As COVID-19 wanes, employees want more from work, including child care and flexibility

Charisse Jones, USA TODAY
·5 min read

Peijun Ma and her husband had to tag team in the early days of the pandemic, alternating their work in a research lab with time spent caring for their 6-year-old son whose school was closed because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Then in June, Ma's employer opened a child care center for staff.

"It's super important," says Ma, who previously had to wait for her husband to get home before heading to Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she worked on her postdoctoral research until midnight. "We were able to send my son there so I could have regular work hours."

The facility was a temporary offering to help employees through the pandemic, and Ma's son is now back in school. But Ma says, "I really hope we can have that again this summer."

Why can't we raise the national minimum wage?: CEO pay doubled, the minimum wage stayed the same. But Americans still can't agree on a raise.

Nursing in the workplace is hard to do: Breastfeeding moms face challenges as offices reopen amid COVID-19

Offices that shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic are poised to reopen soon as vaccines roll out across the country. But many employees aren't interested in returning to the same work environment they left behind a year ago, according to the seventh annual Bright Horizons Modern Family Index which was given exclusively to USA TODAY.

Instead, they want their companies to offer more services for their children. They expect flexibility in their work schedules. And in some instances, they want a permanent shift away from the office to working from home.

"We've been working from home or living at work," says Maribeth Bearfield, Bright Horizons' Chief Human Resource Officer. While employees were generally able to function "we also know that we need help .... in order to be able to do this in the right way. So I think employees are looking to their employers to provide more than they ever have before."

Nearly 6 in 10 parents who began working from home at the start of the pandemic want to keep doing so, according to the report. Nearly half want to work remotely if an emergency arises, while 41% want the option of working remotely whenever they want.

Employees had already begun to demand more over the past decade, from mental health services to family support. But Bearfield says the pandemic amplified and accelerated the need for such resources, and employers who don't offer them could lose out to businesses that do.

"Retention is a concern, turnover is a huge risk," she says. So employers are considering what "to do to ensure we are providing employees and especially working parents with the support they need.”

Parents want help with kids beyond the pandemic

When schools and day care centers shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, many parents struggled to juggle work while caring for their children.

Now, even as schools welcome students back, 46% of working parents want their employer to offer child care either consistently or when there are emergencies. And they don't just want their kids to be supervised. Among working parents, 27% want their employers to provide academic support, while 26% want tutoring and other services to help get their kids ready for college.

Amanda Fallon, a senior director of corporate relations for Genentech is back to commuting to the office, dropping off her 4-year-old and 8-month-old sons at the child care center located on the company's campus.

Even before the pandemic, Genentech allowed employees to work from home if there was a need. And a break during the workday where there are no meetings is still in place.

Fallon says if she ever moved on to another job, she'd want similar resources.

"Before I joined Genentech, I didn’t have children so it wasn’t necessarily something I thought about," Fallon says of the various benefits. "But now that I've had that experience and had all of this support ... it would be something I would look to any other employer to provide."

Women, people of color feel less supported by employers

More psychological support may also be necessary. More than 9 in 10 working parents are worried about all that they are dealing with mentally. In the coming months, 38% say their mental load will continue to be a concern.

Overall, 80% of those surveyed said their employers gave workers what they needed to deal with their challenges during the pandemic.

But just as the COVID-19 crisis revealed health, employment and financial inequities that fell along gender and racial lines, women and people of color were more likely to say they received insufficient support than their white male peers.

Among working mothers, 77% said their employer was supportive as compared to 85% of working fathers. Meanwhile, 82% of white parents felt their employers were understanding as compared to 77% of Latino mothers and fathers and 72% of Black parents.

Additionally, 82% of white parents said their employers gave them the resources they needed, compared to 74% of Latino parents and 69% of Black parents who felt the same.

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Working from home: 6 in 10 parents want to keep it up after COVID-19