You know what businesses are really good at offering employees as benefits? Gym memberships, happy hour drinks, massages. So why is it so hard to offer the one thing that millions of employees couldn’t work without: childcare?
But change could be finally on the horizon. Sony Music last week announced that it will offer grants to support their employees in paying for childcare. The landmark scheme entitles parents to claim funding towards childcare costs during working hours in correlation with their salaries, meaning lower and middle earners can claim up to £15,000 per year.
So are employers finally waking up and understanding the urgent need to invest in a benefit that will improve productivity, boost talent acquisition and crucially allow women to keep working once they become a parent? Time will tell whether others follows suit.
In the UK we have the third highest childcare costs in the world. To give you an idea of what this means, I have spent approximately a quarter of a million pounds on childcare in the last decade (that’s an average of £2,000/month and yes, I feel sick as I write that). I know how staggeringly lucky I was to be able to be a ‘negative earner’ for periods of my career - essentially paying to work while my partner could cover our living costs - others are not so fortunate.
So it is indeed a relief to see that this is finally being recognised by companies like Sony which also offers equal parental leave – where fathers can take 52 weeks leave as well as mothers (including for adopted children) – and was the first private sector company in the UK to offer full pay during the period in which a baby is born before full term.
“The high cost of childcare in the UK often forces parents, and particularly mothers, into part-time work or out of the workforce entirely as it becomes financially unviable,” Liz Jeffery, VP of people experience at Sony Music UK & Ireland, said in an official release. “We are committed to looking at what we can do to help address issues that can be a barrier for women progressing, and we hope this policy could be the difference between someone returning to work rather than leaving a role.”
Childcare is a vital part of the infrastructure that allows our economy to function. In fact, the Gates Foundation has suggested that with better-funded childcare, the global economy would be £3 trillion better off.
As CCO of the childcare app Bubble, I have seen first-hand how come businesses are beginning to take this seriously.
Since the pandemic we have spoken to hundreds of businesses that want to promote inclusivity and recognise that the duty of care for employees has become much broader.
Mica Ross, HR director at city firm Numis, provides a monthly childcare allowance for employees. “The way we work has changed forever and our partnership with Bubble reflects this need to be flexible and adapt to change,” she says.
Childcare is a crucial way for employers to stay competitive, according to a recent report from US company KinderCare, 81 per cent of working parents said a company’s childcare benefits were a key criterion in choosing a job.
But it’s not just gender equality and holding onto great talent that makes childcare a good investment. There is a clear ROI when it comes to productivity. Children are unreliable, childcare even more so - in a Harvard Business School report US parents said they lost an average of eight days a year due to childcare challenges. So back-up childcare options very quickly make a lot of sense - even if you’re in one of the small proportions of businesses not ashamed by their gender paygap.
We are facing a particularly tough period ahead. There has never been a more important time to look at the benefits you provide and ask yourself where you can offer tangible support for your employees.
Just because childcare hasn’t been something you’ve looked at before, doesn’t mean the time to start isn’t now.