It might sound like a disruptive, chaotic and ill-thought-out idea, but talent-minded employers are fast realising the commercial benefits of provide onsite childcare for employees.
The idea is not new; post-war Britain made use of onsite crèches and nurseries to tackle the labour shortage and get women working in the factories and mills. Those employers did what was necessary to stay in production and to re-start economic prosperity. Decades later, organisations are again considering this idea. However, while today’s employers don’t have quite the same drivers as post-war Britain, they do share the need to attract and keep good, skilled and able people in the workplace.
Today, competition to find the brightest and best talent is rife and the more playful, soft perks that once made employers stand out are no longer up to the job. Instead, employers must now offer genuinely useful, valuable and well-thought-through employee benefits. There are some high-profile employers we can look to for inspiration; Goldman Sachs offers childcare in its Tokyo and New York offices and Google Campus offers something similar. Closer to home, both London’s Goldsmiths College and Royal Mail’s Farringdon facility have followed suit. There are also a growing number of co-working spaces which include childcare facilities so that freelancers and gig-economy workers can enjoy the same benefits.
In almost all the analysis and commentary surrounding the Goldman Sachs and Google examples, the feedback and business benefits are overwhelmingly positive. There are countless anecdotes of senior women in particular who have returned to work specifically because onsite childcare was on offer, enabling them to spend more time with and less time worrying about their children. There are stories from parents who combine onsite childcare with flexible working to reduce the stress of everyday routines, improve productivity and enhance the quality of their family-time too. It’s clear in almost all these testimonials and examples that without childcare provision these companies would have almost certainly lost some of their highest achievers or have seen reduced productivity become the status quo.
As the provision of onsite childcare requires sizeable investment and space, it’s easy to see why it is the world’s largest and most profitable companies that are leading the charge. However, it is not to say that all these services have to be provided to employees for free or are exclusive to large-scale employers. Smaller businesses keen to improve their employee benefits with a childcare offering could look at subsidising use of a local crèche, setting up an onsite facility that employees pay for in full or even offering a select number of free weeks of childcare to support employees’ return to work after maternity/paternity leave. In addition, there’s also the option of seeing whether the landlord of a multi-tenanted building would consider such an investment. Already we’re seeing landlords work hard to ‘animate’ their ground floor spaces with the addition of co-working spaces and coffee bars, so why not crèche facilities too?
Workplace culture is a huge part of the onsite childcare discussion. Innovative employee benefits will only be fully taken up if employees feel they are empowered to do so without reprisal and judgement. The real opportunity for employers is by accepting that if employees feel more relaxed and supported in their home lives, they will be more focused, dedicated, productive and loyal in their work lives. The provision of onsite childcare, crèches and even after-school clubs helps to weave home and work life together with ease, something which is very much a requirement and expectation of the younger generations entering the workforce today.
At the last count, only 5% of businesses in the UK offered childcare in the workplace, but as the search for highly skilled employees continues, we can expect to see more large-scale UK employers follow suit. It is difficult to predict whether onsite childcare will ever become the norm as it is subject to a variety of factors, not least the strength of the push-pull from employers and employees and importantly, tenants and landlords. What we can predict is that retaining and recruiting exceptional people will remain a top business issue and as such employers must take heed of their employees’ wants, needs and expectations. Already the benefits of remote working and greater employee flexibility are understood. Perhaps access to onsite childcare is the most natural and logical next step for people-minded employers to take.