The why and how of employer-sponsored childcare
The debate whether child care is an employer’s responsibility had been put to rest last year, by the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017. The amendments mandated for each establishment with 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility While large-sized companies may find it easier to set up these childcare facilities, companies with smaller populations may struggle. Besides spending big budgets for establishing crèche facilities, there are many simple ways in which companies can provide childcare services. You can even go beyond the law and support your employees with what we call “little things.” The first and main important change is to “embrace the value”. Believe that child care is essential to help employees maintain their work-life balance and increase their engagement. But the question is: How do we as HR Professionals prepare the entire organization for welcoming this new aspect of work/life?
To begin with, follow the path of having an informal dialogue within the organization and gather employee’s perspective on it. After the wave is set the company must at all times assess the age of the children who will use the centre in present and in near future. This involves asking parents about their current arrangements and their use of these facilities in the future. Many HR get this step fundamentally wrong by first looking for the “place or the site” for the centre. Thinking of converting an existing recreational room into a creche is mostly a knee-jerk reaction. Putting toys in one corner and laying mats are all a naive way. You don’t want to give the impression to your employees that their children do not matter. After all the other companies are setting high-end daycare and we need the best talent to stay with us.
After an initial assessment of needs of the parents follow it up with a focus group discussion and also formulate a core team who will henceforth look at all the facts and take decisions. Based on the results hire a vendor who will set up the crèche. This can be achieved through organizing a fair at your organization or inviting quotations from popular centres. It is advisable to always have an external daycare expert part of the core team that can evaluate the centre for developmentally appropriate practices. Instead of annual assessments do a quarterly auditing. If you are in a building where there are other companies as well you can create a consortia childcare centre. In a consortium, several companies can band together to fund the centre and the services are used by the participating companies.
The three fundamental rules of setting up a crèche
The most important aspect of any childcare facility are the people who will be responsible for nurturing and attending the kids. The teacher/ caregiver and helpers should be trained in early childhood education and their background verification should be done. Secondly, the physical infrastructure of a childcare facility is also crucial as it not only supports but also facilitates the development of children. For example, bright, structured and playful areas attract toddlers and preschoolers while infants would need a cozy corner to sleep. The third fundamental rule of setting up a crèche is to follow good teacher-child ratio based on the age of the children. According to the National Early Childhood Care and Education Policy, 2013 in India the government has set up certain minimum standards for these centres which should be followed. The adult/ caregiver-child ratio for under 3s is 1: 10 and for children between 3 to 6 years the ratio is 1:20.
Some other ways to support working parents
There are other ways as well in which you can support the childcare needs of employees. You can provide cash vouchers to parents to go and purchase toys, diapers, books for children. At the birth of the child a baby bonus can also be provided which is generally appreciated by employees. You can allow caretakers/nannies also to stay at the centre with the teacher if the parent thinks that his/ her child needs extra care. Providing lactation rooms to nursing mothers is also mandated by law so companies can create additional spaces for mothers to nurse and provide facilities to store milk which can be then fed to children.
Further, allowing a parent to work from home if the child is sick and also having special leave such as sick child leave can help reduce employee stress and promote high productivity at work.
Lastly, along with the mandatory maternity leave, paternity leave is also provided by many workplaces. This is an important aspect wherein as a society we are setting the norm that child care is not only a mother’s responsibility but fathers should do their share of work too. Parents can also be supported to travel with the child for an out of city meeting or assignment. Companies can arrange nanny support or tie up with existing centre when the parent travels.
Therefore, there are many ways in which companies can go beyond the mandated provisions and build a corporate community culture wherein childcare is not only a provision but also a priority. Being creative and customizing the provisions of your employees with a range of services along with the creche is the way forward wherein we will take care of the next generation of the Indian workforce.