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Updated: September 29, 2023

How to support and retain working parents

In this post-pandemic era, you would be hard-pressed to find a manager who does not consider retention a primary challenge for their teams. Among the factors that drive employees to leave an organization, companies and researchers alike are recognizing the shortage of affordable, reliable child care as one of the foremost contributors to turnover.

Courtesy photo
Nick LaCourse

Maine businesses are in a particularly challenging position.

According to the United Way of Southern Maine, more than half of all child care providers in Cumberland and York counties have a waiting list. Nearly 3 in 5 are experiencing staffing shortages.

For those parents who are able to get their children into a child care program, rising enrollment fees are creating an unsustainable and unaffordable situation for many. In fact, the average yearly cost for child care has risen to about $10,500 per year across the state.

For women, the situation is even more pronounced. Because female employees tend to take on unpaid child care roles more often than men, lack of access to child care services tends to push them out of the workforce at higher rates. In 2021 alone, workforce participation for women fell to 55% statewide. That’s the lowest it’s been in over 30 years.

As leaders, we must adapt new strategies and ways of leading to retain teams. If expanding benefit packages or funding expensive on-site child care programs isn’t an option in your situation, there are other ways you can tackle the challenge head-on.

Be flexible

Although remote work was a huge game changer for working parents, for some employees, remote work either isn’t an option or doesn’t go far enough. For example, a new 8:30 a.m. pre-K drop-off will conflict with a rigid 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule, regardless of whether your employee is working at home or in-office. Good leaders:

  • Listen to their employees' needs, and allow for staggered shifts and lunches. 
  • Schedule daily check-ins for mid-morning or mid-afternoon to avoid conflicts.
  • Create and maintain shared digital calendars so everyone is kept informed of their co-workers’ schedules.

Be resourceful

Effective management comes from understanding resource availability inside and outside the team. Good leaders:

  • Reach out to local agencies, schools, or to child care centers directly to see what programs are available.
  • Share their findings with their employees by word-of-mouth, newsletters, fliers in the break room, or in individual check-ins. Afterwards, leaders should solicit feedback on whether the information is helpful or not.
  • Ask child care providers what discounts might be available to their teams. Companies that work in health care or education might have special rates available to them. 

Be proactive

Rather than reacting constantly to external pressures, driven leaders should take the reins and contribute to a solution. Good leaders:

  • Do their homework to see which community players are driving change. There are likely numerous local charities and public/private partnerships aimed at training new child care workers and providing start-up funding to new child care centers.
  • Consider supporting a give-at-work campaign to help these charities raise funding at the grassroots level. This is especially important if a large corporate gift isn't in the cards.
  • Keep people at the heart of what they do. Crafting a strategy is essential, but it's equally as crucial to gather feedback from those who are actually living through the crisis each day. 

Look to the future

The way we work has been changed forever by the pandemic, and is bound to continue changing in both exciting and formidable ways. Leaders must be willing to provide flexible (not just remote) work arrangements, connect their teams with resources in the community, and help build the infrastructure that will ultimately address this ongoing challenge in our state and our communities.

By supporting working parents, good leaders will better the lives of the people on our teams and, along the way, minimize turnover and effectively position their organizations for the future.

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October 5, 2023

Insightful, thank you

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