and services.
  • 22% of employers offer company-subsidized backup childcare days; another 20% are planning or considering implementing this benefit.
  • 22% of employers provide concierge services to address broad sets of needs; another 23% are planning or considering offering these services.
  • 13% of employers provide offerings that support the formation of learning pods, tutoring or other school-focused needs; another 28% are planning or considering these offerings.
  • Nearly three in ten employers have implemented or are considering offering a subsidy to an employee’s dependent care spending account for childcare expenses (26%) or providing discounts or subsidies for technology and supplies required for virtual learning (29%).
  • One in four employers (25%) are seeing talent leave the organization due to increased caregiving responsibilities as a significant workforce challenge.

“The challenges and stress of balancing work and childcare, heightened by the pandemic, have exacerbated the everyday juggling act required by working parents with young and school-age children,” said Rachael McCann, senior director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “With increased remote work and schooling, employers are moving quickly to evaluate and implement sustainable solutions to offer employees relief over and above flexibility in work schedules.”

As expected, rising stress is a significant workforce challenge as many parents navigate work and childcare responsibilities, with 79% reporting rising workforce stress or burnout among employees. Over half (55%) are facing higher mental health-related claims.

Nearly all companies (97%) are assisting working parents by providing flexible work hours. Additionally, three in four employers (76%) allow employees to work reduced schedules or hours. Among those, a tenth (10%) will maintain pay and benefits, nearly a quarter (23%) will reduce pay and benefits while 43% will reduce pay but maintain benefits.

In addition to flexibility, employers have explored time to support working parents. More than half (57%) of employers are offering unpaid caregiver leave while 54% offer other unpaid leave, such as a voluntary furlough, as options for employees who are unable to fully perform their job due to caregiving responsibilities. Unpaid leave with job protection is an option provided by 52% of employers, while 26% provide paid caregiver leave.

Relatively few employers have changed their pay and benefit programs, although nearly half are planning or considering changes to their benefit offerings. Over a quarter are either planning or considering resetting performance goals (26%) and adopting more flexible performance evaluations (33%). At the same time, 40% of organizations are having difficulty sustaining their productivity because of employees’ increased caregiving responsibilities.

“The pandemic and the move to virtual work have accelerated the pace at which companies are redesigning the way work gets done and redeploying work across teams,” said Tracey Malcolm, global leader, Future of Work, Willis Towers Watson. “As these changes take hold, we expect employers will continue to facilitate new programs and workforce arrangements that enable greater flexibility for employees and the organization.”

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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