For others, establishing and maintaining these facilities doesn’t yet make sense from a logistical standpoint, especially when return-to-office dates are still in flux, and some workers may not return at all. Flexible benefits – like paid access to online care-finder platforms, subsidised back-up care (for when babysitters cancel or private day-cares close) and cash allowances to parents – might make more sense for many offices right now, says Saidov.
While on-site childcare would certainly ease the transition for parents returning to the office or re-entering the labour market, says Damaske, it’s not a standalone solution. “The problem is tied up in the need for more paid parental and family leave, and more sick days,” too, she says. “As long as there are going to be exposures [from Covid-19 and other illnesses], even in-business childcare centres are going to have to close. Then what happens?”
Still, Kramer argues on-site childcare is worth the financial investment regardless of return-to-office plans. At Bright Horizons, he’s seeing both employers with in-office and remote staff offer the benefit. “The fact is, all working parents need childcare,” he says, even if they’re at home for part of the week. And employers need to make sure that “over the long term, they’re solving for those challenges”.
‘It’s solved the childcare problem in spades’
If workers continue to leave jobs en masse, employers dragging their feet over on-site childcare might be forced to reconsider adding the perk as part of an overall recruiting, retention and return-to-office tool, says Saidov.
Looking to the future, Kramer believes on-site childcare is going to become more commonplace. “Employees’ expectations have changed,” he says, and company leaders should really be “thinking about how they can create a more sustainable work environment” going forward.
Benca also hopes more companies can find a way to work the cost of childcare into their business plans, like she has. “It’s certainly better financially than to continue to lose good workers,” she says. And while her on-site nursery hasn’t fixed every pandemic struggle the pub has faced, “it’s solved the childcare problem in spades”.
In Asheville, Jessika is focusing on the positives: a job she loves, a flexible and understanding boss, and a new baby on the way. Once that day comes, however, her family is going to have to make some tough decisions.
“I just keep hoping that we’ll get lucky, and that [the baby] will get off the waiting lists for day-care,” she says. “My husband and I have been trying to figure out what would happen if not; maybe he does quit his job.” But if on-site childcare were to become a reality, she’d opt in – “100%, without hesitation”.