Flexibility is the most common benefit employers are providing, according to surveys. Eighty-six percent of 1,087 human resource professionals surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management said they were offering flexible hours. Half of working parents in the survey by Morning Consult for The Times said their employers were letting them shift their hours.
Less than 10 percent of employers are offering subsidies to pay for child care. Yet money for babysitters or teachers may be more valuable for parents than flexibility or even time off. Although a parent might ordinarily need a finite period at home for something like the birth of a baby, now children need long-term care or daily in-person help with online school. And while the costs to employers of providing flexible hours are minimal, the costs to workers can be high. For many parents, it’s unsustainable to continue working during nighttime or predawn hours or to take pay cuts as part of a reduced schedule. Financial benefits for parents also help nonparent colleagues who have been picking up slack, employers say, by enabling parents to get back to work full time.
“Something that stood out in our internal research is parents really want to keep working,” said Ms. Thomas, who has a Ph.D. in social psychology and focuses on diversity in corporate culture. “I was expecting to hear more, ‘I need a break or to tap out.’ Instead, they are basically saying, ‘How can I hack human biology to serve in three different jobs and never have to sleep?’”
Some companies are trying to address that. Walmart, Procter & Gamble and John Hancock, for example, have offered online camps and classes to keep children engaged. John Hancock’s camp included science projects, story time with the chief executive and pen pal buddies (3,000 children of employees participated).
“That was real help,” said Erica Noble, a senior director for communications at Procter & Gamble. “Because flexibility helps, but at the end of the day, I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old and they need something to do during the day.”
Last spring, Kinesis, the Portland company, donated laptops for online learning and allowed flexible schedules. When it became apparent that schools wouldn’t open this fall, executives realized that wasn’t enough. The company hired a teacher for online school in its empty office space for the five school-aged children of its 13 employees, so their parents could work from home without distractions. If child care centers close again, it plans to do the same for employees with younger children, probably by renting a house and hiring a preschool teacher.