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Paying to Fly Nannies on Work Trips? Companies Get Creative with Child Care Benefits

A woman is walking with a baby in her arms.

​In the race to hire and keep talented workers, some businesses have moved beyond traditional child care benefits and embraced some pretty creative perks, including paying for kids' summer camps and reimbursing parents when they bring their children on business trips.

American Express and insurance company USAA not only offer lactation rooms and onsite or near-site child care centers for their employees, they also reimburse workers when they bring their children on business travel.

In addition, American Express each year hands out an award for the "working parent/caregiver of the year." The peer-nominated recognition program honors parents who excel at balancing their careers and family lives, giving winners 10,000 points that they can redeem for merchandise or gift cards.

Credit Suisse Bank and private equity firm KKR recently began paying for nannies to accompany parents who wish to bring children under a year old on business trips.

"With competition for talent as fierce as ever, smart companies are looking at child and family care as a key differentiator," said Bernadette Fusaro, strategic account manager for Waltham, Mass.-based Care@Work, which provides employers with benefit programs to help workers care for children, seniors, pets and their homes. "And with good reason. Nearly one in three families spend 20 percent or more of their household income on child care, and 85 percent of parents wish their employer provided some kind of family care benefits."

'Out-of-the-Box' Child Care Solutions

According to a survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company based in Menlo Park, Calif., just under half (49 percent) of HR managers said their organization has made policy changes to better accommodate working parents in the past five years, and 79 percent of employees said flexible hours are the family-friendly perk that would have the greatest impact on their decision to work at a company.

"We know that care-related absenteeism … and turnover result in billions in lost productivity costs for American businesses each year," Fusaro said. "Further, the investment in providing family care benefits also pays off for your employer brand, employee engagement and loyalty. Another consideration is the objective. A lot of companies will invest in these types of benefits in support of a goal of improving gender diversity. It's a longer-term goal, but it's not a stretch to say that a successful family-care benefits program will deliver positive returns."

In recent years, she said, a number of companies have introduced what she calls "out-of-the-box" child care solutions. They include gift certificates that help workers pay for maternity wardrobes, paying to ship pumped breast milk to mothers on business travel, and peer-to-peer parent support that includes mentorships and employee resource groups.

"In addition to working moms' groups, we've seen new dad breakfasts, " she said. "Those are in addition to the more straightforward care benefits, like resources and referrals for backup [child] care, that are also growing in popularity."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement]

"The benefit of working at an organization that covers costs for summer camps or travel-related child care is that you don't have to worry about taking care of the kids while on the job. That leaves parents time to focus on work priorities," said Brandi Britton, district president for OfficeTeam.

Britton acknowledged that it can be expensive and complicated for companies to manage reimbursements for these types of offerings, especially if an employee is traveling internationally. In addition, she said, because there aren't many employers offering these types of benefits yet, there aren't a lot of examples for other companies to follow when considering these child care options in their workplaces.

"It may take some more research and work on HR's part" to consider such benefits, she said.

More common than flying nannies on business trips are companies that provide child care facilities to employees, either onsite or near the workplace. The Penny Hoarder acknowledged several companies for such child care programs.

"More and more employers seem to be offering employees onsite or backup child care for emergencies, like when school is closed or a kid is sick," Britton said. "In areas where finding a day care opening is competitive, companies are providing referrals, or they have a certain number of designated spots at nearby facilities."

Flexible schedules, she said, are also a common and popular perk that helps parents organize their work hours to limit child care costs. Flexible spending accounts can allow employees to set aside pretax dollars to pay for work-related child care costs. And an increasing number of companies are offering paid family leave to supplement the 12 weeks of unpaid leave offered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

"It isn't too surprising that organizations are getting innovative to recruit and keep top workers," Britton said. "Child care can be one of the biggest expenses for working parents, and employers that provide support in this area are definitely enticing."

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