Child care is in the headlines a lot these days. It’s an issue of national significance not just because it’s publicly funded, but because it has a huge impact on our economy. Flexible and well-funded care may help increase labour supply by allowing more parents and guardians to work instead of staying at home with little ones, if they so choose.
When it comes to attracting and retaining the best staff members, child care arrangements are likely to be one of the top considerations for candidates. It’s a concern for those who
- want a family at some point,
- have firm plans to start a family,
- already have kids, or
- want to spend more time with their grandkids.
Or in other words, most adults (according to the stats[i]).
Last year, a SEEK survey of nearly 5,000 Aussie workers found that 1 in 3 employees prioritise work-life balance over everything else when choosing who to work for[ii]. Flexible working arrangements were rated as the most appealing perk/benefit offered by employers. ‘Unlimited leave’ came in at no. 3. Perhaps most surprisingly, ‘additional paid parental leave and/or on-site child care facilities’. These types of perks rated above even health programs, like gym memberships, free food, and office coffee machines.
So what does this tell employers about what to provide in order to improve recruitment and retention stats? It’s not necessarily about working out how to salary package child care, or how to build on-site child care facilities. It’s more about getting to the root cause of the concern.
These kinds of survey results tells us that good candidates care about the cost of child care. They also care about making sure their kids get the best care possible. After all, putting a child in to care isn’t just a practical decision, it’s an emotional choice that can be extremely stressful, especially for first-time parents. Most importantly, they believe that their employer can have a role in helping with this.
What kind of options and costs are people looking at?
Family day care
Family day care is a form of childcare where an educator looks after children in their own home. It is a regulated type of care that is covered in the National Standards. Educators must be trained and approved, and their homes must meet safety guidelines. Some parents prefer family day care because it may be more affordable than other options in their area; typical fees range from $6 to $10 per hour[iii], and rebates may be available. It is for small groups only – up to four children under school age. You can find out more on the website of Family Day Care Australia[iv], the national peak body for this kind of care.
Centre-based child care
This includes long day care (~7am to 6pm), plus preschools and kindergartens (~9am to 3pm)[v]. These types of centres are more likely to have a wide variety of different activities for children. They may have staff with higher qualifications in education, including degrees in early childhood education. Despite the variety and competition, centre-based care may still be relatively costly because there is such a high demand for places. The most popular centres have long waiting lists, which you may need to put your child on before they’re even born. The average price across the country is around $88, but some predict that it will reach up to $223 a day by 2020[vi].
Private in-home childcare was traditionally the domain of the very wealthy; think stereotypes of posh kids in preppy outfits being followed around by a uniformed nanny. But these days, there are options that may cost effective depending on your family’s circumstances. Private care may be the right option for you if you live in an area where there are few centres (or few vacancies), or if you have more than one child in care. Private carers can also take care of other duties such as light house cleaning and meal preparation.
Private care is usually arranged through agencies, but may also be arranged directly between carers and parents through popular websites such as Find a Babysitter[vii]. The price depends on whether it is live-in care or not, but hourly rates start at around $20. Live-in au pairs may be available from around $200-$250 per week[viii]. Be aware, however, that this type of arrangement may be largely unregulated. It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that the carer they hire for their children is appropriately qualified, experienced, insured, and has the correct clearance and/or working visa.
On-site child care
Workplace crèches are more common than you might expect in Australia – around 3% of employer organisations have one[ix]. In a way it makes sense, as conventional child care costs rise and average commute times stretch out. And if US trends are anything to go by, it’ll only become more common amongst employers of choice with relatively large workforces[x]. One US-based outdoors brand says that its child care offering ‘pays for itself’ through savings on turnover, taxes, and employee stress levels[xi].
Staying at home
The so-called ‘traditional’ option is less about out-of-pocket costs, and more about opportunity costs. The cost of staying at home is, in its simplest form, the same as what the stay-at-home parent would have earned had they gone to work. For some people, that’s roughly on par with what they’d have to pay to have their child in care full time. For others, they wouldn’t be left with much if they worked and paid for care, even with government rebates. And that’s when the emotional pull of wanting to be with a child wins out over a couple of hundred dollars extra a week.
Depending on an employee’s culture and family background, they might be feeling extra pressure one way or the other. If your employee’s spouse wants to stay home with children, there’s a strong chance that your employee will feel some stress in being the sole breadwinner. And that’s something you can help with, in the (highly likely) event that you can’t afford to pay them a bonus equal to what their spouse would have been earning.
One thing all of these options have in common? There’s a financial consideration to be made. No matter which option they choose, it will cause some degree of financial stress to both parents. It’s this kind of financial stress that can cause lost time and productivity at work. One study found that around 39% of Aussie employees spend two or more hours per week at work thinking about their finances[xii]. And although there’s no hard data yet, published anecdotes suggest that parents are taking sick leave and unpaid leave when a casual child care spot is not available.
How you can help take some of the stress out of their child care budgeting
The cost of child care is just one of the financial considerations that candidates make when they’re deciding where to apply, or whether to stay at their current position. Several studies suggest that today’s candidate is looking for a workplace where their whole wellbeing is taken in to account, including areas of financial wellbeing that go well beyond “what’s the salary?”[xiii] Aside from (or in addition to) traditional financial benefits such as salary packaging and bonus structures, one of the most effective ways you can demonstrate care is a robust financial education offering. That’s where Money101 comes in.
Money101 provides a scalable, affordable and high-ROI financial education solution. It’s all online-based, which means your people can access it on their own time, at their own pace. Created by subject matter experts, educators and multimedia developers, it’s a proven effective way to reduce employee stress levels by directly addressing one of the biggest stressors Aussie workers face today – personal financial issues.