“The job is intense and exhausting. People are too wasted at end of workday to have the energy to do anything else. If you want to advance, then you have to sacrifice self-care. The most successful people don’t have kids, have a stay-at-home parent, or (their) kids are out of the house.”
“(We need) more days to care for a child if sick and not requiring all sick days be used for maternity leave, leaving no days to care for new child after returning to work.”
“…I would like to have childcare allowances or solutions that balance with my work.”
In most organizations, somewhere between back-to-school, cold season, and holidays, lies open enrollment. The time of year to select your benefits, like healthcare and dental. And just like buying cereal at Target, the choices can be overwhelming. Even when you have good intentions to vet each health, dental and vision plan, decision fatigue is real. Plus, you have to choose in the busiest season of the year. So, what’s a time-starved Mom to do?
Every organization says employee wellness is important. But parents, mostly Moms (98%) in our national study continue to cite doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ (86%) at self-care. The childcare crisis, that preceded the pandemic, continues. Along with record inflation and political instability. And for many what they really need from their employers, like more supportive cultures and managers, remains elusive. They also want more time, money (or both) to better care for their families and themselves.
Most Want to Improve Work/Life Policies or Benefits
“(We need) paid maternity leave before 12 months on job, more affordable health insurance options.”
“My company provides free therapy sessions each year.”
Our experience of work is more than just our roles. But a blur of Employer policies, practices, and benefits. So, when we asked, ‘what policies or benefits should your employer implement or change to better support your work/life happiness and wellness?’ over 400 parents* in the current wave of our study, that began in January of 2023, weren’t shy with their feedback.
Here are the top 5 most requested benefits, so far this year.
- A raise (56%)
- Childcare reimbursement/subsidies (49%)
- More paid leave (56%)
- Stress Management and/or Self-Care resources (43%)
- Mental health coverage and/or resources (36%)
And The Majority are Partially or Fully Onsite
Most of our respondents in 2020 when the study began, and early in 2021, were working remotely. But that’s changed as we ease into post-pandemic life. Many organizations have gone hybrid or now mandate onsite time. And over 40% of parents in our current survey wave work in healthcare or education, which tend to be more location dependent fields. So, in this installment of year-to-date results, most respondents who combine care with careers, don’t have the option to work remotely (63%.)
They Crave More Discretionary Money and Time
So, they want more control over their time in the form of more paid leave (56%,) raises (56%,) and childcare subsidies (49%.) Although back-up-childcare is a common benefit in large organizations, it’s for temporary coverage. And subsidized childcare of any kind, is only available to a small percentage of the workforce. Yet, over half of parents in a recent Catalyst study said they can’t afford childcare without employer assistance.
They’re also crying out for employer help with emotional, mental, and physical health. In the form of stress management/self-care (43%) and mental health resources (36%) or subsidies. This list is closely followed by flexibility to work fewer days or hours (30%,) non-standard hours (24%) or revised performance expectations (17%.)
But Policies Still Differ from Practices
“I need to be able to not share my video during meetings in case it overlaps with breastfeeding my baby. I need them to understand I am exhausted and need time to raise my baby, and they don’t pay enough for me to send both kids to daycare.”
“…I can’t even pick up groceries during the week because of the meetings and culture of immediacy.”
The best employee benefits aren’t meaningful without a supportive work culture. Managers set the tone and usually have discretion to ‘allow’ that all important day-to-day flexibility. Like grace when arriving late after morning drop offs, pauses for children’s appointments, or adjusting deadlines.
Many in the study explain candidly, how their greatest needs and concerns remain unaddressed. One Mom said of her employer, “They don’t care. There are a lot of young single men with my skills who will dedicate their lives for my job. (The) company feels I should be grateful for the opportunity to work for them.”
So, Advocate for Your Needs
Okay, so not everyone gets the respect they deserve when setting healthy boundaries at work. When there’s less representation in leadership, there’s often less social power. The numbers are bad for women in general, worse for women of color and maternal bias is a real thing. So, solo advocacy may feel risky. And for many, the rise in Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, has embedded supportive communities of people with similar life experiences, identities, or goals, into their workplaces.
But if you don’t have that, it’s okay. Initiating change, doesn’t have to be sanctioned. Shira Center worked with a passionate group of colleagues, to improve the parental leave policy for Boston Globe Media. “We noted that at the time, parental leave for our employer was pretty minuscule. Although the short-term disability was paid out in full, it was still only six weeks and didn’t seem like where we wanted to be. When you work for a media organization the ‘glass house’ analogy comes to mind. When you critically evaluate others, quite publicly for the way they run companies, the way you run yours should be in good standing.”
Build Your Business Case
Although benefits, like parental leave, support our human needs for work/life integration, most organizations still want a return on their investment. Shira worked informally, beginning with a core group of six people. “We also saw that Boston was emerging into this massive tech hub and we were losing talent to the Googles of the world and other companies with incredible perks and benefits. One of which was a great parental leave. So, we saw our leave policy as both out of line with our personal standards and professional market. That was the case we made, and it took two years to get it done.”
And Find Your Allies
Many organizations have ERG’s, to advance their cultures and support DEI. For caregivers, it can also help you seek better support, from the safety of a group. But whether you’re in an ERG or not, you will likely need senior leadership to sponsor new investments.
Shira said, “We could not have done it without the support of a few key leadership figures who were really helpful in our fight. My employer is the kind of place where people go to work for a long time, so we should welcome families. Because if you work for a place for a long time, there’s a good chance that’ll be part of your journey. I think it also helped bolster that part of the culture, although that’s not why we did it.”
To Get Results
Shira explained, “We did it to remain competitive, to create a better support system for women going into leadership at the Globe. And because it was the right thing to do.” She admits, despite many professional accomplishments, she’s proudest of this one. “I still get ‘thank yous’ from my colleagues who could take a good amount of leave when they had kids. We ended up going from the six weeks of standard short-term disability to 16 or 18 weeks for birthing parents. And 10 weeks for non-birthing parents.”
So, Pay Attention to Your Benefits
Your benefits options matter. And it’s not just the biggies like healthcare and dental, but voluntary options too. Back-up childcare or eldercare, your Employee Assistance Plan, family, fertility, or senior care planning, can help you access experts to support mental or physical health. And save time or money. So, if you don’t have what you need from your employer, consider advocating for positive change.
*Over 3,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our study since March of 2020. This update is about the newest survey wave, that began in January of 2023, which has 436 respondents so far, primarily Moms (98%) and non-binary parents (2%.) Parents, please share your voice in our study.
Many thanks to the talented Shira Center!
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Shira Center is the Globe’s general manager for newsroom initiatives — a new role in which she develops projects and events with opportunities for revenue. Previously, she served as the Globe’s editor for local politics, managing reporters who covered the State House, City Hall, the New Hampshire primary and other major campaigns. Prior to the Globe, Shira was a reported and editor in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade. In 2017, Editor and Publisher included her in their “25 under 35” list.Tags: best employee benefits for working parents, employee benefits and open enrollment season for parents, employee benefits needs for working mothers, options for parents during open enrollment, work/life benefits for parents, work/life integration and flexible benefits