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No Baby Sitter? Emergency Child Care to the Rescue

By Brian O'Connell  5/12/2005
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What HR professional doesn’t know the drill? A key employee calls the office. Her school-age child is sick, or her toddler's regular babysitter has decided to take the day off. Your key employee must also now "take the day off"—so she can take care of her unexpected family crisis.

According to the 2004 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey , last minute no-shows are at a five-year high. Absentee rates rose from 1.9 percent in 2003 to 2.4 percent in 2004. The CCH survey pegs the financial hit that companies take from unexpected absences at $600 per employee.

For companies like Texas Instruments , $600 per employee can really add up. “It’s very difficult for us when our employees experience family emergencies,” says Betty Purkey, manager of work-life strategies at Dallas-based company, which has roughly 38,000 employees. “It’s human nature not to plan head for such emergencies.”

What did Texas Instruments do? It reached out to the child and family care community and built a massive web database where employees can contact a backup provider on a moment's notice. “We also try to communicate with employees that we can help,” says Purkey. “Employees can either use the database on their own—our employees are very comfortable using the web—or they can work through our work-life department. The key is letting them know there is help in getting good, solid and quick backup child care.”

Texas Instruments had some help crafting its backup care program. The company tapped both Ceridian Corp . , a Boston-based HR provider, and the American Business Collaboration (ABC), an industry consortium through which corporate members such as IBM and General Electric share employee family care programs and resources.

“We found that unexpected employee absences were becoming a huge problem for companies,” notes Jennifer Piliero, a product manager at Ceridian. “We’re talking about the sandwich generation here—people are getting pulled away from work on a regular basis.”

Together, Ceridian and the ABC created the Backup Care Locator , where workers can search for backup caregivers in their communities. All an employee has to do is log on to the locator database, type in his or her zip code, and from a list of about 20,000 national family care providers those in or near the employee's community will pop up on the screen.

The locator also provides employees with profiles of alternate child care providers and elder care services. The care providers found on the database come in all stripes, including child day care centers, facilities that care for mildly ill children, in-home care agencies for children and elders, adult day care and assisted living facilities, and off-hours providers for weekends and evenings.

Texas Instruments made its locator program available to employees on April 6. “It’s a real robust backup care database with a locator technology,” adds Purkey. “Our employees really seem to like it.”

Ceridian also offers a program that reimburses employees for emergency child care expenses. "Employees who realize the night before that their child is sick can make a call and get a sitter, knowing that they'll be reimbursed," Piliero says. Ceridian's program pays employees up to $65 for emergency care services for a total of six days per year. “For companies that operate in expensive areas, like New York City or San Francisco, that reimbursement number can even be higher,” she adds.

On-Site, Too

Companies are also creating on-site child care provider centers that can handle emergencies on a moment’s notice. Canadian financial services giant CIBC recently bulked up its backup child care program, rolling the on-site service out to 14 Canadian cities. The company picks up the child care tab for its employees, who can take advantage of the program for up to 20 days a year at no cost to them.

According to Joyce Phillips, CIBC executive vice-president of human resources, CIBC’s Children’s Care Center has saved over 6,800 employee days since the first facility opened in 2002. CIBC estimates its cost savings over that period to be about $1.4 million. Equally as important, the program is a big winner with the company's workers.

"Our employees in Toronto have told us that this service gives them peace of mind when their usual child care arrangements are suddenly unavailable due to illness or other unexpected events,” Phillips says. "So we’re delighted that we are now going to be able to expand this program from coast to coast."

Not Technology Alone

Texas Instruments' Purkey does say that technology alone will not solve all unexpected-absence issue. “We’re really trying to help employees stay ahead of the problem instead of having a 'panic’ situation,” she explains. “That means working with employees to develop a plan for dealing with family care emergencies before they happen.”

Ceridian’s Piliero agrees. “We try to show human resources professionals how they can help employees better prepare for unexpected family situations that could cause them to miss work.” And, she adds, “Employees can use the locator, but they also need to have their own backup plan where they have a family member or friend standing by to help out during emergencies. It’s a matter of educating companies on family planning issues, and we’re seeing some good results from the work we’re doing with our clients in this area.”

So far, employers adopting backup child care programs like what they see. "Companies are realizing they have a financial incentive to help employees come in," says Piliero. "And the employees see that they are being highly valued by their company, so the morale factor can be quite high.”

“We’re getting a great response from our employees,” Purkey concurs. “At the end of the day, they’re glad we're here to help them alleviate some of their family care responsibilities.”

Brian O’Connell is a freelance writer specializing in financial, health care and career management issues. His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal , the Boston Herald , USA Weekend , CFO and other publications.

Related Reading

Child Care 'Investment' Creates Competitive Advantage, HR News, March 2007

On-site Child Care Puts TASB on the Employer Honor RollHR Magazine, July 2004

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