How And Why Leaders Must Head Off America’s Childcare Crisis

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As businesses figure out ways to recruit top-notch employees in a tight labor market, they face an added stumbling block.

A lack of affordable childcare has caused many people – especially women – to bow out of the workforce, creating an even greater shortage of qualified applicants to fill crucial roles.

Meanwhile, workers who are still on the job may not perform at their best if they lack confidence that their children are receiving good care, says John W. Mitchell, author of the upcoming book Fire Your Hiring Habits: Building an Environment that Attracts Top Talent in Today’s Workforce.

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“As we are already finding, if there are not affordable options, they may be forced to leave the workforce entirely,” Mitchell says.

Meeting The Childcare Crisis

For some parents, there are no daycare options at all. About half the U.S. population lives in a childcare desert, according to a report by the American Center for Progress. Those who can find care often pay a steep price. The report says that, on average, the annual tuition for two children in childcare is nearly $20,000.

Families of color especially are harmed by the situation. They are more likely to face a lack of licensed daycare centers in their communities, and also more likely to struggle with the affordability of that care, according to a report by the not-for-profit organization Child Care Aware of America.

The repercussions of the childcare crisis on businesses, the economy, home life, and other aspects of American life are potentially staggering. Mitchell says corporations need to meet the childcare crisis head-on and he offers ideas on how they can do that:

  • Be flexible.

Companies can provide flexibility to employees who are parents in a number of ways, such as compressed work weeks, telework or hybrid work, Mitchell says. But the flexibility can go even beyond that.

A parent who needs to take a child to the doctor usually must take a full day or a half day off, even if they just need two hours. Offering flex time would allow the parent to avoid raiding their paid time off when they don’t need to, Mitchell adds.

  • Offer child care referral services and subsidies.

The best employees are hard to come by, so companies and their bottom lines will suffer if the employees leave because they can’t find safe and affordable childcare, Mitchell says. One option to consider is offering referral services and subsidies.

With so many daycare center closings, Mitchell says, it’s also time to examine allowing licensed providers to come into the homes of working parents.

  • Don’t push a “come to work at all costs” mentality.

If they haven't already done so, companies need to move away from the insistence that people come to work even when they are sick, Mitchell says. Sometimes this is an unspoken policy, but one that’s generally understood among nervous employees.

“Illnesses spread when people who are legitimately sick come to the workplace because they are afraid for their jobs or performance,” he says. Ideally, providing enough paid sick time and personal time should take care of this.

  • Support the mental health of employees.

Some people are simply juggling too much, according to Mitchell, and parents can be pulled in different directions, such as when a child comes down with a fever and can’t go to daycare, but the parent needs to be in an important meeting.

“Parents are exhausted and work-life balance can seem unattainable,” Mitchell says. Employees will feel valued if they know the company supports them and provides access to services that help with stress, such as mental health counselors, or on-site yoga or rest areas.



Finally, Mitchell says, companies should explore the possibility of onsite partnerships with daycare centers.

That not only solves the parents’ problem of finding childcare, but provides more peace of mind because the child is so close by.

Businesses with a large number of employees who are parents also benefit when they help address the childcare crisis, Mitchell says. Employees will be more committed to their jobs and, as a result, those businesses will experience reduced absenteeism, better recidivism, increased productivity, and higher employee morale.

About John W. Mitchell, Ed.D.

John W. Mitchell, Ed.D., author of the upcoming book Fire Your Hiring Habits: Building an Environment that Attracts Top Talent in Today’s Workforce, is president and CEO of the global electronics industry’s trade organization, IPC.