With November 20th being World Children’s Day, UNICEF’s global day of action for children, it’s an opportunity to focus on a major issue for many working parents in Australia – childcare.
Affordable, quality childcare is one of the four family-friendly policies that UNICEF recommends workplaces around the world need to implement to ensure they are supporting their working parents and carers, and in turn giving children the best possible start at life.
UNICEF focus on childcare in their recent evidence brief, ‘Childcare and Working Families: New Opportunity or Missing Link?’, and state that at the moment, there is a ‘global crisis of care’ that is leaving millions of children around the globe without quality care and placing significant strain on their caregivers.
In Australia, the 2018-19 financial year saw 1,139,650 families using approved child care, an increase of 4.0 per cent compared to the 2017-18 financial year. We know that the average modern family has both parents in employment, and female participation in the workplace is on the increase. Affordable childcare is a necessity now more than ever if we want our working mothers and fathers to be able to equally thrive in their workplace as well as at home.
Companies are beginning to recognise this, and are providing leading examples of childcare implementation, demonstrating that it is possible to support employees in their childcare needs, no matter the individual size or industry of the organisation. We need to be rid of the mindset that childcare is an employee’s ‘issue’ and independent of their employer – as, in reality, a parent’s ability to access childcare has a major impact on their ability to not just be in employment, but thrive in their role.
Corporate childcare is good for business
There is a significant case for employer-supported childcare that must be considered. Put simply, when a lack of access to childcare stops parents – women, in particular - from participating in their full capacity in the workforce, then businesses don’t have access to the skilled employees that they would otherwise.
The IFC’s Tackling Childcare research draws on innovative approaches to childcare from countries and companies around the globe to demonstrate the ‘do-ability’ of providing childcare and the business benefits, which show that employer-supported childcare can:
- Boost the quality of a company’s labour force by supporting the needs of a diverse workforce
- Improve recruitment
- Help to retain talent throughout the employee life cycle
- Improve employee performance by reducing absenteeism
- Enhance worker productivity
- Positively influence a company’s external reputation
- Help the firm’s access to markets that have high corporate social responsibility benchmarks
UNICEF recommend that private companies should assess their employee’s childcare needs, and invest in providing solutions to meet those needs.
“Employers stand to benefit from recognising the business case for investing in childcare alongside other family-friendly policies and putting in place appropriate policies. Recent evidence – based largely based on case studies of companies – demonstrates that returns can be sizeable – as in Viet Nam, where textile producer Nalt Enterprise’s offer of childcare reduced staff turnover by one third, or in Jordan, where after the establishment of a workplace creche at garment manufacturer MAS Kreeda Al Safi-Madaba, absences due to sick leave fell 9 per cent in nine months.”
– ‘Childcare and Working Families: New Opportunity or Missing Link?’, UNICEF 2019
World leaders in employer-supported childcare
Countries around the world are already leading the way with childcare mandates for their private employers, with pioneering examples to draw on. In India and Ecuador, companies that employ at least 50 people must provide a workplace crèche. In Jordan, companies that employ at least 20 women who have among them at least 10 children under the age of four must provide care for those children by a trained nurse at a childcare facility. In Chile, companies employing at least 20 women must provide a childcare area for children under two, pay the cost of care, or provide spaces in centres shared with other employers.
All of these are examples of government and businesses recognising the importance childcare plays not just in the wellbeing of families, but economically too. Many companies also use childcare support as a way to encourage gender diversity in the workplace. Accessible, affordable and quality care for children allows mothers to return to work without the financial or logistical stress that a lack of care entails. Organisations are realising that this then means improved gender equality in their workplace, as both men and women are given equal opportunity to excel in their chosen career path.
So how can employers support their employees’ childcare needs? Companies need to first consult with their employees to find out their specific needs, as these can of course vary from industry to industry, or depending on the type and size of the organisation.
“Employers seeking to support their employees’ childcare needs have many options from which to choose. The options that best meet business objectives take into account employee needs, the impact of childcare constraints on the business, and the childcare environment.”
– ‘Childcare and Working Families: New Opportunity or Missing Link?’, IFC, 2019
Childcare support can range from workplace crèches to referral services and back-up care benefits. Organisations can even consider their paid parental leave policy and flexible work options, as these can also provide caregivers with extra assistance and lessen the stress of juggling caring at home and working. Australian career-management and HR firm INS wanted to provide a work environment for its 45 employees that was conducive to mothers and fathers working equally. The cost of establishing an onsite childcare facility was financially unrealistic, but hiring a qualified nanny and setting up an onsite creche was something within their reach – demonstrating that when employers assess what is needed in terms of availability, affordability, accessibility and quality, there is always some form of childcare support that is achievable.
We have some work to do when it comes to employer-supported childcare in Australia, but we know it’s something that needs to be done. When we support our working parents in not just their work life but their personal and family wellbeing, we not only get happier, healthier employees but prospering businesses - and a family-friendly society that recognises the importance of looking after our children.
To read the full UNICEF report, click here.
To read more on the IFC’s paper, click here.