Benefits & Work-Life Focus

Dependent Care: The Benefits of Backup
By Fran Durekas, Knowledge Universe

When it comes to the effects of dependent care-related absenteeism, the statistics tell the story:

  • Numerous studies, including “The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Business,” have found that absenteeism attributed to family caregiving costs U.S. employers more than $5 billion a year. Partial absenteeism adds $1.9 billion to the yearly tab.    
  • According to a 2007 national survey commissioned by Workplace Options, 59% of employees and their spouses missed between three and 10 days of work throughout that year due to the lack of adequate backup child-care or elder-care options.
  • A 2009 poll by Public Policy Polling revealed that 25% of the workers surveyed missed one to two days of work that year to take care of a family member.

To address what has become a personal and workforce challenge, some organizations are turning to emergency backup care programs. These programs allow employees to continue working despite temporary disruptions in normal caregiving arrangements for family members of any age.

Bring in the Backup
There are dozens of backup care programs available across the country, but the top ones allow employees to choose the care option that best meets their needs:

  • In-center care: Either a community center or dedicated backup care center (in major cities). Historically speaking, this is the “traditional” backup care plan.
  • In-home care: In the family’s home or a family member’s home. This is a newer component to backup care programs, and has grown during the past 10 years.

According to findings from the author’s company, emergency backup care programs such as these represent a growing benefit, in part because they provide an equitable solution for all employees in many different situations: from caring for a sick child or injured adult to assisting an aging parent or loved one. In all of these cases, backup care programs help employees reduce stress and balance the need to be there for the people who are most important to them with commitment to their employer.

Industries on the Leading Edge
Universities, hospitals and health systems, and professional service firms are the largest users of backup care benefits, due to the characteristics of these industries. Long working hours and 24-hour shifts can result in significant impacts for employees, making programs that offer care services 24/7/365 critical. The need to care for a family member can impact every employee at some point in time. If a doctor misses a surgery or an attorney misses a billable hour, for example, the cost to the organization is much higher than the cost of a program, providing an instant return on investment.

While technology and pharmaceutical companies are beginning to tout this benefit as a recruitment tool, companies offering flexible services represent many diverse organizations, large and small. Even though financial costs remain a major obstacle in providing a comprehensive work-life benefits program, according to the “2012 National Study of Employers,” most employers are aware of the increasing importance of work-life balance and the positive effect it can have on employee retention. Therefore, they continue to look for cost-effective means of extending these benefits to their workforce. Well-tailored backup care programs can provide an array of solutions for every employee, with every kind of family: from the independent single employee to single mothers, dual-income families and stay-at-home parents — anyone who has an emergency or unexpected appointment and needs backup dependent care on a specific day. 

The Business Case for Backup Dependent Care  
For organizations considering backup dependent care programs, it can be helpful to consider the business case in favor of them, as these programs not only offer a return on investment (ROI), but also help attract and retain employees.

ROI: Capital and Human
When backup care programs provide a hard-dollar return on investment for the organization in reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and attainment and retention of top talent, employers benefit. According to an estimate by WFD Consulting, employers can expect a return of $3 to $4 in productivity and reduced turnover for every $1 invested in backup child care. As for absenteeism? Slash that by an average of 20%, according to Circadian Technologies.

Getting the Best Workers — and Keeping Them
Flexibility helps companies recruit and keep top talent. In fact, job seekers have rated the ability to manage work and family as the most important aspect they look for in a job. They choose companies that are flexible, supportive and understanding of personal and family needs. The “Career Builder 2012 U.S. Job Forecast” revealed that 40% of those who voluntarily left their jobs did so because they felt a lack of work-life balance.

Is Backup Dependent Care Right for Your Organization?
There are a number of factors to consider when evaluating whether to provide backup dependent care. These questions will help get you started:  

  • What are your priorities?
  • What are your target population/employee needs?
  • What type of program do your employees need? For example:
    • On-site/near-site care
    • Referral programs
    • Backup care
    • Subsidies/discounts.
  • Will employees use the services?

If you determine a backup program is right for you, look for a well-established provider that offers customized solutions that work with your company culture and demographics. 

Increased profitability, morale and productivity as well as decreased turnover rates are just a few benefits of becoming a family-friendly business. In the end, the focus shouldn’t be on spending more, but rather on striking a balance between business costs and benefits needs. It will pay. According to MetLife’s “10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends,” conducted in late 2011, employees who are satisfied with their benefits are nearly three times as likely to express a strong sense of loyalty to their employers — and less likely to leave.

About the Author
Fran Durekas is founder of CCLC and global adviser for early childhood education and work-life initiatives for Knowledge Universe in Portland, Ore. She can be reached at

Read the October edition of Benefits & Work-Life Focus.

Contents © 2012 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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