Lack of After-School Care Affects Parent Productivity
December 8 2006 - New research has found that millions of American parents are less productive at work because they are worried about what their children are doing after school. The report, entitled After-School Worries: Tough on Parents, Bad for Business, was prepared by Catalyst, a leading non profit organization working to improve conditions for women in employment, in cooperation with the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.
The report is based on a survey of 1755 employed parents (44.7 per cent fathers, 55.3 per cent mothers) working at three Fortune 100 companies. The survey focused on the issue of parental concern about after-school time (PCAST). It identified contributory factors and considered the consequences for parents and employers. The research found a majority of working parents are coping with work-life responsibilities, but both mothers and fathers are vulnerable to the impact of PCAST.
Karen Gareis, a social psychologist at Brandeis' Women's Studies Research Center and a lead researcher on the study said:
"Our findings show that PCAST can be very toxic to employee attitudes, work performance and well-being. However, companies can help all employees not just parents perform at their most productive level without breaking the bank. By giving employees greater job control and cultivating a results-oriented 'agile workplace,' companies can benefit their bottom line as well as their employees."
The study estimates that with over 52 million working parents in the United States, PCAST contributes to worker stress costing businesses between US$50 billion and US$300 billion annually in lost job productivity. This results from factors ranging from minor disruptions to the working day to lower job satisfaction. The study suggests that at least 2.5 million working parents are severely affected by PCAST particularly those who have more responsibility for childcare, who work longer hours, and whose children are older or spend more time unsupervised.
The survey suggests that companies can do a lot to support working parents by implementing cost-effective policies such as flexible work arrangements that incidentally appeal to most employees. The survey found that parents with control over work schedules experience less PCAST. However, many were not aware of the existence of such programs or were anxious about the consequences for career advancement if they took advantage of them. Nevertheless, over three-quarters of respondents said that being able to adjust working hours when necessary significantly reduced the stress associated with PCAST.
The report argues that there are obvious benefits for organizations in reducing employee stress and supporting the health and well-being of working parents. It recommends strategies for employers including:
- Developing 'the agile workplace' - emphasising job control enabling employees to 'work smart' and improve performance, focusing on goals and results, and facilitating access to flexible work programs
- Expanding supports specifically related to after-school care and investing in community services that support relevant programs
- Transforming workplace culture by educating supervisors and managers about the benefits of an agile workplace and how they can support working parents
- Actively communicating the availability of supports
- Openly addressing misperceptions about adverse consequences of their use.
Similarly the report recommends that working parents better educate themselves about current or prospective employers' policies. For example, whether a company enables telecommuting, subsidises after-school care, offers bankable hours, etc.
Ilene H. Lang, president of Catalyst said:
"PCAST is an equal-opportunity issue, cutting across gender, race, and rank, from factory floor to executive suite. Ultimately, reducing PCAST is a win-win proposition. Businesses can increase productivity and retention in today's round-the-clock work environment by cultivating an agile, results-focused workplace, where work and life responsibilities aren't mutually exclusive."