Employee Wellbeing and “The Hell of American Day Care”

The cover story in the April 29, 2013 issue of New Republic contains a heart-wrenching account of one working mom’s personal tragedy. In her struggle to keep a new job and find childcare for her young daughter, she gambled on the unknown and the trade-off cost her daughter’s life. Read “The Hell of American Day Care” and listen to the author being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Is the outcome of this story typical? No, thankfully. But, parts of this story play out daily in the lives of working parents. Nationally, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes continues to rise. Data reported in the just-released Right Start in Michigan’s Great Start Collaboratives tell the story for Michigan. Births to unwed moms are up. Half, actually 51%, of births to women in the Traverse Bay/Manistee Collaborative service area in 2012 were to uninsured, low-income women.

What does this have to do with childcare? It’s simple, really. Working single-parent families spend, on average, more than 40% of their income on childcare. Low-income working women are more likely to be in hourly jobs with not-traditional hours making it hard to find any childcare that meets their needs. Quality gets trumped by cost and availability.

But, there is some good news. We found local examples of how employers and employees are successfully working together to find mutually beneficial solutions.

One small restaurant in Traverse City adjusted its schedule so that working parents shifts were a better fit to their childcare and children’s schedules. It wasn’t a big change but it’s made all the difference: fewer absences, improved employee retention, fewer distractions on the job. This win-win solution adds up to increased productivity (good for the bottom line) and improved employee wellbeing (good for everybody).

Another business in town maps out deadlines well in advance so working parents can plan ahead, and offers on-site childcare on Saturdays during especially busy times of year. Munson Healthcare operates on-site childcare facilities that cater to the needs of their employees, including a system for flexible week-to-week scheduling. In Kalkaska, a chronic shortage of skilled staff was solved when Kalkaska Memorial Hospital began offering on-site childcare.

What all these businesses, and many others, have in common is a strong employer-employee partnership. Understanding the challenges of being a working parent is the first step toward finding solutions that work in the workplace. Here are some small but significant changes you can make in your workplace:

  • Connect—talk with employees and colleagues about their experiences as working parents and start building connections between management, supervisors and employees around shared concerns.
  • Learn—sign up for ReadyNation E-Mail Updates at www.readynation.org
  • Reach out—sponsor a Strong Families Café in your workplace. Based on the Strengthening Families approach, the café supports employee wellbeing by providing opportunities to share challenges and successes in a safe, welcoming environment. Our GSC has trained facilitators who can bring the café to your location at no charge. Contact Robin at rhornkohl@tbaisd.org for more info
  • Join—the Great Start Collaborative & Great Start Parents. Contact Mary at mumanner@tcchamber.org for info