Improvisation: the dictionary defines it as the art or act of doing anything without preparation.
For many of us, we’d define it as what we’re forced to do when issues in our lives impact our ability to work. Let me give you an example.
Think about the contacts in your phone. Which of the following would give you the most anxiety?
- A text from your company’s PR person that says, “Call me.”
- A text from your partner or spouse that says, “We need to talk.”
- A text from your child care provider that says, “Please call.”
Which would you answer first? I bet you’d say the child care.
First, of course, you’d be anxious to see that your child is OK. After that, you’d likely be worrying about improvising—all the meetings you’d have to miss, the deadlines you’d have to shift—while you resolve whatever the problem is.
Now imagine a similar scenario from the perspective of a single mother named Maria. She’s supporting her family with her waitressing job and they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck.
It’s 6:30 a.m. and she gets a text from the woman down the street who watches the neighborhood kids. It says: “Power’s still out from the storm last night. Can’t take the kids today. So sorry.”
Take all that anxiety you just felt. She’s feeling that plus:
- Can I afford to miss my shift?
- I can’t afford to lose my job.
- What am I going to do?
The Cost of Work-Life Conflict
Far too many hard-working men and women are forced to improvise when there’s a hiccup in our daily routines. It happened to me on many occasions.
I got pregnant with our first son when I was still in college. My husband Ron and I had to finish school and we were lucky enough to find a daycare nearby. But when it was closed, I’d have to bring my son, Ryan, to class with me. I’d be in the lecture hall bouncing him on my lap or in the baby bjorn.
I was a student, so they weren’t going to kick me out. But could you imagine an employee with a baby on her lap in a cubicle, let alone a baby bjorn behind a cash register?
We had our second child, Adam, during grad school. As my husband and I started new jobs, we needed help so I begged my parents to come help care for our boys. They came over from the Philippines, but then my father had a heart attack while caring for Adam and I found myself in the Sandwich Generation. I was 29.
I was the primary breadwinner for our family, and we were dependent on care so we could work and provide for our family. We were working at a tech startup and combing through the Yellow Pages for caregivers.
I knew that our family wasn’t alone in this situation. And I knew there had to be a better option than improvising. This is what inspired me to start Care.com.
To say we’re past the days of dad working and mom staying home is an understatement. Today, more than 90 percent of dads and roughly 70 percent of moms with young children work outside the home. And almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s are part of the Sandwich Generation.
Millions upon millions of families are in situations like the one Ron and I were in. When care breaks down, people miss work. They can’t focus. They leave jobs.
Our research has found 90 percent of working parents have had to leave work to deal with family situations. They miss up to 6 days a year, research has shown. Absenteeism is a subject I’m sure we’re all familiar with. Beyond the aggravation when a worker doesn’t show up, there’s a real financial cost.
Unscheduled absenteeism costs more than $3,600 per year, per hourly worker and more than $2,000 per year for salaried employees. At scale, absenteeism costs American businesses more than $80 billion annually. Layer in the costs of lost productivity, burnout, presenteeism and turnover and you’re talking about $300 billion.
That’s the cost of care to our economy.
No Silver Bullet, a Solution for All
As CEOs and business leaders, we know there’s not “silver bullet” that consistently drives profits and growth. But there are tools and practices we can utilize that significantly increase the likelihood of success.
Investing in our people tops that list. It’s critical.
Let’s try one last improv exercise.
- Do you want workers who are more focused and productive? (Yes.)
- Do you want employees who show up on schedule, ready to perform at a high level? (Yes.)
- Do you want your business to attract and retain the best employees? (Yes.)
Then ask yourselves: How can you help your workers handle one of the most important but toughest jobs around—the job of taking care of those they love—whether it’s a parent, child, spouse or pet?
That’s a question that led a tech company to us in 2010, just three years after we launched Care.com. They said their employees needed care to work and, as it turned out, many of them were already using Care.com. So they asked us if we could create a service for them.
That service became our enterprise business, what’s now known as Care@Work. Today, more than 1 million families have access to our care services to through their employers. Today, more than 1 million families don’t have to improvise when they need to make life work.
I know what you might be thinking … this sounds great but family care benefits are:
- Only for salaried execs in industries like tech or finance
- Way too expensive
Neither of those are true.
Companies across all industries use Care@Work to provide benefits to their employees. Yes, we have clients in tech, finance and legal, but we also have clients in service industries – from convenience stores to popular retailers – who provide benefits to corporate, hourly, part-time and seasonal employees.
One of those clients has a few hundred employees based in the Midwest. One of those employees is a single mom, let’s call her Kelsey. And this one time, she had to travel for a big meeting. And the one problem was she had no one to care for her 3-year-old daughter.
Thanks to her employer, she didn’t have to improvise. With her care benefits, she was easily able to find affordable day care within a mile of her hotel and meeting location. Her company was there for her and her daughter when she needed it most.
How much did it cost the company to offer that benefit and show they really cared about Kelsey and her daughter? Less than it would have cost for her to expense her lunch.
HR Leaders Also Read
- 101 Reasons to Care About Employees Lives Outside of Work
- The Organization of the Future is Neither Organized Nor in the Future
- A Consumerist Guide to Making Employees Fall in Love with Their Benefits
- 30 Cities Where Employees Need Senior Care Benefits Right Now
- An Incomplete List of Great Companies for Working Parents
Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the founder, chairwoman and CEO of Care.com. This post was adapted from Sheila’s keynote at the 2017 HourMinds conference hosted by Snagajob. It was originally published on the Care@Work blog.