The high cost and limited availability of child care is one of the major burdens facing working families today, particularly in the US, but also in the UK and other countries: Parents are spending a sizable chunk of their incomes on child care, making career decisions based on these costs, and sacrificing earnings by pursuing flexible schedules or part-time work in order to make more time to spend with their children.
Unable to afford full-time child care, many mothers (and it’s almost always mothers) are forced to work part-time or drop out of the workforce entirely to take care of their children, especially when they have more than one. Because responsibility for child care still falls predominantly on women, this factor contributes heavily to the gender pay gap.
In the US, a historically tight labor market is driving employers to reckon with this problem, now that they are feeling it more acutely than ever, Jennifer Levitz reports at the Wall Street Journal. Levitz hears from employers around the country that are increasingly concerned about retaining female employees amid a dearth of child care options and have begun to look for ways to expand these options for their employees, including lobbying state governments for legislative solutions. Some coworking spaces have also experimented with child care programs as a benefit for their members.
The gold standard of child care benefits are on-site facilities, such as Patagonia famously offers at its Ventura, California headquarters and its Reno, Nevada distribution center. While these services are expensive to implement, Patagonia maintains that this investment nearly pays for itself between tax incentives, better retention, and lower turnover. From an employee perspective, on-site daycare is the family benefit most preferred by employees all over the globe, according to our research at CEB, now Gartner. This is particularly true in the US, where employees are twice as likely as in other markets to say they would prefer on-site daycare over a 5 percent increase in pay.
A new report from the RAND Corporation details the findings of the American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), a wide-ranging survey fielded in 2015 by RAND in conjunction with scholars from Harvard Medical School and UCLA that paints a troubling picture of the state of the American workplace as “very physically and emotionally taxing, both for workers themselves and their families.” Some of the key findings include:
- The clear majority of Americans (eight out of ten) have steady and predictable work throughout the year, but many fewer work the same number of hours on a day-to-day basis (54 percent).
- Nearly three-fourths of Americans report either intense or repetitive physical exertion on the job at least one-quarter of the time.
- More than one-half of Americans report exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions.
- Nearly one in five American workers are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work.
- Most Americans (two-thirds) frequently work at high speeds or under tight deadlines, and one in four perceives that they have too little time to do their job.
Furthermore, only 38 percent said their job offered good prospects for advancement. On the bright side, however, 58 percent of respondents described their boss as supportive, 56 percent said they had very good friends at work, and four out of five said their job met at least one definition of “meaningful” most of the time. Large majorities said their jobs involved solving unforeseen problems, applying their own ideas, engaging in complex tasks, and learning new things.
In a press release, RAND goes into more detail about what these findings mean for the US workforce:
Google’s decision to fire James Damore, a senior engineer who circulated a memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and making questionable claims about the biological differences between men and women, was bound to fan the flames of the controversy the memo had sparked. Was terminating this employee the right call? Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, and as our HR practice leader Brian Kropp remarked in an interview with the Washington Post, Google had no good options here: Whether it had fired Damore or declined to fire him, either decision was going to upset a certain group of people.
One of the challenges that any talent executive or head of diversity and inclusion will face when inflammatory internal communications like Damore’s memo go public is in figuring out whether they are dealing with a single person who has managed to rile up the Internet (the “don’t feed the trolls” challenge), or are facing a real source of tension from a segment of the workforce. If it’s the former, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that people are aware that you are addressing D&I, and that it’s a key part of your core values; if the latter, it could prompt the organization to reorganize its D&I strategy along the lines of what Deloitte is doing, and double down on inclusion to ensure that everyone gets on board.
Below are some thoughts on what the Google controversy reveals about the challenges facing diversity and inclusion, as well as what employers can learn from the debate in order to strengthen their future D&I efforts.
The Dangers of Backlash
The downside for an organization of reacting to an incident like this with absolute rejection is that it contributes to the framing of D&I as a zero-sum game, which gives ammunition to those who oppose it. When an organization treats a skeptic like Damore as a threat, employees who fear being left behind by D&I efforts or having their viewpoints marginalized in pursuit of diversity will tend to see that as proof of their point. While Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that Damore’s memo had crossed a line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes, he also acknowledged the more valid concerns it raised about whether Google’s approach to diversity was optimal and whether employees with minority opinions could safely express them in the workplace.
In other words, irrespective of whether Damore violated norms of professionalism and collegiality in the way he voiced his opinions, and of whether the company was within its rights to terminate his employment, Google does not want to be perceived as making rules about what employees are allowed to think.
Employee resource groups, which create spaces for members of historically disadvantaged or minority communities to come together in support of each other and to help leadership understand and respond to their unique challenges and concerns, are a cornerstone of diversity and inclusion practices at some organizations. Yet there is also a growing understanding among D&I leaders that the most effective initiatives are inclusive in the broadest sense, involving everyone in the organization, not only those in specific affinity groups.
That’s why we’re seeing more inclusion campaigns focused on cultivating allies and helping members of more privileged demographics recognize their own unconscious biases. When the Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to D&I last year, it focused heavily on the challenge of getting everyone on board with diversity without courting backlash.
In a controversial move, Deloitte has decided to take this shift toward a more broad-based approach one step further by eliminating ERGs altogether in favor of groups whose membership is not limited to specific demographics, Jeff Green reported recently at Bloomberg:
After 24 years, WIN, the women’s initiative at Deloitte, will end. Over the next 18 months the company will also phase out Globe, which supports gay employees, and groups focused solely on veterans or minority employees. In their place will be so-called inclusion councils that bring together a variety of viewpoints to work on diversity issues. …
“We are turning it on its head for our people,” says Deepa Purushothaman, who’s led the WIN group since 2015 and is also the company’s managing principal for inclusion. Deloitte will still focus on gender parity and underrepresented groups, she says, but not in the same way it has for the past quarter-century, in part because millennial employees—who make up 57 percent of Deloitte’s workforce—don’t like demographic pigeonholes.
A new study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation finds that nearly half of US adults are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with expenses equal to (or even greater than) their income—including 54 percent of those aged 18-25—CNN Money‘s Anna Bahney reports:
Of the 25% who say they have too much debt, 96% report being stressed. This kind of financial stress has lasting health effects for those constantly working to cover the nut, says [Jennifer Tescher, president and CEO of CFSI]. “We can’t deal with their health problems if we can’t deal with their financial health.” …
Certainly we can all do the hard work of cutting back on our expenses, says Tescher. But she says the results of this study show something more structural than individual spending. “People are spending a shockingly large amount of income on housing. They have to pay for transportation to get to a job. These costs are going up while their wages stay the same.” Another major contributor, according to the study, is irregular income. Nearly 40% of those who spend as much or more than their paychecks have volatile income, which means it varies from day to day, week to week, month to month.
The issue of employees’ financial insecurity is highly salient for employers, who are increasingly aware of the negative impact financial stress has on well-being and productivity. This topic came up in the Minneapolis Evanta leadership summit in Minneapolis earlier this month, during a boardroom discussion on emotional resilience. Several companies were talking about introducing financial wellness benefits and receiving feedback from the vendors that so many of their employees were living hand to mouth that they didn’t need financial wellbeing benefits, they need debt consolidation guidance.
In recent years, several US cities, including New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco, have introduced mandates requiring large employers to offer tax-free transit benefits to employees who commute to work. “However,” SHRM’s Joanne Sammer writes in a primer on the subject, “mandates and tax considerations should not be the only drivers of transit benefit design”:
Asking employees what they need to better manage their commutes to work could yield some important insight into how to expand these programs to meet the needs of a broader array of employees. In doing so, employers can build a program that can both reduce payroll taxes and help to attract and retain a talented workforce.
A 2016 survey of 76 Canadian and U.S. employers conducted by Best Workplaces for Commuters, a public-private partnership that promotes transit benefits, and the Association for Commuter Transportation found that:
- 69 percent of employers offering employee transit benefit programs reduced their need for parking spaces.
- 53 percent reduced local traffic congestion.
- 59 percent improved community relations.
Here at CEB, we’ve recently been hearing a lot of questions from our members about commuter benefits (how much is offered, what methods of commuting are covered, etc.), indicating that this is an area of increasing interest to employers.
At Employee Benefit News, Kathryn Mayer passes along some advice from Mary Jane Osmick, vice president and medical director for the medical services department at American Specialty Health, who warns that sleep is the missing piece of many workplace wellness programs:
“[Employers] need to identify lack of sleep with all the things you identify as risks: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure. Put it into your assessment and find out if it’s driving part of the problem,” she said, explaining that a lack of sleep leads to weight gain. …
First, Osmick said, employers need to acknowledge the problem and the extent of it within their workforce. That can be done with surveys asking about employees’ sleeping habits and patterns. “You need to find out how much of a sleep need there is; you may find there’s a huge amount of sleep deprivation going on,” she said. “That way, you can acknowledge the problem and start to work through it.”
Next, employers must work on educational efforts and really get employees to recognize the problem. They can do this through a series of digital and consumer-evidence based materials; webinars; and group sessions. “The important thing is you have to put this information in front of employees so they understand how imperative it is,” Osmick said.
It seems a bit ironic that companies will load employees down with work that seems to require more working hours and then admonish employees to get more sleep. Does anyone really need help recognizing that too little sleep is bad for you? Sure, you can “teach” employees how to sleep, stop smoking, drink less, etc., but if you want to affect behavior change, you can’t just address the symptom and walk away. It all goes back to managers managing workloads.