It happens to even the most organized.

In the early-morning rush to get the kids out of bed, breakfasts made, teeth brushed and yourself dressed, you get an unwelcome call from your babysitter: she’s come down with the flu and won’t be able to pick the kids up from school that afternoon.

In a perfect world, you’d have Plan B at the ready. For scores of working parents, however, that’s not their reality.

In a survey, 85% said they wish their employer offered child-care benefits, and 74% said their job has been impacted when child care plans have fallen through; this resulted in a sick day (78%), falling behind on work (37%) and in some cases, docked pay (28%).

“The fight for talent these days is fierce, and the reality is a majority of that talent has parenting duties in addition to their careers,” stated Michael Marty, SVP and GM of Care@Work,’s backup childcare network. “For a company to compete for and retain the best talent, which includes both moms and dads, modern companies must address parents’ needs with family care benefits as basic table stakes.”

What Is Back-Up Childcare?

Essentially, it’s employer-sponsored childcare that supports workers who also have parental responsibilities. When faced with school or daycare closures when the workplace remains open, or mild sickness that prohibits a child from attending school that does not require extra care from a parent, employees could tap into either on-site childcare or a vetted network of independent care professionals.

Becka Klauber Richter works with firms to create back-up care programs for employees, and is President of Helpr, an app for screened, on-demand babysitters. She says that back-up care is most helpful when “at-home,” because centers do not allow sick children. At-home care also means a child’s routine is not disturbed, there is no pick-up/drop-off for the parent, timing is flexible and children with exceptionalities have more personalized attention.

Why Should Companies Offer It?

The tangible reasons are many, including reduced absenteeism, greater productivity, employee retention and increased engagement. 

“Because a company’s human capital is their most valuable asset,” says Richter, “a happy and engaged company culture is the true source of success. Companies know the importance of recruiting methods, retention and engagement.”

What’s more, as today’s Millennial workforce, which is used to and expects to be compensated increasingly by non-monetary perks, become working parents, they will see back-up childcare benefits as a must-have. In fact, a recent survey by Ernst & Young found that Millennials are more likely than other generations to rank paid parental leave as an important benefit. Seventy-eight percent of Millennials are part of a dual-working couple.

“Parenting is seen as an equal responsibility between men and women of the millennial generation,” says Richter, “and companies are starting to gear up to cater to the demographic.”

At Clif Bar & Company’s Emeryville, CA, headquarters, for example, working parents can access “Clif Base Camp,” an on-site care facility that can hold 64 kids, and averages 44 a day. While not free, the care center charges employees rates that are about 15-to-20 percent less than comparable facilities nearby.

What You Can Do In The Absence Of Back-Up Childcare

As firms play catch-up to the evolving needs of their workforce, parents are tapping into a handful of self-serve options.

Drop-in care centers like Bright Horizons (locations across the country) offer emergency care for infants, toddlers and those in elementary school. In licensed drop-in centers, staff receive the same training as those in day care centers, and many stay open into the late-evening hours.

Parents that prefer to have their kids at home, and adhering to their normal schedule, might tap into a network of local college students whose schedules are flexible to step in as last-minute babysitters.

And a host of local apps – including New York City-based Hello Sitter – are cropping up to provide background-checked, in-person interviewed, last-minute babysitters to parents in a pinch.

While these options are a good solution, ultimately, says Richter, companies need to make back-up care programs a priority as “it speaks to the dire needs of a family that can often come in the way of equal opportunity in the workforce for parents.” 

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