Handling a Childcare Crisis
More than any other issue over the past two years, childcare has created an absolute scheduling nightmare for management with calls to our Solution Center about the challenges of managing working parents increasing exponentially. As children head back to schools some of which are being forced to close due to COVID protocol right smack in the middle of a historic, nationwide labor shortage, it is probably wise to brace for more of the same for the foreseeable future.
Most of the time, those leaders who call into CEDR’s Solution Center express deep sympathy for parents who, between the rising cost of childcare and unreliable schools, are firmly wedged between a rock and a hard place. Owners and managers want to know what they can do to help their team while, at the same time, keep their practice fully staffed and running smoothly. On occasion, a leader wants to know why the American childcare crisis has somehow fallen squarely in their lap as the manager of a small dental practice, and wonders out loud if they should just let that employee go.
Our Solution Center began compiling some pretty creative solutions… This text opens a new tab to an article for working parents… for the issues that inevitably crop up with working parents with the input of CEDR members from all over the country. Best of all, these solutions seem to be producing real results for many teams! Today, we’re going to answer some of the most common questions we get about managing employees with a childcare crisis and offer some solutions that might work when there are more time off requests than available employees.
Wouldn’t it be easier to let them go?
In theory, sure. Provided you have accounted for your state’s protections for working parents and have an expert-reviewed policy firmly in place… This text opens a new tab to become a CEDR member…, you can keep your current schedule, demand your employees stick to it, and separate from any employee who can’t comply. In reality, however, the cost of letting an adequately-performing employee go in this current climate is very detrimental business-wise for these two reasons:
1. Turnover is costly
There’s no way around it, losing an employee is expensive. The average cost of turnover is 150% of an employee’s annual compensation… This text opens a new tab to the statistic source… which is estimated at $60,000 for employees at dental practices. To make matters worse, the current labor shortage might extend this process, making it even more costly. For that reason, it’s not in your best interest, financially, to let an employee go.
Turnover is often very hard on the employees who stay. From an employee’s perspective, they lost a coworker, not because of poor performance, but because their work buddy with childcare issues had no choice but to quit. It also means a team already exhausted by the pandemic is now short-handed and getting saddled with a bunch of extra work while leadership tries to find a replacement, a process that usually takes three months or more in dentistry, but might take more during this current labor shortage. Then, it means months of getting a new employee, who is, to them, a clueless newbie, acclimated to the particulars of your practice. That’s more than enough to make even the most loyal worker start poking around on Indeed over the weekend. In this current climate, the damage to team morale and company culture makes letting a working parent who is struggling to make it to work an even less appealing option.
So, how can I help a working parent with childcare issues?
1. Grow your team
The absolute best way to ease the burden of working parents is by adding another team member… This text opens a new tab to the hiring guide…, part-time or full-time, if you are able. If staff shortages are all but inevitable, having plenty of workers available is certainly the best way to nip scheduling issues in the bud. The childcare crisis, in and of itself, is more than enough to justify the cost of adding another team member, without even factoring in the current, historically high turnover rate nor the high rate of absences that COVID testing and quarantine have created at small, essential businesses. That being said, if adding a team member simply isn’t a possibility for your practice, there are other things you can try.
2. Change your team’s workflow
You might start with thinking about any duties that could be reassigned or tasks that can be shuffled around with your existing team. A really great way to assess your team’s workflow is by completing the Difference Maker Inventory… This text opens a new tab to the Difference Maker Tools… which is part of the Difference Maker Toolkit. This inventory can be used to take the load off of team members who are stretched too thin by reassigning duties to other team members who might feel under-challenged.
Splitting shifts or changing the hours of operation is another way to address scheduling issues. There are many ways to do this, but one example implemented by a CEDR member was changing their opening to 7 a.m. instead of 8:45, but continuing to close at the same time. One set of team members could come in and leave early so that they could be with their kids at the end of the day. The other set of team members came in later so that they could spend some time with their children in the mornings. Having appointments that fall outside of traditional office hours is often appreciated by your working patients as well!
Another good way to provide relief to working parents is letting any tasks that can be done remotely be performed from home. Sure, most duties at a dental office cannot be done remotely, but how about paperwork? Filing? What about phone calls related to billing? Letting your employees work from home, even if it’s for just half a day, can help reduce the cost of private childcare for working parents. While we’re on the subject of childcare costs, make sure your employees are aware of changes to the Child Tax Credit which allows families to receive half the total tax credit amount upfront to help with childcare costs in 2021.
3. Educate yourself about resources for parents in your community
Everything that follows most certainly lies firmly in the “not my job” category, but, sometimes, being a successful, local business owner means having a good understanding of the needs of your community. One thing you can do is get a calendar from your local schools. You can bet your bottom dollar you will get lots of time off requests when the children are scheduled to be on fall break. Knowing what to expect throughout the year can help you pad your schedule accordingly.
Also, knowing about child care resources in your community can help your employees solve a childcare crisis with resources rather than time off. For example, knowing about after school programs in your area or bussing alternatives could come in handy if, say, an employee asks to leave every day at three to pick up his son. Knowing how your other employees are solving their childcare issues might be of help when a new employee comes to you with a similar problem.
Won’t people just take advantage if I loosen the rules?
Of course, they will! Certain employees, and it’s usually just one or two, will always be looking for loopholes to exploit. Most parents, however, will not. They will simply be relieved that their leaders are taking the very real challenges that families currently face seriously and are very likely to repay you in loyalty and good performance.
In order to keep those one or two employees from taking advantage while giving working parents some much-needed relief, be consistent in both policymaking and its implementation. Good company policy, expertly written, and implemented fairly… This text opens a new tab to become a CEDR member… can help you remain flexible without losing control. It can also protect you from an employee who tries to cry “no fair”… This text opens a new tab to an article on ‘special treatment’ for families… while you’re simply trying to offer working families a little much-needed relief.
Working with working parents can be good for business!
Most of the time, it’s true that the high cost of turnover and the damage to team morale turnover causes make it wiser to work with working parents rather than to let them go. However, there’s no doubt the seemingly never-ending HR demands of the past two years have left employers every bit as frazzled as the working parents they are trying to manage. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the HR needs that the current climate demands or would like an expert to review changes recently made to your HR policy to accommodate working parents, CEDR members have access to one-on-one, legally compliant, expert guidance through the Solution Center… This text opens a new tab to become a CEDR member….
Whether you choose to work with a professional HR company or not, working with working parents can provide long-lasting, positive benefits for your practice, some of which are firmly rooted in data. In fact, when employees are asked why they stay, they often cite employers being flexible in the face of societal changes… This text opens a new tab to the SHRM login page… as a big influence on their decision to remain loyal to their company. In addition, making an effort to re-engage working parents has the added benefit of reducing churn when most industries are experiencing an extraordinarily high rate of turnover. While it can feel impossible to look at your blank schedule and an inbox full of time off requests at the same time, changes for working parents can be implemented in the short term that will be repaid with employee retention and high morale in the long run.