Parents need child care, and more are finding it at work

The Hill | As the child care crisis rages on, more companies are trying to help their workers with children with on-site child care.


Story at a glance

  • As the child care crisis rages on, more companies are trying to help their workers with children with on-site child care.

  • Data from the group The Best Place for Working Parents found that about 13 percent of companies in their network offer on-site child care of some sort.

  • But offering on-site child care is tricky and expensive.

Like millions of other parents, Emily Hobey drops her son at day care before she heads to work every morning.

But what makes her mornings different from other parents’ mornings, is she gets to leave her one-and-half-year-old in a day care center run by her employer, Whirlpool.

The day care, called the Eddy, is located at the company’s global headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich.—a five-minute drive away from her office at the company’s North America Headquarters building.

“Every day there is a safe environment waiting for him with great teachers,” said Hobey. “And we can really depend on that.”

A small but growing number of workplaces are offering on-site day care for their employees, according to data from network The Best Place for Working Parents, which encompasses over 600 businesses of varying sizes and services.

The organization has tracked how many businesses within its network offer on-site child care since right before the pandemic. In 2020, the Best Place for Working Parents found that 8.5 percent of those companies offered on-site child care.

That number grew to 11.9 percent in 2021, fell slightly to 11.4 percent in 2022 and climbed to 13.9 percent this year, a network spokesperson told The Hill in an email.

Access to child care plays a major role in whether parents work in or outside the home.

This is particularly true for women, research shows.

A 2022 survey from McKinsey & Company found that 45 percent of mothers with children age 5 or younger “who left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic cited child care as a major reason for their departure.”Only 14 percent of fathers said the same.

And 24 percent of mothers with children 5 years old or younger said they considered reducing their work hours or switching to part-time work because of child care.

Like Whirlpool, many workplaces offer on-site day care to help make their companies more attractive to employees.

Research also shows that when companies offer on-site child care, workers are happier at their job and are less likely to leave.

This has been the case at clothing company Patagonia, which has offered on-site child care since 1983 at its corporate headquarters in Ventura, Calif., and at its distribution center in Reno, Nev., according to the company’s website.

Hilary Dessouky, general counsel at Patagonia, told The Hill that the companies paid leave policies and on-site child care have resulted in almost 100 percent of mother’s returning to work after maternity leave.

“Parent-friendly policies have been a hallmark of our culture that has led to a nearly 50/50 gender balance at all levels of the company, more women in leadership positions and it improves our ability to attract and retain to talent,” Dessouky said in a statement to The Hill.

Former Patagonia CFO Rose Marcario wrote in a piece for Fast Company in 2016 that turnover rate for employees at their Ventura and Reno locations was 25 percent less than for their general employee population.

But creating a safe place for employees’ children is complicated.

“A lot of times the conversation starts with onsite child care and that is because for better or worse it is still kind of viewed as the gold standard of employer support around child care,” said Aaron Merchen, senior director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

But constructing an onsite center and then hiring child care workers can be expensive for employers. Employers must also consider insurance and local laws when thinking about providing onsite child care, according to Merchen. One example may be zoning restrictions that don’t allow for such a facility, he suggested.

Hollis Wells Silverman, who runs the Washington, D.C.-based restaurant group Eastern Point Collective, has been toying with the idea of creating a day care for her employees.

One of her biggest concerns, though, is cost. Many companies that have successfully created onsite child care centers like Patagonia, Toyota, Whirlpool, Bank of America, Vermeer, Medtronic and soon Walmart all have “more flexibility with their margins,” she said.

Silverman added that typically for every dollar a restaurant earns only five to 10 cents are profits.

On top of that, restaurant workers usually need child care past six o’clock, when the hourly wage of a child care provider might go up.

“There are a lot of challenges, and I would really love to figure it out,” Silverman said.

In the meantime, though, she told The Hill that her restaurant employees are free to bring their children to work if they cannot secure outside child care.

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