The high monetary costs of having children are well known to working parents and the employers looking to support them. According to US Census data, child care costs skyrocketed by more than 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1985 and 2011. These costs have been blamed for holding women back in the workforce by making it challenging for couples to start families without scaling back one of their careers: in the case of heterosexual couples, that usually means the woman’s, as she typically earns less money than her male partner.
Yet a study recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the total costs of motherhood are difficult for many working women to anticipate. “The Mommy Effect: Do Women Anticipate the Employment Effects of Motherhood?” by economists Jessica Pan, Ilyana Kuziemko, Jenny Shen, and Ebonya Washington finds that some women in their childbearing years have “misplaced optimism” about their employment prospects after becoming mothers due to other hard-to-quantify costs associated with having children. As the Journal noted, a recent US government survey found that 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees and children under the age of six agreed that “being a parent is harder than I thought it would be”; fewer than 40 percent of similarly situated men agreed.
Beyond the financial costs are the time and emotional “costs” associated with having children that are harder to plan for.
As organizations continue to lean on benefits as a key opportunity to differentiate themselves in a competitive talent market, many are expanding the scope and inclusiveness of their parental leave offerings, granting more paid time away from work to employees of all genders who become parents through birth, adoption, and surrogacy alike. This is partly a matter of making benefits more generous overall, but it’s also about signaling the organization’s commitment to values of diversity and inclusion.
Organizations are also paying more attention to helping working parents and caregivers re-enter the workforce after taking time away to care for their children or sick or elderly relatives. These “returnship” initiatives are specifically geared toward supporting women, who are more likely than men to take such career breaks. Caring for others isn’t the only obligation that forces employees to spend extended periods away from work, however; sometimes, it’s their own health.
In a recent story, Glenn Howatt from the Star Tribune highlighted how advances in cancer detection and treatment are improving the health outcomes of patients, but noted that cancer survivors often don’t get much support in returning to work. From the perspective of HR, the management of cancer patients’ absences may seem similar to managing other instances of medical leave or short-term disability. However, employment experts tell Howatt that standard approaches to managing the exits and subsequent re-entries of employees can’t be so readily applied to cancer patients’ situations:
“The length of leave, 12 weeks, is not a lot for people with a lot of cancers,” said Ann Hodges, an emeritus professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. It’s unclear how many cancer patients lose employment because they’re not ready to return to work. But studies show that just 40 percent are back at work within six months. After a year, it’s still just 62 percent. Researchers have also found that loss of income due to illness is a major contributor to bankruptcy — and that cancer patients are more likely to declare bankruptcy.
The emotional experience of fighting and managing cancer undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on the personal and professional lives of survivors. Employers of cancer patients have the power to decide whether the impression they make on their employees during this time will be positive or negative.
Several new surveys from the UK illustrate the importance of managing against the pressure and stress employees experience at work. In one study, Marianne Calnan writes at People Management, 20 percent of employees said they had taken time off work to cope with excessive pressure:
A further 18 per cent of the 2,000 employees surveyed by the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA) said they had cried at least once every fortnight because of their job. More than a third (34 per cent) said they didn’t like their job, citing problems such as not being paid enough (9 per cent) and a lack of development opportunities (8 per cent).
The research, released to mark Stress Awareness Day today (1 November), also found that 35 per cent of workers regularly considered leaving their job. The same proportion also said they often missed family occasions or personal engagements because of work commitments. …
A survey released last week found that many employers may be underestimating the impact of mental health and substance abuse problems on their workforce. Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
In the “Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits” survey of 247 U.S. employers conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, more than three in five (64%) organizations said that less than 30% of their workforce is affected by mental health or substance abuse issues. About one quarter of employers said they were unsure if their employees were impacted by these issues at all. In fact, about one in five American adults suffer from mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and one in 10 American adults suffer from substance abuse, according to the Open Society Institute.
The survey found that 91 percent of employers offered an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides employees access to assessment, counseling, or mental health services, but few employees are taking advantage of these programs:
The number of employees using an employee assistance program make up between 1% and 6% of the workforce, according to the study. A smaller percentage of employers offer wellness programs with a mental health or substance abuse component (38%) or a stress-management program (23%), according to the survey. While an employee might suffer from one or more conditions, not all conditions are covered under an EAP.
Progressive organizations continue to invest in wellness or wellbeing programs that meet workforce needs through a more targeted but still extensive portfolio of features. CEB’s assessment of employee preferences regarding these programs shows that employees expect their employer to address all their wellbeing needs, and most employers do: 83 percent of polled organizations said they were offering emotional and/or mental wellbeing programs. Emotional wellbeing has become a “traditional” element of the wellbeing portfolio, and in turn, employees are less forgiving in the absence of such an offering.