As Utah businesses compete for employees, here is what the state’s parents say would get them to work more or to job-hop — offer them remote work and flexible hours and help affording child care.
During the pandemic, many women were driven out of the workforce as they took on disproportionately increased childcare responsibilities, said Samantha Ball, a senior research associate at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Now, a new survey by the institute gives insight to employers who are asking, “what can I do to make my place of employment, more not just family friendly, but specifically friendly to women and mothers?” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, which commissioned the work.
This survey — of Utah parents with children under 12 — focuses on the question, “what would your ideal situation be?” said Ball, an author of the report from the institute at the University of Utah.
Ball herself is a parent with two children in college and one in high school. As she worked on this project, she said, she was struck by the fact that “these are the exact questions I was thinking [about] so many years ago.”
The study was commissioned by the chamber’s social impact foundation, called Utah Community Builders. Encouraging family friendly policies in the workplace is one of their main focuses, and “before we jumped in and started making recommendations, we figured we better know what the landscape looks like,” Miller said.
Here are some takeaways from the report.
What would make a parent take a new job?
When parents imagined their ideal arrangement for work and child care, making more money was by far the top change they wanted, cited by 86%.
But luring a working parent out of their existing job would likely take more than money — pay ranked sixth in the policies that would most heavily encourage a worker to leave.
Remote work was the most popular incentive, with 33% of the parents choosing it when asked what would be likely to make them change their job, employer or industry.
And remote work stayed on top with a slightly different question — when parents ranked their likelihood of leaving for certain benefits.
One parent told surveyors they “have a great balance working from home full-time.” Another said they wanted “just work/life balance, the possibility to be able to have a hybrid environment or work from home.”
Eighty-one percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that they would like to spend more time with their child if they had a higher income, but other work factors were as important or more important than money.
What would make parents work more?
Of the two-parent families where both were working full-time, 66% percent said they needed two salaries to cover expenses. Just shy of a quarter said both partners want full-time careers.
In households where at least one parent was not working full-time, flexible work hours were the top feature that would lead a parent to work more than they currently do.
Flexibility also remained on top when parents were asked to rank how much they agreed with these options: A parent in my household would like to work more, but needs flexibility; or quality, affordable child care; or remote work to do so.
Sixty-nine percent agreed or strongly agreed that they would take on more work, given it was more flexible.
In describing their ideals for flexibility, some parents suggested having the option of a four-day work week. Others pointed to workplace culture, asking for a “better attitude and giving less hassle and stress about taking off of work for kids (sick, school events, holidays, etc.); and being more understanding when it comes to daily lives with kids.”
Similar suggestions included “avoid requiring commitments during the hours that children typically need to be dropped off or picked up from school.”
One parent said: “The flexibility to work at home when my kids are sick or off from school for holidays would be extremely helpful. If my kids had a school holiday coming up, I’d also be happy to front load my hours at work so that I could have some time off when my kids are home.”
The difference that helping with child care would make
Many parents said assistance paying for child care, or providing child care, would help them get closer to their ideal life.
It would also encourage many to work more. One parent said: “I would go back to work full-time if an employer offered subsidized daycare.”
Another wrote: “The cost of childcare was the primary driver in my spouse staying home. The goal was to return to work when our children were in full-time school (kindergarten), but the challenge [of] being out of the workplace for nine years has severely hindered her career options. Employers offering financial assistance for child care and paid family medical leave would have kept my spouse in the workplace.”
Access to child care has always been an issue, especially for lower income Utah families, Miller said. But the fact that so many parents were at home taking care of children who were not able to go to school during the pandemic “shined a bright light on this issue,” he said.
One single mom said during the height of the pandemic, “my employer did not help offset the child care costs while forcing us work in the office,” which meant her 13-year-old daughter took on “the huge task” of watching three younger siblings who were at home all day. “I still have some trauma from those long six months,” the mother said.
According to the survey, which questioned Utah parents in June, the vast majority provide care for kids within their family: 73% of parents care for their own children or have their parent or other guardian watching their kids during the school day. About 25% of the respondents were using paid child care services.
Slightly more than 1 in 5 of the respondents said they were “dissatisfied with their current work and child care situation.” And that was much higher for the 11% of respondents from one-parent households — 52% said they were dissatisfied with their current work and child care situation.
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents had children under the age of six. That group, women, people from one-parent households, and younger people generally, all put more weight in the importance of subsidized onsite child care than average.
Households that made less than $40,000 a year were the most likely to value subsidized or unsubsidized child care, the report said. They also rated paid family leave at an average importance of 4.77 out of five.
“I think that the day care options in Utah are lacking,” said Andrea Arbon, an employee at the web analytics company Qualtrics.
In late 2020, Qualtrics opened a day care site just down the street for its Provo-based employees, said Julia Anas, the chief people officer for the company. Shortly after that, Arbon began taking her son, who is now 4 years old, to the facility, and she has recently started bringing her baby as well.
The day care was built originally to enable mothers to come back to the office, and more generally to enable people who would not otherwise be able to pursue and stay in jobs at the company. It is in the company’s best interest, Anas said, to have a diverse workforce.
Women who responded to the survey valued on-site childcare, better paying part-time opportunities and those with more opportunity for advancement significantly more than men. “I have to work full-time to afford this crazy inflation,” one parent said, “but I’d love to work part-time and be home when my kids get out of school.”
Correction • 12:30 p.m. Sept. 29, 2022: This story has been updated to correct the attribution of the first quote.
Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.