It doesn't just take a village to raise a child anymore. It takes a workplace.
Many a health care leader has said to me, "it's so difficult to retain younger staff members who want to start a family, we end up losing them to parenthood."
"Losing them to parenthood." As if parenthood were some illness decimating our workforce ranks.
As it happens, parenthood will "afflict" up to 85% of workers over the course of their careers.
The truth is that your employees expect to be supported as parents; not because they're entitled, but because parenting is becoming more expensive and complex.
Even before we entered the current inflationary period, parenting costs were increasing dramatically around the world. The average cost of raising a child in the United States to adulthood is $310,605, an increase of $26,000 since 2017. And in Australia, we saw a 10% increase (in real terms) in child-related costs from 2016 to 2021.
In the UK, food costs are exacerbating financial pressures, with nearly a quarter of UK families with children reporting food insecurity in the last month. All of these cost increases are compounded by the fact that wage growth for most health care workers has not kept pace.
The logistics of parenting have also become more complex in the aftermath of Covid-19. Sixteen thousand American childcare providers shut down during the pandemic, in many cases permanently. In Belgium, demand pressures for daycare have resulted in the lowest ever career to child ratio yet seen.
3 strategies to engage working parents
If health care organizations want to recruit and retain talent, they must start actively supporting the parental roles of their employees – in and outside of the workplace. Here are three strategies that we are seeing health care organizations take around the world.
Strategy 1: Reorient your benefits to reflect the reality that employees are starting families later.
It's a fact that people are starting families later in life, but most health care organizations have not yet adapted their benefits and policies to meet this trend. In particular, health care lags other industries in offering fertility benefits to employees, which means that they're missing out on a potentially huge recruitment and retention lever.
One survey found that 77% of workers would stay at their company longer if their employer offered fertility benefits, while 88% would even consider changing jobs for access to fertility benefits. Health care systems need to reorient their employee benefits beyond a focus on parental leave and child care to benefits designed to actively help employees who want to start families, particularly fertility benefits.
Also, just as people are giving birth at older ages, the relatives they rely on for support are also older as well. Even before the pandemic, US children under the age of 5 were almost twice as likely to receive childcare from elder relatives than they were to receive it in formal daycare settings. Health care systems need to take an expanded view of flexible work arrangements for all employees with child care responsibilities, not just focusing on parents.
Strategy 2: Promote peer-to-peer support for working parents within your organization.
It's often said that raising a child 'takes a village,' and one of the most 'built-in' opportunities for organizations is to formalize the peer networks that already exist within their workforce. Many systems are now funding Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that acknowledge working parents as a distinct workforce constituency.
Some organizations have doubled-down to provide more specific experiences, with some ERGs specifically for pregnant mothers or for parents with school-age children. The common denominator for all these ERGs is that they bring together employees with shared experiences of parenthood, helping to break the stigma around discussing parental responsibilities in the workplace.
Strategy 3: Communicate that being a working parent and building a career at your organization are truly compatible with one another.
In point of fact: language matters. The phrase "we're losing employees to parenthood" signals that parenthood is incompatible with long-term employment at your organization. If your actions and culture reflect this attitude, then your staff will be negatively affected.
Half of mothers in the UK say that maternity leave has harmed their careers, with many reporting that even before they left, coworkers treated them differently and using phrases like "she's preggy-brained." Many fathers in the UK report that taking as little time off as possible for paternity leave is referred to as a "badge of honor."
As part of their DEI strategy, health care systems need to address bias and inequities that working parents face as a distinct employee group. This starts with how people talk about working parents and their choices.
It's not enough to have adequate parental leave policies and benefits. Organizations must actively promote those resources as well. Ask yourself, how easy is it for your employees to access information about these benefits on their intranet? Do your managers actively take steps to clear the plates of employees so that they can take their full parental leave? Do your managers try to create a work environment where parenthood is celebrated as a milestone?
It's time to stop thinking about how health care systems are "losing" staff to parenthood. Let's focus our thinking instead on how health systems can retain "working parents."